Why Gen Y Loves Lists


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Ned Potter.

Millennials can’t get enough of listicles. They seem to be reading them constantly, sharing links on social media, and encouraging their friends to check out the latest one.

A short-form combination of list and article that’s often replete with images, the listicle is not a new format, but one that has blown up in popularity over the past few years. Listicles fit into our ideal approach for how we prefer to use the internet. We want our information to be as swiftly received as possible. We have become spoiled by the instant gratification that the internet provides, and now we are conditioned to demand the same in our reading material.

Listed below are four reasons as to why Millennials find listicles so appealing.

1. They’re Easy to Read (Or Skim Quickly)

The simplest argument in favor of absorbing news this way is that it’s easier to digest. We’re busy people, and it seems as if our attention spans are diminishing more each day.

Listicles are broken down into smaller pieces, so you don’t necessarily need to devote your full attention. In fact, many listicles are presented as slideshows, where the image associated with each bullet point takes up the majority of the browser window. Sometimes the content doesn’t even show up unless you choose to click a provided link next to the image. The link may entice a reader to “Learn more.”

Plus, listicles are more efficient when it comes to reading on the go. When trying to read the news while on the train or waiting in line somewhere, it’s easy to scroll through a listicle in a manner of seconds and still manage to pick up the main points.

2. Scanning is a Skill

In fact, when people prefer to absorb articles via list format, they are employing the skills of inspectional reading, which is a method of scanning the words on a page. It’s comparable to reading for meaning.

Through inspectional reading, an individual can determine if an article is worth the time to read in its entirety. If it’s a listicle, so much the better, since the main points are summarized for us, and typically written in bold and a font twice the size of the rest of the page.

3. Stress Relief

Reading these types of articles is one way of relieving stress or winding down after a long day. Many articles on BuzzFeed are intended as pure entertainment, as they cover topics like ’90s TV shows or accessories for cat ladies. Yet, BuzzFeed’s overall tone is not simply humor. The site also includes in-depth news stories and investigative reporting. Just because the publication dishes out a good deal of silly listicles doesn’t mean that it ought to be discredited for them. For that matter, just because Millennials read entertaining listicles doesn’t mean they don’t also read investigative or in-depth pieces. Isn’t it possible that Gen Yers are just relaxing after reading a hard-hitting piece by reading a GIF-heavy listicle?

4. They’re So Trendy

When stumbling upon a listicle, you’re bound to come into contact with a bombardment of memes and GIFs, intended for purposes of potential hilarity. At times, it seems like the people creating the articles want you to smile, laugh, and share the link right away.

Sometimes a listicle may offer intelligent insights and opinions, but a great deal of the time, the ones that surface contain a lot of unnecessary fluff and gimmicky content.

The trending article format is an acknowledgment to the times, and what we’ve come to expect from some news outlets. We’ve become increasingly more familiar with list articles as we surf the web. They’re ubiquitous. Perhaps the listicle format is simply a trend in media that will pass once the next popular article framework is discovered, or list articles may be more indicative of direction in which the media landscape is changing.

As viral, witty, or spot-on as trending listicles may be, their popularity amongst Millennials seems to represent some limitations–namely, the title “listicle”. In fact, according to BuzzFeed’s writer’s style guide, the website’s contributors are advised against using the terms “listicle” and “Millennial.” The guide suggests that listicles should be called “lists” instead, and that Millennials should be referred to as “20-somethings” or “young adults.”

The format and standards of the listicle may begin to evolve in digital media sooner than we think. Until then, internet users are welcome to click away.