The new millennium has bestowed a wide array of innovations upon society. Gigabit internet, quantitative trading, the Higgs-Boson, and even Facebook. With that, have come a new breed of technologies, whose seeds may sow one of the worst outcomes possible for the United States, and the world. One that deserves more scorn than almost any other, is the listicle. It is a depthless, useless, poor, sad excuse for writing and information transmission. “9 Giveaways You Were Born and Raised a Colorado Girl“, or Buzzfeed’s classic “18 Times Zac Efron Invented Thirst During His 28th Year Alive“. Seriously, what does that even mean? Does it even have a meaning?
To push the listicle, and other ephemeral writing styles further into my orbit, Matador Network has made a name for themselves giving 17-25 year olds an outlet to express the wisdom they gained during their two weeks in Bali. Volunteering, of course. The self-righteous sense of profound is thicker than molasses rolling down a Boston street in February. This gem bases an entire 1,222 words on three whole, entire weeks of experience running a training session for her distributed company and living in a hotel. She’s telling me, that in three weeks of hotel living, she’s learned that, “My mind has opened up to how I can work when I’m not in control of an environment and how I can when I am.” That. Is. Ground. Breaking.
This entitlement to share basic knowledge delivery continues throughout the site. You even get more points if you manage to discover that everything you ever knew from your upbringing in the West was dead wrong. Bonus if you can apply that to a slightly more popular Western country. In this list(?), piece of prose(?), something, the author makes the groundbreaking discovery that not everyone in the world likes to chit-chat. Especially in Germany. A completely different country, likely with a culture that is largely different from your own. That seems suspiciously like something a quick little Google search or quick browse through a Culturegram[amazon asin=B001MQCKD6&template=add to cart] would have told you. In fact points 2-8 would have easily been answered before she ever set foot there. Is research on the foreign country you’re planning on living in a thing of the past?
The final point is just sad. After all those fun new cultural experiences of the author gleefully living and working in Germany without a lick of German, she spurns a man who was just informing her that her bike tire was flat. He even offers to pump it up for her. She assumed that Germans would not be friendly or helpful based on a few anecdotal experiences, and in fact, drew false conclusions from those cultural interactions. She then had the gall to proudly write about her “9 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Germany.” She did not lose those habits, she adjusted, fairly badly even, to a different culture.
What really gets me though, is the gravitas that each of these writers think their experiences seem to hold. If looked at from a more objective standpoint, it ends up seeming like a large pile of mindless rambling interjected at regular intervals with words they learned in their SAT prep class. Flying to a developing country for one to three weeks and “volunteering” and being an Instagram poverty voyeur does not make one an expert on the lowest castes of India. In fact, the simple act of using a squat toilet gives you the power to question, “culture, privilege, personal comfort, biological need, human connectedness.” Wow. That was deep.
We search so hard for meaning in our everyday lives, that travel now seems to automatically require a life-changing realization or world-altering insight. Believing that we should be feeling something beyond the present, something that will last within far into the future is a distraction. That search is Sisyphean task. But people believe that they have found that. They come home, and write into the ether of the internet their momentous spiritual discovery. In doing so, they missed the point. They missed the moment. They missed the exact reason that one travels. To experience. To live. They miss the ever-beautiful present in their quest for false profundity.