You're about to fall into the Internet's most dangerous trap. No, not malware — lists. The Internet is crammed with information, organized into handy lists, which will devour your brain. Here are the 10 most addictive and time-wasting lists for geeks online.
Photo by Leszek Glasner
The joy of this list is the fact that it combines obsessiveness and narcissism. What a relief, when we so often have to choose between one and the other. The Office of Social Security maintains a database of names from 1880 onwards. Of course, you first search your own name, which is how I found out that "Esther" was at its most popular in 1896, and its least popular in 1970. More importantly, it lets you look at lists that show the most popular names (in the United States, at least) by year. I know how many aspiring writers haunt this site. If you're looking for plausible, but unusual, names for your steampunk characters, go back to 1880 and pick out a name that fits. Or just keep clicking through the years until inspiration strikes.
This is a good list to break out when you're with people. Granted, they can't be just any people, but I trust you to know your audience. It's guaranteed to start up a conversation, especially among heathens.
"It says Superman is a Methodist."
"What's a Methodist?"
And the talk begins! The list is searchable by hero or religion, and includes real people who have (for one reason or another) appeared in comics over the years. This is one of those lists that provoke thought not only about their content, by about the way the list itself is laid out. For example, a lot of characters have "anthropomorphic animal" listed as their religion. I don't recall ever having seen a Church of the Anthropomorphic Animal, although I'm sure the stained glass windows would be striking. You'll also have debates about whether "mutant supremacist" (Scott Summers) or "liberal Marxist" (Oliver Queen) count as religions.
Television Without Pity is one of the first sites on the internet to post recaps of television shows. Because, for the first few years at least, recaps were the site's bread and butter, it didn't post quick overviews or bloodless summaries about what happened in each episode. It featured pages-long recaps about already-cancelled shows with a lot of sarcasm added in. This is the kind of thing that's irresistible for genre fans. Sure, you've seen every episode of Buffy and Firefly, read books about them, and dissected them with your friends. But if you want yet another genre fix for a show that was cancelled a decade ago, you can find recaps of all the older episodes that range from snark-laden dismissals to deconstruction so elaborate that the recap becomes its own piece of creative work. Image via KMPunkSays.
Nothing like knowing when you're about to go the way of the dinosaurs. NASA, in what has to be a good-hearted attempt to calm people down, has put up a list of current impact risks. You can go over, whenever you like, and idly scan to see what asteroids are going to come from space and hit the Earth's reset button. You can search by object designation or degree of risk. I recommend degree of risk, if only because it justifies a lot more. "Well, it looks like we're all about to get annihilated. No flossing tonight! Score!"
There are lists that suck the time out of you directly, and there are lists that are quick to scan through in and of themselves, but claim your time later. This is one of the latter lists. Six authors give their favorite genre books. After you get done with William Gibson's favorite books and power through the science and thriller section, you'll still get caught up by books like My Uncle Oswald, a satirical "soft porn" novel by famous children's author Roald Dahl. If you make it through that list, there's still a list of the favorite books of famous authors which is both time-consuming and educational. (I didn't see Hemingway as a big Wuthering Heights fan.)
It's not the fact that this is a list of witty quotes from or about science fiction that will hijack your time. It's not the fact that it's 744 quotes long that will make you, eventually, look up and realize that hours have gone by. It's the fact that you'll pause to imagine yourself saying each quote, possibly with a Wildean toss of your head, possibly to that guy who made fun of you in the elevator last week. There's nothing like appropriating someone else's wit to make you feel full of yourself. If anyone objects to limiting yourself to science fiction quotes, hit them with Ray Bradbury - "I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room."
Whenever a film touches on any scientific subject, there are always a few people who point out that something - explosions, oxygen deprivation, or cloning - doesn't work that way. They're correct. Sometimes that correction is meaningful. Sometimes it's just meant in fun. And sometimes its something that, if applied, would turn an enjoyable action or scientific sequence into a tedious slog through technobabble, in the middle of a static setting, for no possible pay-off. TV Tropes unleashes a lot of snark at creators. This is one of the few lists on the site that unleashes some snark at the pedants who want dramas to be documentaries and think accuracy is more important than a telling a story.
There are a lot of online university courses out there. There are a lot of sites that collect the available courses. There are relatively few, however, that come to your fingers with the same ease as videos about mini-pigs. If you feel like getting lightly educated while you do your taxes or clean your kitchen, have a look. Or don't. Because as soon as you start looking, you can say goodbye to all your time. You may never have been interested in the contemporary American novel, or fiber optics, or history's greatest plagues, but when the ability to learn about them is right there, easy to get to as Katy Perry videos - you won't be able to stop browsing and bookmarking.
The next list comes from the Instructables site. As many of you know, Instructables is a site that allows amateurs to put up instructions for projects that other amateurs can do at home. The projects range from paper airplanes and muffins to computers and rockets. In the spirit of the site, I'm going to show you how to make your own addictive list.
Step One: Go to Instructables.
Step Two: Go to the Search field.
Step Three: Type in "explosion".
You're welcome. Now say goodbye to the rest of your afternoon (and possibly parts of your fingers). Whether or not you follow through on any of the explosions is your choice. What isn't your choice is closing the window. You have to see the next explosion, and the next. One word of warning - if anyone tries to give me that fake exploding prank cake, they better have a real cake on hand to back it up. I don't forgive things like reneging on cake.
I dare you, I dare you, to stop reading this list. Sure, it's wikipedia (the grandfather of down-the-rabbit-hole time-sucks) but there are real life lessons to be found here. For one thing, one entry on this list convinced me not to get a pet camel (you'll know it when you read it). It also got me paranoid about wedging myself into tight corners in my home, lest I be trapped that way and not found for several days - as a few unfortunate people were. But it's not all practical stuff. If you comb back through the deaths toward antiquity, you can get your vicarious Game of Thrones violence fix. The guy who got crushed to death by a professional torture elephant is like an homage to Martin, as is the king who found his son so inadequate an heir that he had him sealed in a chest of rice. This combines every possible addictive property of internet lists: scandalous behavior, morbid accidents, funny coincidences, and flat-out scare tactics. It's perfect.