Jessica Helfand considers the appeal of list-making:
Occasionally, lists provide a therapeutic benefit, as if the very act of writing something down can help keep chaos at bay. (The famously apprehensive Alfred Hitchcock once shared the order in which he had come to anticipate the surge of adrenaline preceding an anxiety attack: “1: small children, 2: policemen, 3: high places, 4: that my next movie will not be as good as the last one.”) If the internet itself can be considered a kind of list, then Google is the über-list, and indeed, once online, you can massage the formal qualities of the list-as-template to chronicle your own peripatetic priorities…. For that matter, there is Craigslist. (And not to be outdone, Angie’s List!) Finally, for those of us determined to make our own mortality the defining feature of all essential decision-making, there is the recent phenomenon known as the “100 Things To Do/Eat/See/Before You Die” list: in common parlance, we call this a bucket list.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the shopping list — a willy-nilly compendium that mirrors the unparalleled idiosyncrasies of its maker. Here, the order of items can be intentionally cryptic or just plain loopy. (If you’re lucky, it will be both.) Lists such as these typically sit rather far down on the information food chain: in the universe of list-making, they’re doomed to an all-too-brief life expectancy. This is particularly true of the grocery list, a study in planned obsolescence if ever there was one, which is basically an aide-memoire rendered ineffectual once complete. Simply put: grocery lists are ephemera writ large, which is precisely what makes them so engaging.
(Image: Johnny Cash’s to-do list from Lists of Note)