Sunday, September 13, 2009

on p@ul gr@ham's "list of N things" article.

having spent 5 years as a graduate student, i have developed my share of procrastinate activities.

among my favorites was reading webpages which consisted of lists of a fixed number of (mildly) interesting items.

here are examples from a glance @ digg, just now:
10 ugly truths about modern journalism,
4 sites where you can download old pc games for free,
top 10 tactics for protecting your stuff,
and that's only from the first two pages!

interestingly enough, in his latest article, p@ul grah@m has attempted to explain this phenomenon. he makes some good points, but there is one point which was hinted but not fully expressed:
for mathematicians like me, the title is catchy: it's a finite, explicit number. one knows that, up to a few clicks, the article or link will take only a fixed amount of time.

in contrast, the generic link/article can be anywhere from 1 to 8 pages -- new york times articles vary in size, with this variety. it is an inherent investment of attention and interest which, for we impatient moderns, may be too costly ..

.. especially when we have work to do, and allow ourselves only a 5-minute break.

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