As a social network, we seem to be consuming more and more information in short, easily digestible chunks. These chunks are often in the form of top ten lists.

If you’re like me, your social media feed is full of top ten lists (or rather, ten is seemingly the traditional number: any number will do now, so long as you have arranged your content in list form).

It seems that, at least for now, we must put up with social media placing large swaths of information into manageable chunks as top-ten lists. Certainly, the headlines are punchier – if clichéd – and the content seems to be getting people’s attention.

However, what does this mean for otherwise interesting information that needs further explanation? In Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies, we often excitedly brood over issues of translation, the errors of long-dead scribes, and the careful maintenance of ancient texts. We are gleeful about studying literature and artifact in combination.

But that glee is often hard to translate into those manageable texts that so excite the average reader; this reader only has time for a pithy headline and a hook.

Are they attracted to posts about the “Top 7 clerical errors of the 15th century”?

Do they want to read about the “Top 33 pieces of marginalia in a medieval manuscript”?

Is the list labelled “Top Five Bronze Busts” good enough clickbait? (And is it clickbait because of the mistaken interpretation of the word “bust”?)

This might lead us to a more important question: Do we care? As scholars who have discovered our own interests in these fields, why should we be concerned with how to make the average reader of Top-Ten lists and clickbait equally interested in what we study?

There are a few potential answers:

  • We should care about the longevity of the field. If we can use a headline to attract a few people to read the list, shouldn’t that create enough interest for a particularly intrigued party to potentially engage further?
  • We should care about how people are managing and consuming information. Even if we would rather read and write long and complex explanations, it is the case the communication evolves naturally, at least for most average people. If we deem our history to be necessary, it is imperative that they understand it, at least in its most basic form. Maybe it’s a creative challenge to create these top ten lists.
  • We should care about new students in the field. These are people who must navigate the traditions and emphasis of their teachers as well as the instant-gratification needs of their peers. They must inhabit both worlds simultaneously; how do they engage their peers without offending the sensibilities of their superiors?
  • We should remain relevant without becoming superfluously trendy. Is there a need for a CMRS Snapchat account? Unlikely. But is it possible to have an engaging conversation between a scholar and the average Twitter-user? Probably. The question is, where do the concerns of these two individuals intersect and create meaningful mutual interests? The mutual concerns of most people are in human nature, in relationships, and in arts and entertainment. There is certainly intersectionality in those areas, so why not focus on these points of comparison to create a meaningful discourse?

Maybe Top-Ten lists aren’t the future of CMRS social communication, but these lists certainly give us pause to consider the future of our communication strategies, where we should devote our time in social media, and what most people find interesting in a variety of subjects within the humanities.


PS – check out http://www.medievalists.net/, who create all kinds of Top Ten lists about Medieval studies! (More on them another time!)