The end of a year and the beginning of another brings out a predictable string of events: recaps of what happened in the previous year and predictions for what might happen in the next. Many recaps consist of “top 10” lists of the supposed best or worst of a particular subject. For all their popularity, most top 10 lists don’t last beyond the day of their publication. The thinking behind top 10 lists intrigues me though.
I propose that we’re drawn to top 10 lists because we want to create order out of chaos, particularly in our current world of information overload. However, there’s something to be said for chaos. From my perspective, chaos’ attractiveness lies in its unpredictability, the sense that anything, both good and bad, is possible. With that in mind, consider the butterfly effect, often mentioned in connection with chaos theory:
The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.
I think that our current hunger for order in all the chaos for information cheats us out of what’s possible. A top 10 list and other filters that we pay attention to skip over the uncertainty of a butterfly flapping its wings and goes straight to someone else’s interpretation of the chaos. Why waste time wading through all the different thoughts if someone has been kind enough to provide you with the answers?
I’m not anti-organization. Rather, I’m anti-pigeon-holing. In our rush to create order from chaos, we sometimes take the easy path, relying on the tried and true (e.g. top 10 lists) because again, we’re drawn to known quantities. For this new year, I challenge you to challenge your filters. Why do you get your information from your chosen sources? Why do you trust who you trust? Maybe 2008 becomes the year that you wait to see whether the butterfly flaps its wings.
(Image courtesy of Gonçalo Pereira.)