Posted by: nickgerlich | September 16, 2007

Making The List

I have always said that you can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelf. Of course, this assumes they actually have books and a shelf on which to display them. The titles speak volumes about a person’s areas of interest as well as their general education level.

Maybe I’m just nosey, but I like to look at people’s books, as well as their music and movie collection. Not that I’m eyeing things to slip out of their home, or even passing judgment. I suppose it’s just that I have always been a “student of people,” wanting to better understand them and try to figure out what makes them tick.

Our books, music, and movies are implicit lists of our entertainment and knowledge pursuits and interests. I don’t mind people looking at my books, music, and movies, because they tell who I am.

I often joke about our propensity to make “mix CDs” for friends (usually guys making them for their girlfriend). Credit the introduction of the cassette tape recorder in the 1960s with ushering in this phenomenon, thereby making it possible for people to create their own music mixes, and then share them with others. If we didn’t like all the songs on an album, we could easily pick our faves and create a new album of just the tunes we like.

PlaylistToday in the iPod era, we use playlists to organize our music electronically. It’s all about the listener. And the notion of playlists is easily adapted to virtually any other category of interests, such as books, restaurants, TV shows, etc. We are in control of what we consume, and how we organize it. We don’t need Billboard Magazine to tell us which songs to like. (For fun, visit Last.FM or Pandora to create your own online radio station, or upload your bookmarks at Delicious.)

I have posted numerous playlists on my faculty homepage since spring 2006 (although I must admit to being remiss for not updating them enough). Just as the items on your shelf say a lot about you, so do one’s playlists. And we like to share these playlists.

Delicious is a social networking site that allows you to share your bookmarks. Your bookmarks tell which sites you think are important, and quickly lets you share your online expertise with the world. At, ListMania allows any user to post their list of favorite books, movies, etc., in virtually any genre. Amazon thinks so much of these lists as selling tools that they populate their web pages with lists that match our search queries, assuming that we like to see what others find to be good.

Here are a few of the playlists from my harried life:

Local Restaurants

  1. Red Robin
  2. Pei Wei
  3. Sharky’s Burrito Company

Recently Read Books

  1. The Cult of the Amateur, by Andrew Keen
  2. The Economic Naturalist, by Robert H. Frank
  3. Everything is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger

Favorite Places

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. Mojave National Preserve
  3. Texas Hill Country

The point is, I think all of us like to look on the bookshelves of other people’s lives. Our own lists become an amalgam of personal interests, as well as the influence of others. The result is a truly socially networked society intent on doing its own thing, yet willing to share back and forth with others.

Now if you’ll oblige me, I’d like to see what’s on your playlists. Feel free to post them here.

Dr “I’m List-ening” Gerlich


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