It’s not news that Toronto is a lists town. The Centre of the Universe likes to stay on trend, and empires have been built filling this need. Just try Googling Toronto and any type of food. Get back to us when a blogTO, NOW, Toronto.com or Toronto Life listicle doesn’t hit page one.
What’s wrong with this? At first glance, not much. Having curated lists of everything from baguettes to BLTs to bibimbap is a huge help for those new to town. Tourists too. But upon deeper reflection, this proliferation of Top 10, Best Of lists could be seriously screwing a lot of people over — readers included.
First off, there’s all the gimmicks. If a restaurant wants to be included in a Best Of round-up, they’ll need to stand out. Serving a simple, locally sourced burger with knock-out ingredients isn’t always unique enough. But slap it between two grilled cheeses, top it with kimchi or slather on some “red wine butter?” You’re going to grab an editor’s attention. This is great for hip chefs who love spiking simple dishes with splashes of obscurity, but not so great for old-school culinary purists.
Then there’s the reality of maintaining a digital vault of Top 10 lists, which is a little like treading water in the high seas; scores of new restaurants are opening and closing each month, making curation a full-time job. A restaurant like Old School, a fabulous 24-hour restaurant at Dundas St. W. and Palmerston Ave. that opened in May, still hasn’t been named among BlogTO’s Best 24 Hour Restaurants in Toronto (despite a feature on the opening). Instead, they included spots such as The Golden Griddle and Fran’s.
Why is this a big deal? Well, when an exodus of club-goers start Googling “Toronto 24-hour restaurants” this weekend, one of the city’s best will be conspicuously missing from a trusted list.
And then there’s the everyday Torontonian. Listicles offer us a crutch. Don’t know where to take your date? Pick from these 14 romantic spots. Sunday brunch? No sweat, here are 20. Not enough? Here are 50 “essentials.” For a city of overworked people, the sheer convenience of lists takes away the I-hope-this-place-doesn’t-suck fear. But it also doesn’t leave much room for exploration.
The truth is, Toronto isn’t an inviting city. She’s never been the cool, popular girl with effortless style; she’s the weirdo in the corner wearing overalls and beat-up sneakers. She takes a little effort to understand, but give her some time. You may just fall in love.
The ritual of exploring Toronto is what all-list-everything media have taken away. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Torontonian willing to get lost on a Sunday afternoon and wander into a restaurant they’ve never heard of before. But it’s those hidden gems, the ones that feel like they belong only to you, that make a city feel special, like home.
Of course, this problem isn’t limited to Toronto. The Buzzfeeds of the world have popularized lists and drained our attention spans to goldfish levels. According to Microsoft, the average human attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds, and by 2013 it slunk to a mere eight seconds. As one of the biggest consumers of Internet on Earth, Canadians are undoubtedly feeling the effects of thinning attention.
There is no Enemy No. 1. (We’re obviously guilty of publishing lists.) Lists are ubiquitous in media; they’re clickable, short and force writers to stay on track without mindlessly wasting a word-count. But if they’re becoming a sizeable part of your media consumption, it may be time to go on a diet. The solution isn’t eliminating listicles altogether; it’s about balancing the way you make decisions. Next time you’re looking for dinner, head to a neighbourhood you’ve never been to. Leave your iPhone at home. Don’t be afraid of getting lost. You might just surprise yourself.
And please, for the sake of your brain, read a book.
What do you think of Best of Toronto lists? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.