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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 10:34 GMT

Listmania: The millennium's new addiction

What has been the most noticeable trend of this final year of the millennium? Arguably it is the proliferation of votes, lists and polls presumably intended to reflect a thousand years of human achievement.

The most influential, the greatest and the favourite in almost every field of endeavour have been voted on, analysed and argued over.

The overwhelming conclusion of this flurry of reflection? That cheeky former Take That star Robbie Williams is a cultural colossus to rival that old play-writing bloke we had to study at school.

[ image: Robbie Williams: man of the millennium or just the moment]
Robbie Williams: man of the millennium or just the moment
Making lists is a vital human tool, with which people ward off chaos and allay their fears of the unknown.

A list, be it of groceries or pop stars, imposes order on the present and (hopefully) prepares us for the future.

Psychology expert Andrew Evans says: "The sensory input of the world is so enormous that we need to structure the information to make any sense of it."

Polls and readers' votes are not a new invention. The perfect fodder for coffee break debates, they are easy to convert into news stories and offer the companies who compile them bags of cheap publicity.

They can also be very popular with readers, as BBC News Online's Your Millennium polls this year have shown (consider our interest declared).

[ image:  ]
"Millennium lists are largely a media generated phenomenon - but one which people find very interesting to read," says Mr Evans, author of Fame: The Psychology of Stardom.

"Left to their own devices people wouldn't sit down in September and say, 'Gosh, I haven't started my list of the top musicians of the millennium!'"

And yet with a bit of prompting, they are very happy to do so. And the various lists, polls and charts published seem to have struck a chord with our times.

The British public - often loath to darken a ballot box - seems intent on having its say on the everything from the world's sexiest celebrity couple to... well, the world's unsexiest celebrity couple.

In the post-Diana UK, the "people" demand to be heard - and thanks to the internet and the premium phone line there are plenty willing to listen.

Stumbling through the last days of this century, facing - it seems to some - the brick wall of a new millennium, the urge to take stock is understandable.

[ image: Elvis: The King doesn't rule the latest polls]
Elvis: The King doesn't rule the latest polls
We are pack creatures, bound by hierarchies, and keen to compare our own achievements with those of others.

"As animals we have a basic desire to rank things, the fastest, the best. Identifying the strongest of the litter is something very valuable to survival," said Evans.

"We rely on the strongest and select them to be our leaders."

Sadly the modern millennium poll is as inexact a science as planning your day according to your horoscope.

Top 100s of favourite films, TV shows and pop songs allow us to mock the tastes of our fellows, and feel superior to those less cultured than ourselves.

Millennium myopia

But when gauging influence or importance, people are prone to a chronic lack of perspective that leads the contribution of the brothers Gallagher to rank above that of Mozart, Bach or Elvis.

Recognition and familiarity are at the root of this situation - after all who can sing even one of Mozart's songs or name his celebrity wife?

But if we learn one thing from such fin de siècle undertakings, it must be that making definitive lists is not in the top 10 of things we do well.

And what humans of the future will talk about over tea and biscuits is anyone's guess.

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