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The Urge to Make Lists

Something is very human about counting, categorizing, and naming things. We all do it, implicitly or explicitly, like when we list things to buy at the grocery store. Sometimes we record the list; other times we don't. We are taught early in our schooling to make lists of tasks to be accomplished, gifts we'd like to get, spelling words to learn. We usually learn pretty early, too, that committing some things to paper can be hurtful or embarrassing, either to ourselves or others. As girls, we learned this getting caught passing notes about dreamed-for boyfriends in 5th grade. Nothing is quite like having the teacher read your private note aloud in class to teach you about secrecy—not to mention the wisdom of putting potentially embarrassing things on paper.

On the other hand, we can also understand, and usually sympathize with, the need of law enforcement to trace the behavior of criminals. In the wake of the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks, many people see more clearly than before the benefits to law enforcement of being able to track and trace behavior. Without the massive data collection and retention that is part of our modern society, global authorities would not have been track down the involved parties as quickly as they did.


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