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Star Wars: Our Online Review Culture - Wilson Quarterly

Star Wars: Our Online Review Culture - Wilson Quarterly

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Published by The Wilson Center
Whether on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Facebook (and on and on), our online review culture is alive and thriving. But how much information is too much?

" As I navigate a Yelp entry to simply determine whether a place is worth my money, I find myself battered between polar extremes of experience: One meal was 'to die for,' another 'pretty lame.' Drifting into narrow currents of individual proclivity (writing about a curry joint where I had recently lunched, one reviewer noted that 'the place had really good energy, very Spiritual [sic], which is very important to me'), I eventually capsize in a sea of confusion. I either quit the place altogether or, by the time I arrive, am weighed down by a certain exhaustion of expectation, as if I had already consumed the experience and was now simply going through the motions.

"What I find most striking is that, having begun the process of looking for reviews of the restaurant, I find myself reviewing the reviewers."
Whether on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Facebook (and on and on), our online review culture is alive and thriving. But how much information is too much?

" As I navigate a Yelp entry to simply determine whether a place is worth my money, I find myself battered between polar extremes of experience: One meal was 'to die for,' another 'pretty lame.' Drifting into narrow currents of individual proclivity (writing about a curry joint where I had recently lunched, one reviewer noted that 'the place had really good energy, very Spiritual [sic], which is very important to me'), I eventually capsize in a sea of confusion. I either quit the place altogether or, by the time I arrive, am weighed down by a certain exhaustion of expectation, as if I had already consumed the experience and was now simply going through the motions.

"What I find most striking is that, having begun the process of looking for reviews of the restaurant, I find myself reviewing the reviewers."

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Published by: The Wilson Center on May 01, 2013
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05/05/2013

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STAR WARS
Online review culture is dotted with black holes of bad taste.
BY
TOM VANDERBILT
HENGLEIN AND STEETS / GETTY IMAGES
THE WILSON QUARTERLYSPRING 2013
 
  S W S 
THE WILSON QUARTERLYSPRING 2013
B
 
 TOM VANDERBILT
that “the place had really good energy, very Spiritual [sic], which is very im-portant to me”), I eventually capsizein a sea of confusion. I either quit theplace altogether or, by the time I arrive,am weighed down by a certain exhaus-tion of expectation, as if I had already consumed the experience and was now simply going through the motions. What I find most striking is that, havingbegun the process of looking for reviewsof the restaurant, I find myself reviewingthe reviewers. The use of the word “awe-some”—a term whose original connota-tion is so denuded that I suspect it willultimately come to exclusively signify itsironic, air-quote-marked opposite—is ared flag. So are the words “anniversary”or “honeymoon,” often written by people with inflated expectations for their specialnight; their complaint with any perceivedfailure on the part of the restaurant or ho-tel to rise to this momentous occasion isnot necessarily mine. I reflexively down-grade reviewers writing in the sort of syr-upy dross picked up from hotel brochures(“it was a vision of perfection”).In one respect, there is nothing new in reviewing the reviewer; our choices in
pre-Internet days were informed either by friends we trusted or critics whose voices
N THE DAYS BEFORE THE INTERNET,
 eating at an unknown restaurantmeant relying on a clutch of quick and dirty heuristics. The presence of many truck drivers or cops at a lonely diner supposedly vouchsafed its quality (though it may simply have been theonly option around). For “ethnic” food,there was the classic benchmark: “We were the only non-[insert ethnicity]people in there.” Or you could spendanxious minutes on the sidewalk, underthe watchful gaze of the host, readingcurling, yellowed reviews, wondering if  what held in 1987 was still true today. Inan information-poor environment, yousometimes simply went with your gut(and left clutching it). Today, via Yelp (or TripAdvisor or Amazon, or any Web site teeming with“user-generated content”), you are of-ten troubled by the reverse problem:too much information. As I navigate a Yelp entry to simply determine whethera place is worth my money, I find my-self battered between polar extremes of experience: One meal was “to die for,”another “pretty lame.” Drifting intonarrow currents of individual proclivity (writing about a curry joint where I hadrecently lunched, one reviewer noted
I
 
 S W S 
THE WILSON QUARTERLYSPRING 2013
 was terrible (wait, they admit they don’tlike subtitles?). Critics have always hadto be interrogated this way (what den-dritic history of logrolling lay behindthe rave about that book?), but with the Web, a thousand critics have bloomed. The messy, complicated, often hiddendynamics of taste and preference, andthe battles over it, are suddenly laid outright in front of us.seemed to carry authority. But suddenly,the door has been opened to a multitudeof voices, each bearing no preexistingauthority or social trust. It is no longermerely enough to read that someonethought the vegetarian food was bad(you need to know if she is a vegetari-an), or the hotel in Iowa City was thebest they have ever seen (just how many hotels have they seen?), or a foreign film
SARAH BETH GLICKSTEEN / THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR / GETTY IMAGES
Yelp’s Monocle, an app for smartphones, extends the reach of mass opinion by using the device’s camera,compass, and GPS capabilities to find reviewed businesses near the user.

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