Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sitting in Judgment

It was a week like any other. I ate at a restaurant or two, took a flight back and forth to a project, purchased a few things, resolved an issue with a credit card. Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly things I have done before in days and weeks and years past and will do again, most without a second thought. But more and more I find I have to have a lot of second thoughts. Actually, seconds, thirds and fourths. That's because I have to relive every experience so that I can respond to the seemingly endless barrage of emails asking me to chime in for the good of all of you, and post my ratings.

No one used to care what I thought. Oh sure, they, they might say "what did you think of the movie?" or "was dinner any good?" or "how was the book?" But it was just fodder for polite conversation. No one really listened to my opinions, or God forbid, made plans based on them. After all, what kind of training did I have in film production or in the culinary arts or as an author? (Well, some, but you get the idea) Like you, I knew if I liked something or hated it. I also knew that as often as not there were others who had the polar opposite reaction: "You LIKED that restaurant? I got food poisoning there!" As my mother said, that's what makes for horse races.

Yet suddenly I'm a professional critic. Within a one hour span this week, I got earnest emails from an airline, a hotel chain and a credit card company. They don't just want my opinion, they crave it. "We NEED your feedback." "PLEASE Tell us about your flight! "How did WE do??" And if I delete the email or forget to respond? Less than 72 hours later, a follow-up kick in the pants request to do my homework: "You haven't responded yet!" "A few moments is all we ask!" "Perhaps you didn't see our request!" I half expect to get to the airport next time, have my ticket scanned at the gate and alarm bells ring: "Sorry, sir, we can't let you board until you complete our survey."

And it's not enough that I give them 3 forks or 5 pillows or 7 ducks. I have to dissect my experience, parsing every aspect of my visit. "Now that you've given us your overall rating, please take a moment to let us know some of the details." I mean, it was fine: what else do you want to know? "How was the bed?" (three snores) "Was the room clean?" (four mops) "Did you enjoy the in-room snacks?" (zero swizzle sticks: it was $7.50 for 4 cashews.)

But wait: there's more. Part 2 encourages me to write a novella capturing the full gestalt of my experience. It starts with tick boxes: "Check all that apply: Romantic dinner. Great view. Foodies welcome." Funny, I never see a box for "rude waiter" or "too much salt." Then it gives me free rein, as if I'm writing an essay to gain admittance to college: "Title of your review? (Example: This hotel has great features!)" OK, how about "Overpriced, but Close to Office." And in an anti-Twittter huff, I'm required to offer a minimum: "Please note that you must write at least 25 characters." So I guess "sucked" wouldn't qualify: it's 19 letters too short.

Finally the kicker: "Would you recommend us to a friend?" After all, in this Facebook-Instagram-LinkedIn-Pintrest world, nothing is thought to be as persuasive as your homies telling you who has the best burger. Interestingly, you always thought that your BFF Cynthia wouldn't know homemade pasta if it bit her on the nose, but these days a nod from her is thought to be the holy grail.  

So in that spirit, before you leave, please complete this short survey. Part 1: "On a scale of 1 to 37.5, please rate this column." Part 2: "Check all that apply: Snappy writing. Great pop culture references. Used all 26 letters." Finally and most important: "Would you recommend this column to a friend?" But I have a Part 4: "If your answers to any of the above are negative, please keep your opinion to yourself."


Marc Wollin of Bedford usually deletes the surveys he gets. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

1 comment:

Jackie Hess said...

My favorite is Amazon's new habit of asking you to rate their packaging. Really? Ok: The tape was a bit askew. Get with it, people!
Of the 692 blogs that routinely announce themselves via email (and the 2,789,956 others that lay in waiting in the ether) I read, on a regular basis, only 2 - yours and Uncommon Sense. Thanks, Marc.