Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 07 Dec 2019 12am







    Saturday, December 7, 2019-11:08:04A.M.






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OPINION | This column stinks! Everyone’s a critic, all the time

I RECENTLY completed a one-day work trip — my life is exotic, thank you very much — and upon returning to the fiendish hells-cape that is my family with two young children, I found a pile of homework.

Specifically, I had performance reviews to complete. The airline I’d just flown wanted my feedback. “How likely are you to recommend this to others?”

Equally solicitous was the hotel I’d stayed at. “Let us know what you thought of your lodging experience!”

Even the taxi home from the airport desired my opinion. “What did you think of the, you know, taxiing?”

I guess I could be warmed by this curiosity — that is, if I didn’t think that these solicitations were merely the work of automated bots, which add my responses to the responses of thousands of other people and use machine learning to render an analysis to be shared among corporate executives during a boring 9:30 a.m. meeting in a windowless conference room with no doughnuts.

I should also say that answering these review requests is optional. The airline isn’t going to get mad at me if I don’t respond to their plea. At least I hope not.

Still, it feels exhausting, another symptom of our thirsty digital lives and endless craving for feedback. Every human interaction, it seems, now triggers a request for further review, an immediate answer to “How am I doing?” The entire planet has adopted the slogan of the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

We’re a nation of critics, not merely of the cultural (movies, books, music) but also of the everyday (flights, pharmacy transactions, even telephone conversations). Who hasn’t been on the phone with a customer service line and heard a machine’s voice happily intone:

I don’t want to do the survey! I’m already mad enough that I’m on the customer service number!

There are even those goofy surveys in airports and other high-traffic locations, asking you to press a big green button if you’re pleased with your experience. “Thank you for participating! You have now contracted whooping cough.”

I suppose there are people who enjoy these interactions, who can’t wait until the airline reaches out, just so they can give a robot a piece of their mind. I am not one of those people. I am no longer a person with high standards for flying. At this point, if (a) the plane lands, and (b) there’s not a fistfight provoked by the overhead storage bin, it’s a rousing A+ success.

But these are opinionated times. This is the comments-section generation: You’re all free to climb aboard this column and rate it an artful work of genius or, more likely, the dopiest thing you’ve ever read. Half of social media is people blubbering on about television shows and sandwiches. There’s no barrier to entry, no expertise required, to opine on everything, all the time, like your Uncle Nick at Thanksgiving.

We’re supposed to see this as good news — the democratization of criticism. Somebody’s always weighing in provocatively: Do professional critics matter anymore?

I think so. I still want to hear what a legend like The Journal’s Joe Morgenstern thinks of “The Irishman,” because Joe has seen 150,000 more movies than I have. Joe’s got a Pulitzer and used to walk dogs by Central Park with Pauline Kael. That’s good enough for me.

As for the reviews of everyday life, my philosophy is that criticism is best when it’s directly offered, with empathy. It’s OK to pass on the coldblooded email surveys from the algorithms. If the plane trip was great, tell the actual humans, the flight attendants and the pilots, on the way out. Ditto for the taxi and the hotel. Be a generous tipper; nobody likes a cheapskate. After all, in 2019, everybody you are reviewing is reviewing you too. And you should hear what they have to say.