Everybody’s a Critic

Feedback Bites Back

Critic taking and giving stars

It used to be that criticism belonged to the ranks of five classes of people – professional critics, impartial consumer product reviewers, your mother, your best girlfriend, and your in-laws.

Now, thanks to the Internet, everybody’s a critic. Everybody with a bone to pick — informed or terribly ill-informed — is a critic.

You can ding short-staffed restaurants, struggling retailers, and barely-managing masseurs on Yelp; you can demolish drivers on Uber and Lyft, and you can anonymously trash-talk people on all sorts of social media websites. It’s a scary Internet world.

For a long time, I ignored casual “citizen” reviewers. If I wanted to know what somebody thought, I wanted to know what somebody-in-the-know knew and opined. If I needed a theater or a movie review, I opened The New York Times Arts and Book Review sections. If I needed a new toaster or vacuum cleaner, I turned to Consumer Reports.

If I needed confirmation that my husband was an insensitive clod, I asked my mother (although she generally sided with my husband). If I thought I looked fat, I’d ask my girlfriend for a hasty assurance that I was mistaken.

But now I know that everything is reviewed online, even you, even me!

Volunteer Reviewers

Now – late into my middle age – I am slowly expanding my world of “respected” reviewers. If I’m considering the purchase of $6.95 long-lasting lipstick, I carefully peruse the commentary of the glam squad of prior purchasers, who can advise whether the product truly stands the test of time and lasts 24-hours through “kisses, tears, and Chardonnay,” as the product’s ad promises.

If a restaurant gets four-and-one-half stars from 545 reviewers on Yelp, I’ll make a reservation. (Perversely, if the restaurant gets five stars from 5,454 reviewers, I won’t. My reasoning: success has spoiled the restaurant and/or it will be too crowded or the reviews are fake.) Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for trendy, but as a middle-aged person, I hate noisy crowded places. It’s hard to hear what people are saying and generally, the lighting is low and I cannot read the menu!

And if I’m going to plunk down $350 for a pair of shoes online, I want to know what some other downtrodden soul thought of those pricey soles. Given the sorry state of my aching feet, I’ll pay almost any price for comfort. I just want to know it’s worth it! So, online critics, tell me. Tell me true.

Yes, Everybody’s a Critic

Yet one area of online critic reviews mystifies me: that of the Uber and Lyft drivers who convey me from Point A to B. It isn’t as if, in the middle of the night in the rain and the wind, I’m going to reject getting a ride from Driver Dan because he has “only” 4 stars. If he’s arriving in two minutes, I’m all in.

Even if the car smells of cigarettes and his music is blaring at eardrum-shattering levels, if he gets me to my destination intact, without the screech of the brakes and the blaring of car horns, I’m hardly going to take the time to be a critic and write a negative review.

Now, I admit, if Driver Dan serves me jasmine tea and cookies while taking me to my destination, I might write a review. Otherwise, forget it. I’m busy. I’ve got a life. A ride is a ride. Just get me to my destination safe and sound. That’s pretty much all I’m asking.

Who Knew

So, you can imagine my shock when I learned there was more to the Uber-Lyft ratings’ game. Drivers rate passengers too! Call me naïve. Call me a Luddite. Call me old. (Well, don’t call me old, please.) I did not know this side of the ratings’ equation.

This bolt of critical (self-)consciousness came my way the other night at dinner. My sensitive – make that overly sensitive – daughter remarked that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was worried that she might have offended the Uber driver who conveyed her to the doctor that morning.

She went on to say she actually doesn’t like taking Uber because she always feels pressured to make chit-chat so the drivers give her good ratings for being friendly.

“Rate you?” I asked. “Rate you, the passenger, the paying passenger?” I asked again.

“Yeah,” she affirmed. “You didn’t know?”

She then, somewhat sanctimoniously (I thought) added that she always checks her score. (She always was an over-achiever.)

“What?” I practically screamed. “You can see your score?”

The Family Scores

My daughter said, yes, and indicated she had a 4.8. She showed my husband, who had sat silently throughout the conversation, where to find his score. Handsome Hubby (HH) had a 4.78.

By this time, my brother, in town for a meeting, had joined the conversation and HH was trumpeting how he had the same score as our daughter. I pointed out that a 4.8 and a 4.78 are not the same, but HH could not be dissuaded from proclaiming Uber parity.

Big brother, however, smugly trumped them both, “claiming” perfect “5’s” on both Uber and Lyft. (An familial over-achiever.)

In the midst of this Uber smug-fest, my daughter turned to me and said with some sympathy, “Now I understand why you haven’t been a little, well, nicer when we’ve taken Uber together. I thought of saying something.” Her voice dropped off and she shook her head forlornly.

Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell

And my score? I refuse to look. I don’t want to know.

I admit it; I’m scared.

Like my daughter, I’m not always in the mood to make chit-chat from the back seat. Sometimes I just want to stare out the window or at my iPhone. I mean, honestly, at 5 a.m. on the way to SFO, who wants to talk about the weather and whether I’m traveling for business or pleasure.

Besides, I don’t think it is safe to distract the driver. He’s busy enough already – looking at the GPS, sneaking peeks at his text messages, talking on his cell phone and listening to music.

An Early Adaptor

I proudly was one of my first among my peer group – you know who I mean, middle-agers – to use Uber. I thought that made me pretty cool.

However, now that I know I know I’m being rated, I clearly need to up my game. I want to be an Ubermensch. I want to be like. Honestly, I need to be liked or at least I need the validation of good ratings from a “critic” or two. (I’m an over-achiever too.)

So, putting my “don’t distract drivers for safety reasons” rule aside, I now am a regular Chatty Cathy when I Uber or Lyft.

And just this morning, I’m pretty sure I scored a “5” when my Uber driver offered to switch the music he was playing for something more my style – i.e. “old.” He was playing A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album, and I said, “Please leave it on.” We then had a great conversation about the group, and I know I impressed him with my knowledge, to say nothing of my sincere sadness about the passing of its founder, the great rapper Phife.

So, ha! High five – and more importantly five stars – for me!

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