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June 28th, 2019
Reviews, especially with the rise of the internet, have become particularly important. But even without the digital barrier, when someone is handed some sort of selection or menu, a quick question is:
what do you recommend?
The social fabric that we are all a part of functions as a huge information network, one through which we can short cut past the exploratory effort required to understand what something is all about: hence reviews.
But hold up, let’s review this a moment.
What exactly does the word review mean?
It means to look at something again.
Does this fit the definition of what we look at when we read a review written by someone else? Not really. Perhaps it is a review for the person writing, because they are viewing their experience once more through memory, but when other people read a review, nothing that is written is complimented with the concurrent experience offered by memory. Obviously. This is a no-brainer. You might yell at the podcast or wish to deface the website, spray paint “that’s the whole point of reviews!”
Let’s think about these ‘reviews’ in another light and ask: how reliable are the writers of reviews?
Surely what one person writes is going to be different from everyone else. Not only that, but everyone who engages with the same exact thing, whether it be a restaurant, a book, or a foot massage service – everyone is going to have a different experience, even when the content, as with a book is exactly the same!
The ‘Peak-End Rule’ in psychology is a heuristic that describes the way people remember experiences, or rather: people judge an experience based on what it was like at it’s peak emotional intensity and how it ended. The beginning, and the portion leading up to the peak and continuing from the peak have little sway even though we must expect these parts comprise a huge portion of the overall experience.
For example, a couple might be out for a spectacular dinner, everything is perfect and it is quite literally the best meal and dinning experience they’ve ever had. But then at the very end, the waiter accidentally spills red wine all over a $2,000 white dress that the woman has on.
It’s easy to see how the ‘perfect evening’ is suddenly and forever overshadowed by the split-second of misfortune that happens at the very end. It would require an unusual person and one very gifted in mindful knowledge and reflection of their experience to reiterate the experience to a friend without mentioning the ruined dress. Just for a moment, imagine how unusual this would be. A friend recounts a glorious dinner, describing all the little nuances of flavor, giving you a play by play that wonderfully evokes the mood and feeling of the moment, but never mentions the ruined dress. Imagine finding out a few minutes later, perhaps from the counterpart of the couple: “oh yea, that night when her $2,000 white dress got sloshed in red wine? That one? yea, great time.”
This is all just to demonstrate how skewed our experience of everything is. Should we trust a review that bemoans an unfortunate, unexpected and unintended accident like spilled wine and a ruined dress? Of course not. It was an accident and it’s perfectly fair to assume that this won’t happen to someone who is contemplating going to the restaurant.
But it begs another question: what else should we be slow to trust when it comes to the reviews of others? This discussion so far only highlights one major psychological heuristic that tints people’s memory. How many other such heuristics might exist to bend opinion? Not to mention of course that people have different preferences, and sometimes these differences are so drastic that they are complete opposites. We need only think of a die-hard vegan listening to someone describe how delicious a steak was, or vice-versa. While some in these categories might not mind in the least, there are certainly plenty who recoil from the position and preference of the other.
Even without the Peak-End Rule in mind, we can ask our question again: should you trust a review of a steakhouse written by a Vegan? Unless they are commenting on all the non-animal products that the steakhouse might also offer, chances are that something fishy is going on.
With these warping effects in mind we can ask: what makes a good review?
Certainly the woman who describes all the good things about dinner in detail and purposely fails to mention the ruined dress is giving a review that is not only generous and compassionate, but understanding of what the intent and design behind the experience was.
Intention often counts for nothing when it comes to how things turn out, but our ability to thoughtfully reflect and review an experience can be exercised in a way that takes this into account.
While feedback is the holy grail of getting better, feedback that takes into account your mission is far more likely to be constructive in a way that helps you iterate towards that mission.
Poor communication often spits out brutal honesty instead of this more thoughtful and balanced perspective, which brings us back to the beginning: our social fabric is a network that primarily transfers information about experience. A bad review almost always says more about the reviewer, or the node in our social information network, than it says about ..whatever the review is about.
A good review, as in, a well crafted review, (as opposed to simple praise) takes in generous account of what the goal and mission was for any given experience, and then comments on what extent this goal was accomplished. Perhaps the goal and mission are not clear. This could easily be a point of ridicule, but it can also be a great opportunity for a reviewer to help a creator figure out what the goal should be. A good reviewer must also take into account the biases of their own preferences, and put them aside in order to take into account everyone who has different preferences. Doing so absolutely requires some degree of mindfulness, and this often doesn’t happen. Reviews are usually written as a form of self-expression that recounts how closely something was in accord with their preferences. The thing being reviewed is often just a sounding board for someone to elaborate on what they themselves are like as a person, rather than what the reviewed item is like regardless of the person.
Instead of re-viewing, most people are just describing their particular view.
This is why we read a bunch of reviews. From all the different perspectives, we suss out a sense of what reality is, and this is necessary because each perspective fails to take its own nature into account. With enough perspectives, the similarities emerge and the idiosyncratic details of each experience that are highlighted by the warp of each perspective begin to fall away.
It’s worthy to ponder: how good of a reviewer are you?
Can you be the sort of person that gives a fair and honest review?
Or is it just another opportunity to splash the world with who you think you are?