Friday, May 18, 2007

Wisdom of the Masses

It has come up in several conversations lately and has been battering about in my brain lately how spoiled with technology we are these days and in particular how spoiled the Internet has made us (and me in particular). I LOVE the immediate gratification of having a pretty reliable answer to almost any question in the world at my fingerprints. As if the Library of Congress and all the wisdom of the ages are all at my disposal with generous cataloguing and indexing, too. imdb tells me anything I want to know about movies, allmusic about music (duh) and wikipedia starts a neverending journey of exploration into "facts" supplied by masses that somehow turn out to be mostly accurate.

And I haven't even started talking about the shopping. The convenience, the immense variety!

But I have a love-hate relationship with the biggest internet retailer I am usually in contact with (since I don't frequent ebay anymore)--Amazon. It's like reality television, I find myself bizarrely fascinated by some of the features and unable to resist them, but then often rather disgusted and annoyed after spending 1/2 an hour in such pursuits. In particular, what I'm talking about is the amazon.com community. I absolutely love the idea of having tens or even hundreds of reviews of a given book or cd so easily available, as well as all kinds of shopping list ideas in the form of the "So You'd Like To..." and "Listmania!" lists. But the lists are almost always disappointing as a real tool for finding unknown treasures or broadening horizons. And the reviews can sometimes be actually personally upsetting to me in their polarized nature and vehement criticism often lacking any social empathy or consideration for others.

As with message boards, amazon.com reviewers tend to lash out at writers of opinions opposed to their own in personal attacks rather than any thoughtful discourse on the actual subject matter. I am well aware that the nature of the internet lends itself to impersonalizing the other people we are communicating with and in the context of an amazon.com review, in which your audience is technically other readers, not the reviewer whose opinions you disdain, it is easy to just speak openly with as violently offensive language as you might desire. Forget that WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY!!! The internet has created its own uber-society in which we can all be as rude and thoughtless as we like and never feel the consequences in our day-to-day "real" lives.

So even though I like to think I "get" it about a lot of the symptoms leading to this result, nevertheless the nature of the amazon.com reviews evidencing sort of the lowest common denominator of our culture still makes me sad on occasion.

After my latest book club meeting last night, this morning I was reading some of the amazon.com reviews of the book we discussed, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. And of course, the vast majority of reviews are either 5 stars or 1 star and each of the 1 star reviewers can't believe what idiots the 5 star reviewers are. And it made me sad.

Until it suddenly occurred to me that our book club discussion about the book had been really good and that is exaclty why I'm in a book club with the neat women I am and not with all the freakin' idiots posting reviews on amazon.com. :-) Maybe life (and the internet) isn't so bad.

1 comment:

Murfette said...

Brilliant insight as usual, my friend!

I do concur that one of the largest strengths of our book club is that we all respect each others' opinions, and try to be considerate when we disagree. We do have an exceptional group of women!!!