It's also made us into a bunch of old ladies.
Perhaps no other time in human history has there been so much nitpicking. All you have to do is troll a site like Yelp.com for a few minutes to find a cavalcade of complaints disguised as constructive criticism or--just as bad--positive, and largely tangential, compliments.
In all fairness, most of the reviews are fairly well written and accurate. But after awhile, the mind-numbing level of intricate detail becomes overwhelming. Everyone is sitting around offering his or her opinion on what the texture of noodles should really be like.
It's like meeting the global community, and finding out they are all my mother.
Yelp.com, for instance, reviewed Sunrise Delicatessen, a place near my home. It is not the kind of restaurant that traditionally gets reviewed in newspapers. They serve coffee in Styrofoam cups, and the staff consists of guys with meat juice on their aprons looking for a cleaver. Still, the food is good, and if you ever need 72 falafel balls pronto for a kid's party, it's the place to go.
Like virtually almost every other restaurant reviewed by Yelp.com, the place got 4.5 stars. That puts it up there with Campton Place and other celebrity chef restaurants. Still, there's just a bit too much supercilious advice tucked into a good number of the reviews.
"With a well-rounded falafel, the cascading oils are normally balanced with that taste silencer, but the second directive was incapable of being reached," wrote one reviewer. "The hummus was wholly unremarkable too."
"I've never, ever had green peppers in tabbouleh before. Not only wasn't I expecting it, but it's my least favorite vegetable, and I just cannot eat anything that has that much of it with the flavor seeped in. Ick," wrote another person.
Here are some other samples from reviews for another restaurant:
"The dining environment is clean, bright and neat. I got a very impressive dining experience in here...The waiter is nice, and I ordered some from menu. Next time when I walk by, I will try again with no doubt."
"Minus one star because they don't ask for your name like the others do."
What restaurant was it? An In-N-Out Burger. Granted, I couldn't be this eloquent about the place. The only time I was in an In-N-Out Burger I was kind of liquored up. (But kudos on the hand soap). These are actually two of the more negative reviews. Ironically, the positive reviews were even less helpful. There were a lot of recommendations about milk shakes and how to get extra salt on your fries, but no one wrote "A great meal that can be devoured in 47 seconds" or "Ketchup plunger frequently empty" or something useful that fit the context of the restaurant.
And if you think this might be an age thing--Yelp.com is primarily frequented by the under-30 set--guess again. TripAdvisor caters more to an older crowd. Recently, after booking a room in Beijing, I decided to see what people thought on TripAdvisor.
You'd have thought I booked a room near a bail bonds outlet. One woman conducted her own undercover investigation and posted pictures of the frayed edge of a towel found in her bathroom and some spots on the carpet. Another person complained of the smell of smoke. (That describes the whole country.) "Shower was functional but rather dated," wrote one person. Another person said the cramped bathroom was a potential safety hazard.
The place was like a palace. The first night I was there they had to put me up in the two-story "gangsta" style suite with a spiral staircase because my regular room wasn't ready. And the regular room was great too. The place also had a spa and a lot of people who could speak English. But the big issue was this: I was in a city that was a lot more interesting than a hotel room.
Review sites do serve a pretty big purpose. The mainstream media and guidebook publishers have never had staffs large enough to review everything. But after awhile, you discover that too much of a good thing can be too much.
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas. He has worked as an attorney, travel writer and sidewalk hawker for a time share resort, among other occupations.
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