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Danny Wallace on the problems with a world where everything needs rating

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Danny Wallace
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Danny Wallace on the problems with a world where everything needs rating

“Can you do me a favour?”

A friend of mine said recently that he thinks we’ve reached the peak of technology and that we’ve achieved all we can. Whatever we have now is all we’ll ever have, he said, though when I put a very simple argument to him – “that’s not true” – he backed down pretty quickly. In some ways, I should probably have been a lawyer. But things move fast these days.

In the old days, they’d invent, say, a suitcase. And then everyone would happily use that suitcase. Then 100 years later someone would suddenly put wheels on that suitcase. And everyone would say, “Yes, that’s an appropriate amount of time for technology to have improved a suitcase.” Now, though, that suitcase would come out and within a week someone’s made a version you just email to a hotel.

Many people are thrilled about this. The legendary DJ Tony Blackburn once told me that sometimes, before his radio show, he’ll just stand on the street and stare into the window of Maplin. Now even Maplin is gone. Its customers all went online while it stayed outside in the rain, with only Tony Blackburn there, staring through the window. It was a tech shop beaten by tech.

And these are all the very wise and important thoughts that come to me after standing at the counter of a well-known high-street coffee shop and asking for a cup of tea.

“Tea!” shouts the man taking my order, and maybe 15 seconds later the woman behind him has made my tea. The man slides it across the counter and as far as I am concerned, as soon as I have said “thanks” our time together will have sadly come to an end.

“Thanks,” I say, but he’s not finished.

He leans forward slightly, and says, “Can you do me a favour?”

“Yeah?” I say, which is stupid, because what if he wants me to tickle him, or something? Or come round his house and kill a wasp?

“Can you,” he says, “leave me an online review?”

The words hang in the air.

I struggle to make sense of them. Can I leave him an online review?

“Yeah,” I say, like of course, but wait – for what? What am I supposed to say in this online review he just commissioned?

He didn’t even make my tea! That woman did! He just said “tea!” quite loudly in a room. How detailed is he expecting my work to be?

And why “leave me a review”? Why not “us”? Why is he unwilling to split the credit with the real tea-making hero of the hour? That brave, voiceless worker behind him, who has asked nothing of me but that I enjoy the fruits (tea) of her labour (labour).

I’ll be honest, it feels like something of an imposition. He didn’t say where he wanted me to leave this review, either. Just somewhere on the internet.

I could leave it on Auto Trader for all he cares.

He just wants to be seen, heard… rated.

I begin to wonder whether he’s under pressure to get a good review. To spread the word of this chain.

Or perhaps he recently got a bad review, and needs to balance it out.

But I realise this constant noise, this desire for meaningless feedback, is everywhere. Leave us a comment! Recommend to your friends! Rate and review! Every menu you pick up, every corporate mug, every beer mat… it’s like having a thousand attention-seeking kittens who only get fed if you give them five stars.

We are catching up with Black Mirror fast, but perhaps I must simply embrace it. Perhaps I will spend a week pandering to this new way of life, leaving detailed feedback for anyone who requests it. Spending an hour agonising over whether to click ‘Satisfied’ or ‘Very Satisfied’. Throwing myself into some kind of feedback loop, like a really boring Samuel Pepys, if he only ever wrote about Pizza Express or how quickly he got a flat white off a woman in Greggs.

I realise it is not the man’s fault. He is simply trying to keep up with a world that now demands it. Because if he doesn’t, how does he know he exists? How does he know he’s doing a good job if someone hasn’t written it down?

So I will leave that man a review. But better than that, I will give him a quote. Forever more, he will be able to put a quote from ShortList magazine at the very top of his CV.

Efficient, clear-voiced and not afraid to ask the tough questions, this guy knows what a cup of tea is, and how to get it into the hands of the customer. Our 15 seconds together left an indelible impression on me and made me think about the world at large. Totally five stars. Would definitely recommend. And I am very satisfied – ShortList.

One day we will look at the world and wonder if there is such a thing as too much feedback. And we will sit down and rate that world three stars. Part of me will love it. But part of me will miss walking past a Maplin in the rain, and seeing Tony Blackburn staring through the window in wonder outside.

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