What’s the Point?
True confession time. There’s a dirty little secret (I like to call it a “guilty pleasure.”) that I have hitherto not revealed on the pages of Silverback Digest. I am … dramatic pause … a reviewer. There, I’ve said it.
Mostly I review restaurants, but I’ve also reviewed hotels, tourist attractions, what else you got? I will review it. My reviews are published on sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon, but mostly they reside on the travel website TripAdvisor.
Why do I do it? That’s a logical question, as is the following: Does anyone read those things? Apparently so. According to the feedback provided by TripAdvisor more than 75,000 people have read my reviews (68% from the United States, 12% from Canada, 8% from the U.K., and 12% scattered around the rest of the planet). More than 100 folks have deemed my reviews “helpful” in making their own restaurant decisions, and a half-dozen times I’ve been contacted by the proprietors of establishments either thanking me or asking that I give them another chance. There’s even a manager of a Hooters in Madeira Beach, Florida who is still pleading for a second chance after they served me a fish sandwich on “soggy buns.”
For my efforts, TripAdvisor has compensated me handsomely with a luggage tag made out of hand-crafted plastic and an assortment of badges which become increasing prestigious as you contribute more reviews. A single review makes you a “new reviewer.” At three reviews you become simply a “reviewer” and by five reviews you’ve clawed your way up to “senior reviewer.” Five more and you become a “contributor,” then a “senior contributor,” then a “top contributor.” I’ve done over 160 reviews, making a “really, really, really top senior contributor.”
None of these designations, by the way, has any relation whatsoever to the merit or content of the reviews submitted. TripAdvisor is very adept at recognizing the power of vanity and need for prestige that is intrinsic to the human species.
Recently, however, TripAdvisor made a big mistake. I submitted a review and received a message saying “Thank you for your review. You’ve now earned an additional 100 points. You now have accumulated 17,600 points in your TripCollective account. Congratulations!”
Points? More specifically, 17,600 points! Pack your bags, Honey. You know how you said I was wasting my time doing what you called “those silly reviews that no one reads?” Well, we’re going on an exotic vacation, compliments of TripAdvisor.
I searched the TripAdvisor website to find out how to redeem my points. I could find plenty of information on how to accumulate points and what status they conferred, but nothing on how to redeem them. Hmm-m-m-m. Now, the investigative reporter in me was aroused, and I started digging deeper. Eventually I discovered a forum of fellow TripAdvisor reviewers who had in common that they were befuddled, confused, and pissed off.
My 17,600 points are redeemable for absolutely nothing. I never expected financial compensation for the reviews I submitted, but once TripAdvisor “paid” me with something valueless, I suddenly felt manipulated, like the rat in the maze who is taught to give himself electrical shocks. TripAdvisor showed me that I am that rat.
What’s the lesson in this and the relevance? It’s simply that there is a real value and a perceived value to everything. And by everything I mean everything. Points or money are constructs that exist to reflect value. Our job, and it’s an eternal challenge, is to sort out the difference between real and perceived so that we can live meaningful lives, not “apparently” meaningful lives.
What is the value of the garlic that you grow in your garden? Is it more or less valuable than the larger, whiter bulb that was grown in China. How about that cord of wood that Jason up the road just delivered versus the tankful of fuel oil that is the residue of ancient sunlight that was pumped from the sands of countries where women still aren’t allowed to drive cars? Does it make sense to take a field that is harvesting sunlight and to pave it with glass that has been shipped across the Pacific so that it can harvest sunlight? Is a farm really a farm if it grows nothing, but rather generates electricity? And why do we call a place that manufactures electricity a power “plant”? My definition of a “power plant” is kale.
This is as deeply philosophical as you will ever see on the pages of this publication. We don’t answer the questions, but we will raise them. And we will continue to provide the “practical information” that helps you to reach your own conclusions about green living, TripAdvisor, solar farms, and life.
Stephen Morris is the editor of Silverback Digest and a really, really, really senior top contributor and wannabee restaurant reviewer.