October 20, 2015

YU | Wake Up Sheeple!: How Internet Reviews Are Herding the Masses

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Internet review culture has subtly turned us into perfectionists who must always have the best. The best what? Why, anything and everything, of course! The best places to eat, the best TV shows, the best clothes, the best cities to live in, the best universities, the best classes to take, the best breed of dog — you name it. All that information can be found with just a few simple taps or touches of your finger tips.

And why not? It only takes a few seconds tops to find out. Though because it’s so easy to do, this search for the best has trickled down and permeated into even the most minuscule details in our lives. Perhaps comedian Aziz Ansari captures it best in his short read “Two Minutes About My Toothbrush,” which is printed on the backs of brown Chipotle paper bags across the nation. In it, he recalls a time he went to buy a toothbrush, but decided to do a quick search online before he went out. “A flurry of articles came up with conflicting opinions and, for a moment, I felt stupid. Every toothbrush I bought on a hunch has been fine. I’ve never been disappointed in a toothbrush. Why waste my time trying to find the best?”

Though obsessing over a toothbrush may seem like such a trivial matter, admit it: you’ve probably done something of the like before. I know I have. It’s just so easy to do in this day and age when we’re literally engulfed by smartphones and computers.

But when it’s not something so trivial as a toothbrush, this practice is a little worrisome. How many kids today look at top charts for colleges and go solely because of rankings? Plenty, and while I didn’t choose Cornell only for its ranking as determined by these lists, it certainly influenced my decision to attend. Furthermore, take a look at the enrollment in mega-sized courses in niche subjects like Intro to Oceanography. Certainly there must be some justification for why 900-some students are all enrolled in Intro to Oceanography other than a genuine interest or profound passion for the ocean. As a current student in the course, I can say that it’s not because the course is really fun, easy or exciting. However, according to the reviews on Ratemyprofessors.com and the testaments on Facebook, the course is all that and more.

It’s scary because while the concept of what is “best” can be quantified, it is more often than not a subjective matter, and Internet herd mentality is a very real thing. Good reviews build upon good reviews, and likewise, bad reviews build upon bad ones. Imagine that you’re going to see a movie and you check Rotten Tomatoes beforehand. You see that it’s got a 25 percent rating and you’re more likely going to think the movie sucked than you would have had you gone in cold. Worse, you might decide to skip on the movie altogether. Now, this has always been the case with ratings and it’s not as if ratings are a relatively new invention. The difference lies in that today ratings are so much more accessible as they can be found for anything and can be pulled up anywhere at anytime.

On both macro and microscopic levels, we are conforming more and more in the choices we make. Whether it’s in the toothbrushes we own, the courses we take, the shows we like or even the values we hold, our preferences are becoming more and more similar. The problem with this Internet review culture is that our obsession for what is best is making us just like all the rest.