August 2, 2011

What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique

Wired Magazine’s Chris Colin:

Our ever more sophisticated arsenal of stars and thumbs will eventually serve to curtail serendipity, adventure, and idiotic floundering. But more immediate is the simple problem of contamination. When the voices of hundreds of strangers, or even just three shrill ones, enter our heads, a tiny but vital part of ourselves is diminished. Suddenly we’re breached, denied the pleasure of articulating our own judgment on this professor, or that meal, or this city. It’s a fundamental bit of humanness to discover, say, the Velvet Underground for the first time—to rifle through that box of records at 13 and to reach an unbiased and wholly personal verdict on those strange sounds. Is it pretty? Ugly? Why are they out of tune?

There’s an essential freedom in being alone with one’s thoughts, oblivious to and unpolluted by anyone else’s. Diminish that aloneness and we start to doubt our own perspective. Do I really think Blue Bottle coffee is that great? Or Blazing Saddles that funny? Do I really not like that pizza place because it isn’t authentic New York-style? Sure, it’s entirely possible to arrive at one’s own opinion amidst a cacophony of others. But it’s also possible to bend, unknowingly and imperceptibly, toward a position not naturally our own.

In recent months, the amount of ways to see how others have liked, +1'd, rated, recommended, and commented on anything and everything has become rather tedious and exhausting. That’s one of the reasons why I block website comments (thank you, CommentBlocker). I want to experience articles, videos, etc. for myself and make up my own mind before I'm inundated with everyone else’s opinions.

Update: My Filmwell colleage M. Leary has posted some good follow-up thoughts that points out the difference between true criticism from “fellow wayfarers” and the “tyranny of petty coercion”.