Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Why it’s time to throw the book at the on-line critics

Shopping on the Internet used to be just a question of clicking and ordering.

Now the people selling you material want you to review it. The email from my on-line shop may have been couched in friendly tones, thanking me for recent purchases and inviting me “to submit reviews for the products you purchased or share an image that would benefit other customers. Your input will help customers choose the best products”

However, there was nothing friendly about the intent — having sold me some literature, they were now making me do homework. It was like some vengeful English teacher was sitting on the other side of the Internet and had decided that he wanted a 500 word essay - or else it will be detention, my boy.

The products in question were a collection of poetry, a novel, and a Green Lantern graphic novel (a present! Honest.)

Needless to say, I have not taken up the offer to submit a review. After all, if I am going to write something for nothing, I can do it anywhere on the Internet. I don't see the point of supplying a well-crafted, thoughtful critique (ahem!) just to boost the customer care of a faceless multi-national company. (Well, I might do it — if they were to offer me a discount in return.)

But freebie reviews for commercial ventures are a total no-no. Book reviewing used to be a handy form of getting a few extra pence; it was journalistic overtime and did wonders for any journalist's esteem. Publish more than a dozen reviews and you could legitimately call yourself a “critic”. Now, there's a title.

However, it just goes to show the ever-growing influence of the Internet that even those hard-won kudos, sculpted out of a lifetime's writing for little magazines few people read, are being taken away from the hard-working hack.

Not everyone may have a book in them but everyone seems to have a review in them and they want to share.

That in itself is quite disconcerting but even more disconcerting is to be reminded by the company of past purchases.

There is obviously no discretion involved in on-line buying. Choices are filed away on computer and the information used as the holders sees fit.

I dread to think of what happens to people who buy more adult material on line: “dear customer, thank you for your recent purchase of the DVD Swedish Nymphomaniacs Mudwrestle With Naked Danish Supermodels While Fighting American Lapdancers. We invite you to submit a review for the product you purchased or share an image that would benefit other customers. Your input will help customers choose the best products...”

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