Last week I had to attend an event that required me to look better than my regular wilted self (having left “effortless beauty” behind somewhere in my 20s), so I did what any self-respecting woman would do, which was to go for a blowout at a nearby Drybar. Drybar is one of those totally genius, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that businesses that are making someone who is not me very rich. After the visit, my hair looked much better–so much better, in fact, that I was feeling almost effortlessly beautiful until I got back to my desk to find an email from Drybar, asking if I would rate my experience. Which means there’s yet another business I have to break up with because it wants more of me than I’m willing to give.
Life is so complicated now, and I’m pretty sure it’s Yelp’s fault. Before we were all rating and reviewing everything we did, life was straightforward. Now in order to buy, visit or do anything, you need to follow this six-step process:
1. Decide and plan to do the thing
2. Do the thing
3. Take a photo of yourself doing the thing
4. Post the photo of you doing the thing on social media
5. Repeatedly check how many likes the post of you doing the thing got
6. Rate the thing
Meaning just going to Taco Bell or the dentist becomes a six-step process. And sensible cranks like me would usually like to stop after step 2.
As I see it, there are two problems with our rate-everything way of living. First, the mystery-of-life issue. By my completely unscientific estimation, every time a new social-media platform is introduced, life loses about 8,500 mysteries. Before long we will all know everything about everybody, and most of it will be stuff you didn’t want to know in the first place. Ever since Kim Kardashian West’s naked derriere broke the Internet, the idea that we can “leave something to the imagination” has grown smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.
O.K., millennials, I know what you’re thinking: expressing ourselves through ratings allows businesses to constantly iterate, remain in lean startup mode, do all those things that sounded supersexy and new back in, oh, 2009. Well, guess what? I’d venture to say there can be more muscle in keeping your opinions to yourself than in giving a business a lousy review. Have we forgotten that there is great power in playing your cards close to the vest? In cultivating mystery? (Thomas Pynchon, help me out here.) Would Mr. Darcy–the most captivating, mysterious man in literature–have rated his Uber driver after being dropped off at Pemberley? “My good opinion once lost is lost forever,” he avowed, and I’m not sure anyone wants to know more than that. I once worked for a legendarily scary woman whose power was all about her inscrutability. Every day involved anxious tea-leaf reading on the part of her staff. “Did she like that thing you showed her?” “I don’t know, she hasn’t responded.” “Where did she go all afternoon?” “I don’t know, she didn’t tell anybody.” She was stern, capricious, taciturn. And above all, mysterious, which both explained her allure and enabled her to keep us firmly within her control.
Second problem: the time-suck factor. No, Drybar (and Uber and Everlane and Paperless Post), I do not want to be in a committed, dynamic relationship with you. I don’t want to fill out a survey, and while I appreciate the peppy email from user-support associate Katie, I resent you for the time I spent reading it. Katie, if I need more help, I will reach out. Am I just a grumpy middle-aged lady who left effortless beauty behind in her 20s and now mostly wants to be left alone? Perhaps. And I’m selfish: I often make recipes on the basis of the number of stars they receive and choose movies by Rotten Tomatoes scores.
In summary, and to businesses everywhere: I just want you to provide me with something that I pay for, and then I want no contact with you until the next time I need you. Isn’t it enough that I gave you my credit-card number? If time is indeed money, then by taking my money and afterward making me rate the experience of your taking my money, you’re essentially double-billing me. And I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, at least in most states. All I know is that as soon as I rate the experience of writing this column, I’m getting on the horn with the FTC.
Van Ogtrop is the editor of Real Simple
This appears in the May 30, 2016 issue of TIME.
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