Rate this column [August 7]
Dear reader, your feedback is valuable to us, so would you mind completing a quick survey about this column? Need an incentive? You could be in the running for yet ANOTHER survey next time you read my column!
The world’s gone survey mad. I go to a symphony concert: the next morning there’s an email asking me to complete a questionnaire about my ‘experience’. I stop to buy some petrol; that evening the petrol station makes contact, wanting me to ‘tell them about my visit’. My campervan is serviced; by the time I get home they’re on the blower asking if I’m happy with the job. Worst of all, my friend is sent a complicated feedback form from the funeral home within hours of burying his father.
I’m no cleanskin when it comes to this madness. At the university I am required to hand out a long form after a short course so my students can immediately assess my ‘performance’ as a writing teacher.
Some things can’t be assessed by an instant survey. An Australian Youth Orchestra concert I attended recently would require a lengthy essay to express the thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed me in those two hours. Some of those feelings will take months to process.
Is this where we’re heading? ‘Dear Sister, please complete this short questionnaire to advise whether our phone conversation about your holiday plans has fully met your expectations. You could be in the running for a free hug from me when next we meet in person.’
I understand the theory. Feedback can lead to improvements (that’s why I complain about bad service.) Customer feedback surveys give consumers more power. But it’s all getting a bit silly. And remember, wages growth is stagnant. Maybe if we paid people better, the quality of service they provided would improve.
More importantly, by responding to all this knee-jerk instant feedback we run the risk of removing anything discomforting or edgy from what’s on offer, especially when it comes to culture. We live in an era of digitally-enabled grumpiness. Irritable online responses are the rule, not the exception. But if we modify everything to avoid provoking discomfort, we may end up with experiences that are only ever inoffensive and bland.
So don’t bother rating this column. Go watch some paint dry. I guarantee it will be more fun.
(This column was first published in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald in August 2017)