There is an element of the product review which is a baseline question of epistemology, i.e. how can we know things? If I can’t see, feel, and/or sniff a thing, can I know it by finding out what it looked, felt, or smelled like to someone else? What is second hand information, and how far is the first hand from the second?
Even the word ‘review’ is meta. It’s not a view of a thing. It’s a re-view, a second look. The first was apparently inconclusive and/or we all agree, tacitly, that things are never what they first seem. Knowledge requires some sort of deeper experience, like a meditation retreat, or a high colonic.
Oh, experience is a funny thing. It is singular and subjective. In theory, over time you gain enough experience that you’re able to extrapolate what experience other people might have with a product, but can you really? Can you put yourself in their shoes, make them your product testing spirit animal? Ca-CAW!!! I’m riding around, seeing through your eyes, feeling the odd sensation of your butt on the saddle rather than mine. What is that smell? Is it bacon? Who is making bacon? How can we get bacon?
Even spiritually, you are easily distracted.
So, no. I can’t inhabit your consciousness, and you can’t inhabit mine. There is no bacon, and I’m as disappointed as you are.
That brings us back to ways of knowing, or maybe to ways of trusting that someone else knows. For any review, you have to consider the source. For example, what is a “Robot?” Never mind the who. Is this review of a review being generated by an algorithm designed specifically to confirm all your biases toward unbridled consumption? By reviewing reviews is the bot tipping its hand, as if it’s caught in a nested loop of self-referential nonsense? Or is a thing like a robot implicitly unbiased? Coldly calculating? Nakedly logical? Stoically evaluative? Stochastically accurate? Emotionally inert? Mechanically dismissive of all human concern and frailty?
Spoiler alert: Yes.
This is not to cast aspersions on all reviews and/or reviewers, but I question the value of the opinion of Robert Z. in Anchorage, Claire H. in Little Rock, and Jemelle N. in Biloxi. I don’t know them. I don’t know what bothers them. I don’t know what they like. I don’t care that <product name> is now their “go-to,” their “daily wear,” their “co-dependent comfort object.” Conversely, that they “had such high hopes for <product name> but couldn’t get into it,” or “accidentally deployed it in the TSA line” or “spent three hours in the emergency room having it removed.”
You need to know your reviewer. Take Padraig for example, TCI’s in-house guru for all product reviews, deep-dives, and hard-nerdery. Padraig has a long history of writing about bikes. You can read a lot of his reviews and compare them to your own experiences, and in that way gain some level of trust that he’s giving you thoughtful information based on long experience. Here at TCI, because we don’t take ads, you can be sure that none of the opinions we express are influenced by monetary gain.
As an aside, look for my review of monetary gain in coming weeks. Here’s another spoiler alert: I don’t hate it.
Let us pause, too, to recognize my biases toward Padraig, my co-founder and close friend. You may, knowing that now, disregard all the nice things I just said about him. See how this works? The first rule of review club is to stay skeptical of review club.
“But wait, Robot!” you may be saying aloud, to me, but really to yourself because we’re not in the same room (probably). “You write these reviews every week! How can I trust YOU?”
Well, my friends, the whole conceit of the useless review (this is the 40th in the series) is that you don’t need it. Trust me or don’t trust me. The information I convey gets no more or less useful. I’d like to think that, in some sense, I’ve cracked the code on reviews, placed myself and my views beyond the necessary skeptical filter you should apply to all other reviews. I’m telling you nothing here. I’m telling you everything.
Mostly, we all already know about Park Blue Grease, Turn Signals, and Tyler Hamilton’s Vanishing Twin, and even if we don’t we have free rein to pretend we do (like a robot processing a data upload), to opine and judge. It’s useless, pointless, a penny flicked into a fountain, a flower plucked of its petals (she loves me not), a consultant’s long dissertation and ensuing invoice.
Here’s the point and bottom line. A review is, most of the time, just one more hazy data point in a swirl of epistemological nonsense. As the ancients might say, caveat emptor, which is Latin for “ya pays your money and ya takes your chances.” I know, because I took Latin in 7th grade, and got a C.