Other experts like you

A friend who just moved back to France after a long time in US complained about not having a French version of Yelp, a social review service allowing you « to decide on the best place to eat in any part of the country within minutes ». The service exists due to kind souls who sit down after a good meal (or a bad one) and write something about it. You’d be surprised how many kind souls there are if you look at the site. And not so kind ones too. Personally I wonder whether the urge to write a bad review is not slightly stronger than to write a good one (after a good meal you are satisfied, after a bad one you still crave something), which would make this kind of service unbalanced. But this is not the point. The point is that for a large number of things we now more often consult opinions of people « like ourselves » rather than experts on the subject. We « rely on the kindness of strangers » rather than institutions.
We had encyclopedia, written by scholars, now we have Wikipedia, written by… well, everybody. We had travel guides written by journalists, whose job it was to visit those places, now we go a social network to talk to other travelers. We had search engines, now we prefer to Twitter our question or pose it in our Facebook status. Someone would always answer and the answer would probably be exactly what we asked for, because those people happen to know us – and institutions do not.
One could argue that we now let ourselves be misled more often. But one could also argue that all information is always in some way subjective.
Just consider how many institutions are now on their way if not to extinction than at least to a profound transformation. Phone books. Yellow pages. Travel agencies – does anyone still go to those? Travel guides. Folding maps, so impractical when you have GPS on your mobile. Cook books – the last time you bought one was probably to give it to somebody as a present, and this person put it on the shelf and never looked at it again. « How-to » books – we have a YouTube category for that. Dictionaries – long live spell checker. Paper agendas – not flexible enough anymore. And so on.
In Italy I came across a typical British public phone booth, now a curiosity in somebody’s garden. Italians cannot live through a day without their mobile phone, so I thought this illustrates well my point.


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