Michael Marshall Smith is the best-selling author of sci-fi classics Only Forward, Spares and One of us and, writing as Michael Marshall, the Straw Men trilogy, The Intruders and Bad Things.
I know that giving a voice to the man and woman in the street is supposed to be one of the web's greatest triumphs, but there's nothing like reading 'customer reviews' to make me want to let off all the nuclear weapons in the world.
I would love to be able to turn these reviews off, to hide them on Amazon and iTunes and everywhere else, but I can't. We've all been empowered to 'have our say', and the universe is stuck forever with screen acres of the illiterate bleatings of people who've come to believe that having a forum is the same as possessing an opinion worth uttering, and who spew their bile with the pompous self-righteousness of the boring and self-obsessed everywhere.
And of course I don't mean you, dear reader — I'm sure your reviews are all terribly well-struck, insightful and charmingly apposite. I mean… all the rest of them.
My confirmed iJunkie status in the iPhone App Store, for example,means I am now heartily sick of the phrase 'Does what it says on the tin!!!' — a sturdy and unobjectionable standby at first, but now, really, stop it.
The one that most makes me well up with hate, however, is 'nuff said' — used to confer a god-like authority upon whatever spasm of prejudice has just been bleated from a sock-reeking bedroom in Nowheresville.
'This book sux – nuff said!' Or 'iTunes iz a rip-off: there album price is 7.99 but U can by it for 7.98 secund hand – nuff sed!'
And yes, (sic) throughout, obviously. The entire sodding internet should have (sic) after it.
These are, of course, exactly the kind of people who get livid at being charged 59 pence for a piece of iPhone software — on the grounds it 'should' be free — despite being very much not the kind of people who'd bother to learn how to code, join a development program and then spend hundreds and hundreds of hours bringing a product to market.
And there's also a reason why the man in the street is just a man in a street — he doesn't know anything.This is possibly going to be unpopular, and I'm sorry if it sounds elitist, but I simply don't subscribe to the notion that every human utterance commands respect, regardless of the particular human involved.
Polling high street strangers
Everyone deserves to 'have their say', do they? Really? Why would we think that? Why? I don't poll high street strangers for a medical opinion, nor do I trawl the food courts of malls for plumbing tips: so why do television news stations do it for commentary on foreign policy?
And why does the web do it for music and literature? Sure, you may welcome the opinion of friends on such matters (people who've already proved their critical mettle, or whose preconceptions you are familiar with, and can make allowance for) — but why should I take it from unknown randomers, who for all I know may not event have the brains to sit the right way on a toilet?
Because the internet is the ultimate reality show, that's why, where anybody is allowed to have a go. It doesn't matter that Big Brother has finally been canned (THANK GOD) — because we're all now starring in our own tiny corner of the web, where anyone who can reach out of their cage far enough to peck out a few misspelled words on a keyboard is apparently entitled to respect.
Well, sorry, but not from me. I know it's dreadfully unfashionable to give a toss about stuff like spelling and grammar and punctuation — and that I probably sound like a broken record on the subject — but shouldn't there at least be some kind of peer review, the most basic of tests to gauge whether an opinion is worth hearing?
Websites that encourage 'feedback' should have a grammar checker, for a start. Not a super-strict one (my own word-use hardly conforms to Victorian ideals, and nor need it) but just enough to weed out the most brain-curdling errors.
And I don't mean that the post should merely be corrected — I mean the post should be disallowed. If you can't take the time and trouble to learn how to write a coherent sentence, then why on earth do you believe people should listen to what you have to say?
This applies particularly to the books section of Amazon, and I'll concede that (as a novelist) I could appear to have a vested interest in stifling the god-given right of the consumer to HAVE THEIR SAY.
That's really not the case. You're absolutely entitled to hate my books. Go for it. While no-one enjoys a bad review, you take them on the chin from the well-informed or well-intentioned, you develop a thick skin, and you learn to glean useful information and insight from worthwhile criticism.
But why should anyone care about the opinion of someone who can't get it together to learn the basics of written self-expression? How is it valuable for some moon-faced knee-jerker to trash a year's work in thirty seconds — when those thirty seconds is all it would have taken for him or her to learn the difference between 'its' and 'it's'?
If people can't learn this, then they shouldn't be allowed to post. Frankly, if they can't learn this, they shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.
The reason I feel most strongly about all this is that — with the exception of occasional dizzy-headed reviews along the lines of 'This single is grate, I herd it on the TV and now Ive bought it, you should to!' — so many of these reviews are negative, people using their fists to hammer out twenty word disses of absolutely no critical value.
This adds nothing positive to the sum of human experience. And I'm not being fascist here — quite the opposite. The 'everyone deserves their say' mantra is a merely a marketing ploy sharpened into an instrument of social control, a repressive tolerance that is international in scope and embraced by the target demographic with alarming enthusiasm.
Marcuse nailed it many years ago: powerless to effect real change in our so-called democracies, instead we're given the opportunity to make countless tiny and trivial choices, to be ill-informed attention whores on television, to review and pontificate our way to fifteen megabytes of online fame (and yes, I do realise I'm doing it too).
The web merely makes this even easier and more pervasive, providing a specious form of continual (apparent) self-empowerment that achieves absolutely nothing — meanwhile filling the online universe with the kind of verbal swill you'd change seats in a pub to avoid.
And now it can't be stopped, or turned off. We are being vox-popped to cultural death. Wasn't the BBC's slogan something like 'Nation Shall Speak Unto Nation'?
The internet's will be: 'Moron Shall Review Unto Moron – Nuff Said'.
This column was originally published on Michael's blog