Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

The Entitlement Generation

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

The problem with the social web is not that everyone who uses it thinks they’re an expert and an authority. Not everyone does, and for those who do, that expertise and authority may be valid, in a narrow sense.

The problem with the social web is, first, that the virtually immediate transition from web-based form input to permanent global publication serves as a mechanism to reinforce the presumed validity of one’s opinions. Given the immediate opportunity to publicize those opinions, one is liberated from the moderating effects of time and editorial oversight. Time may soften or alter those opinions, and editorial oversight might restrain or challenge them. Such constraints reward patience and well-reasoned thinking, while clumsier and sometimes flippant forms of argumentation flourish in their absence. When such logic or reaction is reinforced, the reinforcement emboldens one to lend one’s opinions greater value than they may deserve.

A secondary problem, one that I think has graver implications, is that being so convinced of the value of one’s opinions, those opinions can be leveraged as a means of exacting special attention, treatment, and favors which one wants and presumes to deserve. Entitlement, in other words.

The chef gets especially annoyed when diners arrive and announce they are reviewing for Yelp.

“That tends to rub us the wrong way, and I won’t hesitate to call people out,” he says. “This doesn’t apply to all Yelpers, just the slimy ones that flat out say they will be ‘reviewing’ us. I think there has to be a certain respect between both parties in the customer-restaurant relationship.”

Irrespective of the factual basis of the expertise one professes, it is a fundamentally offensive move to employ to one’s own advantage the presumed authority attending expertise. To announce one’s presumed authority at the beginning of a transaction is, in effect, to threaten the party with whom one conducts business with a penalty if the transaction does not occur to one’s satisfaction. That penalty may be disproportionate to the perceived offense — in this case, the durative effects of a negative review on a popular web site versus the temporary dissatisfaction (or at worst, illness) of a bad meal. Having announced in punitive terms the nature of the transaction prior to the transaction actually happening, one upsets the relationship between the parties before it begins, asserting power over the other party. The consequence is that the threatened party is forced to make up the difference by catering to the one which threatens.

So “a certain respect between both parties” becomes impossible, or at least difficult, to achieve when one of those parties feels entitled to more than parity. That is, when one finds cause to make demands of the other at the onset of their relationship. The social media that reward entitled feelings, by reinforcing one’s presumed expertise and authority, are responsible for the social fallout of that loss of respect — respect inhering to a presumption of parity between parties.