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Desert Companion

Hello, Hive Mind

There are times you just want to eat without too many expectations. You want something more enjoyable than merely fueling up, but without the heaviness of a dining experience. A modest compromise between high standards and basic functionality is what I mean. Do you turn to Yelp for guidance?

I don’t, not often. (If you were expecting a high-spirited defense of Yelp, surprise!) I’m wary of crowdsourced taste. Hive-mind judgment tends to privilege the widely (and thus blandly) acceptable, and to flatten idiosyncrasy. Plus, one has to wonder about the motives of both friendly and hostile reviewers, hidden algorithmic tweakings (why is this bad review at the top?), pay-for-play, and all the other erosions of reliability inherent in a process like this. At the philosophical level, I’m wary of shortcutting one of the best methods of accumulating knowledge — trial and error — by outsourcing my thinking to an app. Plus, what John Curtas says above about the value of expertise in an era of unconstrained amateurism.

On the other hand, four stars on Yelp probably means I’ll get a decently edible burger or plate of pasta during that brief window of sanity between the hammering at work and the pummeling at home. (If you were expecting a judo takedown of Yelp, surprise!)

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If nothing else, the fact that I’m using Yelp at all means that I’m game to try something outside my usual list of go-tos. If I just let the app nudge me toward a few new places without getting too caught up in all the users’ blah blah blah, it might just work out all right.

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