Spinning Gears :: What’s Wrong with Good Reviews? (or, Why Snark is the Mind-Killer)

spinning gears

David Pogue took some heat on last week’s This Week in Tech (TWiT) with Leo Laporte and John C. Dvorak (the generally out-of-touch-but-entertaining-anyway crankmaster himself) over being actually bubbly and happy about some of the good products he’s reviewed. When he finds a good product, he’ll laud it with praise, and when he finds a bad one he actually offers constructive criticism about the product. Pogue makes no secret of the fact that he has a fondness for Apple products, but sees flaws in them like anyone else would, and lives a cross-platform life – much like yours truly, on all of those counts.

Maybe that’s why I can relate to him to a certain extent. I also do product write-ups and reviews for a number of online publications and pride myself on being as impartial as I can be and honest about my opinions about a product. If Apple releases a stinker, I like to think that I’m able to call them out for doing so instead of sweeping it under the rug, for example. Similarly, if I’m reviewing a new gadget or product and it’s just horrible to configure and use, I’ll call that out in my review. By the same token, if I get my hands on something and it’s absolutely fabulous and I love it, I’m going to be bubbly and happy about it and suggest that other people try it as well.

I don’t have nearly the clout that David Pogue does, but after the crankiness and general jadedness I heard from some of the other panelists on that episode of TWiT, I had to stop and say to myself: what’s wrong with being happy when you find a good product? What’s wrong with championing good services as well as calling out the bad ones? Have we as an industry of technology writers and geeks and people passionate about tech become so incredibly jaded that we can’t even enjoy the good products and services when they’re available to us?

Let’s dive into that a little bit more after the jump.

joy of tech comic with david pogue
(comic snagged from today’s The Joy of Tech!)

Today’s Joy of Tech is spot-on with this one. To be fair, it’s not like the other TWiTs haven’t themselves gushed about an Apple product before, especially good ones, on their own show or over on another podcast on the TWiT network, MacBreak Weekly, but I think it was the combination of panelists this time around (or maybe just the inclusion of Dvorak) that kind of indicated to me why I’m slowly losing my faith in a number of the TWiTs. They’re still timely and knowledgeable, but the more I listen to podcasts on the TWiT network the more it seems like a number of the more prominent voices are just jaded about technology and simply hate everything.

Dvorak is clearly the leader of this jaded pack, making a personal brand almost of his crankiness (I can’t remember the last time he was actually happy with a product – he hated Macs for so long and then finally got around to using one and wound up loving it) when he’s not flubbing stories (the whole US CIO flap still doesn’t sit well with me – Dvorak made a very elementary mistake and made some serious accusations based on bad data) and this seems to lead other people who sit with him to judge technology to get equally cranky and jaded about everything, almost to a fault – where the cheeriest someone can be is just by comparison to Dvorak.

Now I’m intensely disappointed in Dvorak himself, his poor judgement, and his incredible “I’ve been around so long I get to shake my cane and tell kids to get off my lawn when the kids are a half mile away” attitude, but this isn’t entirely about him. Bloggers of several stripes have taken a turn for the jaded, and it makes me wonder whether we’re just not seeing the quality of products we expect, we’re all just mad that we don’t have our flying cars yet, or we’re just collectively depressed at the state of the technology industry.

Some of this likely is a coincidence that the economic downturn is partially to blame. Some of it I think is, put simply, that snark sells. Snark can deadly when unchecked, and when unchecked leads you to prejudices without evidence, assumptions without proof, and conclusions without testing, and when you rely on snark for the body of your content and voice you wind up making more of a name for yourself because of your attitude than your aptitude.

That’s not to say snark is entirely bad when you’re reviewing a product or service – there are enough horrible products and services released on a regular basis that would make anyone raise and eyebrow and say “who the hell thought of this?” – and some healthy skepticism and saracasm means that snark can be a powerful weapon in the arsenal of anyone who’s passionate about GOOD technology and willing to slam the stupid things. But it’s all about moderation, and that’s what I fear we’re seeing less and less of.

I’m guilty – I admit, some of my published reviews have been incredibly sarcastic and snarky, to the point where I’m sure the product creators didn’t care for it – but at least I took the time to review the product, do the research and testing, and make an effort to be critical about my findings, as opposed to, for example, writing a product off entirely because it’s name is missing too many vowels or sounds silly when spoken. Those are fun things to pick at in an introduction or a conclusion of a review, not in the body.

I’m hoping that as the economy recovers and more people get back into their technology purchases we’ll see more critical and intelligent eyes being turned to technology products, releases, and events. If it doesn’t, the people who turn to those of us who are passionate about technology for accurate and clear information with intelligent analysis or commentary (and yes, some laughs in the process) will turn up a more tech-savvy voices that sound like Perez Hilton (or John C Dvorak) than they’ll find tech-savvy voices that sound like Peter Rojas (or heck, even David Pogue) who are both knowledgeable and entertaining.

9 thoughts on “Spinning Gears :: What’s Wrong with Good Reviews? (or, Why Snark is the Mind-Killer)

  1. david pogue


    It’s so sad that the toxic snarky trolls are finding such a platform these days. They sap the joy out of what we do, and there’s not nearly enough push-back from the public.

    Beautifully written.


  2. Nitrozac

    Excellent post! I’m glad you like the comic! I hope Pogue doesn’t change a thing, he is one of the finest examples of a true professional in our industry. I’m very sad to see what has been going on. People need to chill out, it’s only technology after all, it’s doesn’t mean anything in the big picture, it’s what you do with it that counts. It never pays to use it for evil instead of good.

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  4. Alan Henry Post author

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    @David: You’re absolutely right! I mean look around, we’ve already inherited the Earth, why can’t we be happy about it? 😀 And thank you – that’s high praise coming from you, I really appreciate it!

    @Nitrozac: I think you hit it right on the head. I think some of us are a little too serious and a little too jaded for our own good, you know?

    @Snaggy: Seriously! That’s why I have such a hard time with his grumpiness! Even when he’s happy about something he’s grudging about being happy! It’s like Dvorak has forgotten how to really truly enjoy something!

  5. Lee

    Excellent article and a sentiment I share whole-heartedly. I personally enjoy what Pogue has to say in the NY Times articles. I don’t peruse the quantity of tech blogs I should (considering my love of gadgets), but I have to agree. I was almost swayed by the snark of many item reviews until I snapped out of it.

    Also enjoyed the comic.

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