Liz Farrell

Farrell: Imagine world in which your every behavior was rated and reviewed

Even when it comes from well-meaning people, unsolicited advice is usually unwanted advice -- the kind you either nod politely to while silently begging the universe to erase the mouth of the person in front of you, or the kind that prompts something a little more full-throated, something along the lines of "Nobody asked you, fool."

I've never said "Nobody asked you, fool" to anyone, but there once was a homeless man at the Silver Spring Metro station in Maryland whose diet and exercise tips certainly deserved that response from me.

Worse than unsolicited advice is unsolicited feedback, which is also simply called "The Internet."

I'm not talking about the kind of feedback a teacher or a boss might offer. I'm not talking about constructive criticism or whatever safe words we use these days to denote contextually appropriate and motivationally driven, supportive opinions.

I'm also not talking about feedback that holds public officials accountable.

I'm talking about this: Opinions that are motivated solely by a person's need to assert his or her superiority over another in the pursuit of dehumanizing and shaming the other.

A friend of mine recently was at a grocery store in Bluffton when she made a Public Parenting Mistake. The details of the mistake aren't important because parents aren't perfect, and variations of her mistake happen all the time.

When her mistake was pointed out to her by a stranger, she was mortified. She thanked the man who intervened; then she chastised herself for not being more vigilant.

Enter Second Stranger.

Second Stranger needed to weigh in. "Obviously I didn't do this on purpose," my friend told her. But Second Stranger had more angry feedback to give.

Finally my friend told Second Stranger to mind her own business -- much to the delight of her son.

A similar thing happened to me last week in the parking lot at work. The short story is that I accidentally killed an alligator.

The long story includes four chapters on me feeling sorry for myself because I was screamed at by a stranger who made me out to be the alligator kingdom's Hannibal Lecter rather than just a 40-year-old woman trying her best to drive during a loud and sudden downpour.

I get why seeing an alligator get killed is upsetting because, as it turns out, killing an alligator is also very upsetting.

But I don't understand why the immediate assumption would be that I did it on purpose or that I'm a lesser form of undeveloped human.

I was thinking about both of these incidents because of Peeple, the soon-to-be-released human-rating app, which was almost the "Yelp for people" before the app's developer had to backtrack due to all the unsolicited advice and unsolicited feedback she received upon the app's announcement.

Peeple, she was told by The Internet, would be too mean.

The app will now allow for positive feedback only.

Consider this for a second, though -- a forum in which we could have rated and reviewed our fellow regular man for their regular, daily behavior as if they were here to provide us, also regular people, with a service.

As if our mere existence in others' spheres is for their gain, pleasure and widely circulated assessment.

Think of how ugly this would have gotten.

"Mary Smith: Two stars: Just OK. Always brings Barefoot wine to my dinner parties when I KNOW FOR FACT she drinks Mondavi at home."

"Jimmy Blah: One star: Hey Jimmy, they're called toenail clippers. Please use them or go out back and hit up a tree like the other clawed animals. Either way, Say No to Flip-Flops."

Peeple, as originally conceived, kicks at the one pebble that holds in place the remains of our humanity.

It tells us that our rock bottom online was actually just a ledge. There are deeper depths to plunge. More aggressive and uglier behaviors to explore.

Peeple says, fine, you want to play this game?

Then let's play this game.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson, in his Ted Talk about online shaming, discusses the democratization of justice that social media brought with it.

With Twitter and Facebook, suddenly everyone was given a voice and the ability to weigh in. Gross behavior could be punished with words. Grievances could be aired. People could solidify their goodness by railing against the badness.

This was the idealized interpretation of it.

The real version can, at times, look more like a cage match with a bear.

It's a question, Ronson said, of whether we value humans over ideology or ideology over humans.

The question that sorts us politically and spiritually also divides us behaviorally. Imagine that.

Peeple was a victim of its own demise -- "tell us what you think of each other ... oh, wait, you're starting with me?"

But maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad thing. Maybe society would be better if it knew we were each being rated individually and at any given moment. Maybe we should see our interactions as strictly transactional, like the last step at the register.

Peeple would have changed everything -- how we choose friends, how we talk to each other, how we see ourselves.

"I've truly enjoyed our lunch today, Sue. As you'll see at the bottom of this friendship receipt I'm providing you with, I've included my Peeple ID. If you could take a few moments to fill out a short survey of my Human Performance today, you'll receive a coupon for a free medium coffee. I do appreciate your patronage. Now, you have a nice day and please don't forget the part where I let you have the last piece of bread in the basket."

Follow columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell at twitter.com/elizfarrell and facebook.com/elizfarrell.

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