On Friday, the new series of Black Mirror hit Netflix, and with social media and virtual reality gaming the topics of the first two episodes, I’m trying to count it as ‘important work-related viewing’.
Episode one focuses on social media and influencers. In the episode, society has reached a point where every interaction with another person is rated instantly, giving everyone a score from zero to five which updates in real-time.
In this version of society, certain apartments can only be rented by people over a certain rating, and your oldest friend will boast that her wedding is full of ‘4.7+ guests’.
Specialists will advise you that high ratings from high-scoring influencers matter.
Although we’re not yet at the point where we rate every interaction, we’re already wrapped up in a culture where likes and followers act as some indicator of influence.
The Uber ratings system
The next morning, I realised that in some ways, I am already a character in the episode.
When my Uber driver last week showed up to the wrong location, I rolled my eyes, thinking to myself ‘I knew I should have cancelled that 4.4’.
It was internal, but it happened. Let’s face it: 4.4 out of 5 is still a pretty solid score. And when he found me, he was perfectly nice, a perfectly good driver, and took me exactly where I needed to be.
Similarly, after a not-so-nice incident a couple of weeks ago, the relief I felt at the fact my Uber driver home was a 4.8 was off the scale. (In case you’re interested, he deserved that 4.8.)
Customer ratings become the focus point
When ratings are displayed so prominently, it becomes close to impossible to ignore them.
In some ways, features like this are essential to the sharing economy.
It’s important that only drivers providing a good service are collecting passengers, and it is equally important that drivers shouldn’t have to put up with rude, offensive or downright poor passengers.
What’s also important to recognise is how important ratings are to drivers, as they can be removed from the platform if their rating drops too low.
Should Uber drivers ask for five stars?
Rarely do my drivers ever mention their scores, but I’ve had a few ask me for a five-star rating when I get out of the car.
Initially, my reaction was that it was a bit cheeky, but on reflection, why shouldn’t they ask?
When their job depends on those ratings, surely they have a right to remind passengers to give them credit for a good ride.
In less than a second in my Uber app I can click to give a star rating. If I want, I can click an option to explain why (if it was their driving, service etc.), and there’s an option to ‘say thanks’ or write more.
Even if you do all three steps, you’re talking less than a minute of action from the customer.
Similarly, in the Black Mirror episode, characters were rating their interactions as they walked away from the encounter.
Usually, it happened quickly enough for them to turn back to one another and give a fleeting look of thanks or annoyance.
The impact of snap judgements on service providers
Humans make snap judgments, but when these judgments begin to be displayed outwardly they can have a huge impact on those they judge.
One cross word or annoying comment can lead to a score than impacts the place you can rent, the areas you can drive in, or whether the people around you respect you or use your services.
In many ways, this is already happening on Uber, and sites with a similar premise such as Airbnb. These companies commoditise trust, and the very reason we buy into them as consumers is because we feel more ‘safe’ that way.
It’s less often that I stop to think about that from the other side, and of the impact my rating or review has on the service provider.
A world where ratings mean everything
When an app determines our job security, and one click on a smartphone changes the way strangers judge you or whether you can rent that place for your holiday, you start to realise everything is getting a little more ‘Black Mirror’…
Out of interest, has anyone ever met a 4.9 or a 5? I wonder if they’re around.