In a recent issue of the excellent Vittles newsletter, Jonathan Nunn wrote about the decline of the restaurant review and its replacement by the restaurant map: “In the last decade, Anglophone food media has seen the review decline and the map rise as the form through which most restaurant writing is mediated.” This shift, Nunn writes, is partially a result of declining budgets, as well as the internet’s democratization of taste. “Now, every restaurant website…has to relentlessly produce these maps, lists, and guides to survive. The review is too discursive, too expensive to produce, written by people who demand to be paid properly. Far better to shop it all out to a freelancer who can Google a bunch of stuff and stitch it together without context.” Of course, these restaurant maps are also the natural result of the technology that mediates our engagement with the world—the map has been our primary interface for finding restaurants since the dawn of the iPhone era, with Yelp and Foursquare paving the way for a more diverse array of recommendation apps (Google Maps has also fundamentally transformed our relationship to urban geography, making maps more central to everyday life, even on familiar turf). The restaurant map’s appeal is undeniable, but Nunn points out that it has also accompanied a degradation in writing quality and a loss of context.
“Although we may still pretend otherwise, the internet is no longer able to provide information about the world without also shaping it in increasingly fundamental ways” — I mention this to people every time a distinction is made between the “online world” and “the real world”. While one used to reflect the other, we’re well into one being informed by the other. Probably most people will agree which world is doing the informing.