Yes, You Need to Talk to the Manager

Yes, You Need to Talk to the Manager

Written by Samuel D. James |
Saturday, January 15, 2022

My parents seem far more willing than I to engage a person and tell them to make a situation materially better, whereas I am far more willing than my parents to use the digital marketplace as a weapon, to “get back” at the people who fail me in some way by telling others that these people are untrustworthy. The older generation acts as if the proper recipient of their frustration is the institution itself and that asking them to make it better is reasonable and right. The younger generation believes that their anger should be directed toward the audience, and that the goal of complaining in these spaces is not to get anything fixed by the institution but to see the institution punished by others.

At the risk of leaning too far into generational stereotypes, which are indeed lazy and perpetuate slipshod thinking, I’m going to observe yet another difference between people of my age and of my parents’ age.

On multiple occasions I have seen my parents, my in-laws, and other Boomer and Silent Generation-era adults ask to speak to a manager. The order at the restaurant was wrong, or took way too long. A shipment was damaged, someone was over-billed, or the hotel room was not clean. Sometimes the necessity of such a tense confrontation is obvious, but often I’ve cringed when the older people I’m with decide to complain, especially since complaints almost always land hardest on employees who make the smallest wages and have the littlest control of the situation (as a veteran of the fast food industry, I can verify this).

My wife and I are far, far more likely than either of our parents to accept an unsatisfactory experience without complaining to the people in charge of it. We’ve eaten the wrong order, accepted an inaccurately described package, and put up with being put out. I’m sure my parents and in-laws have done this too, but the point is that the idea of complaining to a person and trying to get something wrong fixed seems to be more plausible to the older people in my life.

You know why that’s interesting to me? Because I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve known an older family member to take to the Internet to complain. I don’t think my parents have written a Yelp review in their lives. I think there’s been a few negative Amazon reviews, but the ratios of Amazon purchases/negative reviews and restaurant experiences/in-person complaints don’t even begin to compare. Again, these are generational stereotypes that by definition are not true of everyone. But if you look through Yelp reviews and if you use Twitter or Facebook to read what people are saying about community businesses, it does tend to be true that the complaints, the criticisms, and—more to the point of this post—the expressions of outrage and personal injury skew closer to my age than my parents’ age.

What I’ve noticed is that my parents seem far more willing than I to engage a person and tell them to make a situation materially better, whereas I am far more willing than my parents to use the digital marketplace as a weapon, to “get back” at the people who fail me in some way by telling others that these people are untrustworthy. The older generation acts as if the proper recipient of their frustration is the institution itself and that asking them to make it better is reasonable and right. The younger generation believes that their anger should be directed toward the audience, and that the goal of complaining in these spaces is not to get anything fixed by the institution but to see the institution punished by others.

Freddie observes that canceling someone online virtually never dispenses any material good to anyone. In this sense, canceling somebody is not “justice,” because there is literally no justice to be done on behalf of any victim, real or imagined.

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