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I clicked a button and created a canvas. A lonely, almost blank screen, it was one of thousands of standardized and tabulated web pages, with only my online moniker at the top to distinguish it as my own. That was my debut, an admittedly unremarkable event. Around the same time as my friend’s Bar Mitzvah, my own initiation into adulthood was an eBay feedback page. At the impressionable and naïve age of thirteen, I was awed by my new opportunities and its subsequent responsibilities.
I created my eBay account to sell a guide I had written for an online multiplayer game, and I dived into my e-merchant role with gusto. Despite the fact that I was merely peddling an information product for dollars per auction, I was quite intimidated by the gravity of my new occupation. You see, the marketing and business acumen of running my auctions were fluff to me, lighthearted technical details – but this was not the case with my brand-new feedback page. As I had never been held accountable for the effects of my actions as an adult before, I was reminded of Spider-Man’s advice, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Serious business indeed.
The one-liner judgments that customers wrote about my products and services carried more weight with my inexperienced self than those critics could possibly have known. Minor complaints became embarrassing reminders of my incompetence, small words of praise seemed to redeem my self-worth, and the job of providing feedback to others was handled with laughably excessive reverence. When I was playing the online game itself, childishness and cruelty were the norm. But with my transition to eBay, I became the innocent little kid in a room full of adults, eager to prove my maturity.
I was enchanted by eBay’s feedback mechanism, which quite literally seemed like the anecdote for everything. A simple yet elegant means of making sure that users got what they ultimately deserved, it was like instant karma served in a cup. A similar system could be enacted to right various injustices! The restaurant that gave me food poisoning could be publicly admonished, the cheating husband could be denounced on a page that would last forever, and the corrupt despot could be shamed out of office through the safety of one’s own home.
Obviously, these grandiose ideas did not last beyond my first impressions. I soon realized that the hours I spent helping customers with questions could be substituted with a painless “you first” feedback policy. Unless you insult their mother, rarely does anyone leave poor, or even mediocre, feedback if the threat of retribution is present. I laughed at the previously appealing premise that a simple reputation page could instill virtue over the Internet. Who needs cheap prices, quick delivery, or friendly service when a crooked system was already in place and exuberant, glowing feedback was easy to come by?
Thankfully, my ensuing Machiavellian inclination to game the system, which brought me the majority of my few negative feedbacks, was weak and short-lived. I discovered that though everyone had relatively good feedback, it was the unsung honesty and hard work that would set me above my many competitors when I began my full-fledged eBay store to sell online game items. This was just good business sense, and I put in the extra mile in a notoriously fickle and demanding industry, where items would sometimes disappear because of hackers and impatient customers practically lived at their desktops.
I did my best to act judiciously with my customers, offering refunds for vanishing items and staying up late to help them transfer merchandise. Were these extra steps necessary when I had posted repeated warnings of the potential risks? Absolutely not. They probably would have left positive feedback for me anyways, and indeed there was hardly a stark contrast between my feedback and those of my competitors. Yet, I was not tied down to my insecure obsession with stats anymore, and the eBay feedback page was no longer my master. My instant karma had revealed its cheap and insubstantial nature, so now I turned to real karma, the intangible kind. With over 4000 positive feedback, it hardly mattered anymore if I received a spattering of negatives, so why did my feedback keep getting better and better as I cared less and less about it? The answer is that I was no longer acting as a good businessman; I was acting as a good person, and it’s to this mindset that I owe my wild successes as an eBay Powerseller.
In hindsight, my evolving attitude toward the almighty feedback page reflected the growth of my maturity. Well here I am, with more wisdom, more empathy, and more humility, ready to take the final step into the real world. As I continue my business via my own website, I’m the slightly more experienced adolescent in a room full of adults, but still eager to prove my maturity. This time, there won’t be a feedback page to keep me in check. And nor will I need one.
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