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Positive Feedback ISSUE 12
march/april 2004


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Auroville 27 - Neutrality vs. Objectivity
by Srajan Ebaen

An old friend rings you up. He has an opening in his successful business. He wants to know whether your son would be interested. Nobody in his right mind expects you to be neutral where your son is concerned. Hell, he’s the apple of your eye. But, your friend has complete trust when you tell him that your son would not be appropriate for the position in question. In fact, so confident is your friend of your ability to separate emotional attachment from calmly reasoned judgment that this subject has never even been broached. The very fact that he asked your opinion in the first place expressed his confidence to perfection. After all, why bother asking if you won’t trust the answer?

Reviewers are supposed to be objective. Most do as good a job of it as is humanly possible. But, should we expect neutrality of them too; that neither-fish-nor-fowl distance of uninvolved aloofness? About equipment for review, should they hope that it tanks, root that it rules triumphantly or not give a shit one way or the other?

Should they go through actual efforts to create the best-possible results by tuning the system, experimenting with ancillaries, contacting the maker for setup recommendations? Do such efforts constitute active rooting and thus fall under the heading of objectivity lost?

Should reviewers practice due upfront diligence to enhance the likelihood that the gear requisitioned, will prove to be to their liking? Should they be excited about the prospect, look forward to its arrival with anticipation, fully prepared to wax enthusiastic? Should findings to the contrary come as somewhat of a disappointment, reportage of which is performed in unflinching detail but also with a underlying sense of inescapable duty rather than joy?

What would reading be like of an equipment review report that was penned with exacting neutrality? Like a statistical paper about the impact of tractor tire width on soil compaction and harvest yield? I believe it’s useful to ask what prompts certain people to don the hat of audio writer in the first place. Certainly a desire to share. Certainly a passion for the subject. Certainly excitement about the experience, the ongoing involvement. Certainly curiosity.

Does any of that suggest neutrality?

Categorically not. Neutrality is boring. Neutrality doesn’t care. Neutrality hides behind the fear of getting involved, taking a stand, getting messy, making mistakes. So don’t confuse neutrality with objectivity or conjecture that one relies on the other. What’s needed is positivity, a distinctly charged position compared to neutrality. Only such a stance will compel a reviewer to give his subject the very best shot, to work hard on discovering what conditions are required to let it perform its best.

Remember too that a reviewer’s job is not to be jury, judge and executioner. A reviewer’s job is as passionate participant first, observer second of what he participated in. The participation is neither neutral nor objective. It’s a deeply subjective deal. Objectivity enters when the experience is analyzed, weighed and compared Call it subjective objectivity then. It’s why one tries to envision what type of listener would embrace certain peculiarities or idiosyncrasies. The appearance of peculiarities or idiosyncrasies, personality traits and limitations in itself is not grounds for judgment and condemnation but rather, an appeal to rooting for a possible audience.

Only someone who cares deeply, who’s involved deeply, who has the temerity, patience and curiosity to dig deep, to ask a lot, to want to hit gold, only such a one is properly equipped to do our audio review subjects justice. This positive attitude does not undermine your ability to be objective. Rather, it is a prerequisite. It’s what creates respect for the creative efforts of others, of how they make their livelihood and support family and employees.

Naturally, there comes a point when familiarity with the product and its maker suggests a breach of objectivity. Curiously enough, this is far more often than not a function of perception on the reader’s part. Becoming friends with a mature manufacturer means they expect of you to be doubly critical—for if not from you, who else to expect such unflinching candor from? Needless to add, less mature friends could suffer the illusion that sugarcoating were your job, to rave rather than rage your allotted task. And perhaps it is the less mature reader who, projecting his own immaturity and needs, expects of a writer to do the same—to pull punches and lie by omission.

If writers on a whole thus practice abstinence from a certain point forward, it is often not because their ability to remain objective has been sacrificed. Rather, it is because they wish to appease perception. Make no mistake though—the really useful background information is only shared with writers who approach their manufacturers with passion, enthusiasm, a desire to learn and an altogether positive attitude. In a nutshell, fuck neutrality then! 

Visit Srajan at his site

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