Empowerment. Very much a 90s concept, but still an important one.
And one of the keys to empowerment is information. Take healthcare
provision as an example. 30 years ago your medical records were the
property of your doctor; you weren't allowed to see them. Information
was in the hands of the experts -- after all, they knew best.
Fortunately, things have moved on a long way since then, and the
medical profession now realises that the more information they can
give to patients the better. Having access to knowledge about their
condition or disease, and feeling that they have some input in the
choice of treatment option, is incredibly important for most patients.
It seems a little flippant to draw an analogy here with buying
wine, but one exists. Wine is an incredibly complex, information-rich
subject. And in order for consumers to be able to make a good choice,
they need to be empowered by means of information. As Andrew Jefford
once pointed out, being a consumer is like any other activity: you can
do it well, or do it badly. There are good wines out there, and bad
ones. Because there are so many to choose from, people need help if
they are going to be good consumers. I think that in most cases, the
wine critics who are currently the main source of help are failing
Why? Because they're happy telling punters which wines to buy, but
they aren't empowering them by giving them enough information about
these wines. Most newspaper wine columns look like shopping lists:
they consist of a selection of bottles, with perhaps a brief
description, in some cases a score, and details of where to buy them.
That's your lot. Rarely, if ever, is there space for a discussion of
why these wines are interesting, or some context to put them into.
This may partly be due to space restrictions or the specific
directions of the section editor, but it's an unsatisfactory state of
affairs. It creates an unhealthy dependency on the part of the
consumer towards the wine critic in question. And a vital educational
opportunity is lost with each bottle drunk.
Of course, not all consumers want to learn about wine. These
individuals may be looking for nothing more than something inexpensive
that tastes good enough. But I'd have thought that anyone motivated
enough to read a wine column in a newspaper or to log on to a website
for recommendations is a little more motivated than this. And these
people deserve to be empowered by being given enough contextual
information about each wine, so that when they drink a bottle it is a
learning experience. Surely this is where the real fun is in drinking
wine? Scores and shopping-list-style wine columns are fine for
beginners, but people do need to be gradually weaned off them until
they reach the point where they understand enough about their own
palates and have sufficient information that they can begin to have
confidence in their own judgments. This is my goal with wineanorak. I
want it to be accessible to newbies, but I'm really not interested in
cultivating this old-fashioned critic/consumer relationship (akin to
the old fashioned unbreachable doctor/patient divide); rather, people
need to be empowered by giving them the sort of information they need
to get them to the place where they can make their own decisions. In
wine buying, as in other spheres of lif, expert advice is important,
but its correct place is in informing the decision-making process: the
decision itself should remain in the hands of the consumer.