This will come as a surprise to many of you (I was only just made aware an hour ago), but I am Tyr, the Norse god of heroic glory and combat, whose right hand was famously bitten off by a monstrous wolf.
I owe this recent wave of self-realizations to online quizzes, which, you may have noticed, are everywhere — well, at least Facebook’s version of everywhere. You know the ones, beckoning you from the boardwalk of your News Feed like shady fortunetellers, purporting to divine which “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant you are, or how you’ll die, their allure almost entirely due to their inexplicable interest in you.
Many of these quizzes are dispatched into our feeds from otherwise little-known outposts like Quizrocket and Quibblo and Sporcle and Zimbio, but more often they issue from the ever-gushing quiz geyser of Buzzfeed. Slate even offered a deliciously meta “Which Buzzfeed Quiz Are You?” quiz.
The pull of the quiz is difficult to resist and easy to understand. From the countless forms we complete for our various profile pages, to the statuses we update, blogs we blog, and tweets we tweet, the Internet is fueled by narcissism — a renewable resource if ever there was one. It’s no coincidence that the clickbaity questions of online quiz headlines echo those workhorse slogans of advertising, the grilling of second-person concern that simultaneously invents and attends to our every need (e.g. “What’s in Your Wallet?” “Where Do You Want to Go Today?” “Are You in Good Hands?” “What Are You Eating Today?” “Is It in You?”)
Quizzes combine this tried-and-true grilling-and-shilling with the promise of revealing to us something new about our favorite subject. Like which Björk song I am (“Bachelorette”). Or which cheese (Gouda). Or if I have any useful skill (book smart, so no, not technically speaking). The important thing is that it’s about me. You can’t spell “quiz” without the “I” — even though results say I’m actually an “O.”
As hard as these quizzes are to resist taking (I’d call them guilty pleasures if they delivered on the pleasure part), they’re even harder to resist sharing (i.e., recruiting). It may be bad form to trumpet what you perceive as your best qualities on Facebook, but if a spreadsheet determines how sexy you are, it’s not like you’re bragging. (By the way, I’m supermodel sexy. Which is probably why my husband is 93% awesome. This is just science talking.)
Of course, as infallible as we’d like some of the results to be, the true degree of useful self-awareness one can glean from online quizzes is somewhere between knowing thyself and containing multitudes. One battery of quizzes on Brainfall attempted to spiritually triangulate me according to different regions: Turns out, I’m 52% Southern (um, no), 40% Texan (by marriage, kinda), and 50% Los Angeles (and 49% California in general; must be the winter half of me).
An attempt to confirm with multiple sources which Golden Girl I am resulted in a vexing identity crisis. Confessing a fondness for shopping and chocolate-covered strawberries clearly moved Brainfall to designate me Blanche. Asserting that crudeness was forgivable but stupidity wasn’t, Quizilla pegged me as Sofia. My choice of flight as a superpower plus my Harry Potter illiteracy had Buzzfeed calling me Rose. And Quibblo said I was Dorothy — which was surprising if only because I’m just 53% bitchy – what they call a “balanced bitch.”
On that front I’m only 23% neurotic according to the Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory, regarded as the first personality test, and used to screen draftees during WWI with questions like “Are you bothered much by blushing?” and “Have you often fainted away?” This is better news now than it would have been then, when I’d have teetered on the cusp of instability. (What can I say? I’m bothered here and there by blushing.) And in the realm of Jungian-derived, Myers-Briggs inspired four-letter-non-word personality tests (that you don’t have to pay for), I’m somewhere between an ENFJ (a teacher and a giver, you see) and an ENFP (a champion and an inspirer). Not one of my results made any mention of how I leave coffees on my desk until they form lily pads of mold, so I trust their veracity.
Of course, no static quiz can capture the fluid self. Gotoquiz’s “Which Philosopher Are You?” quiz had me strolling the colonnades with Aristotle by night and chain smoking with Sartre when I took it the next morning. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed considers me more of a Marxist at heart — a determination partly informed by my selection of Bree Van de Kamp as my favorite Desperate Housewife.
It’s a lot to take in, and it might all seem — dare I say it — meaningless. But even if all of these individual pixels of revelation are hard to immediately synthesize into a clear self-portrait, at least there’s some quiet reassurance to be had in knowing that Benjamin Franklin would be the founding father I’d be most likely to hook up with long term (I’m guessing because I chose “competence” as a turn-on and completed “give me liberty or give me ____” with “back rubs”).
The undiscovered self is in there somewhere, advertisers are counting on it. But if life’s little questions ever seem like too much (“Are You Doug?” Yes, we are all Doug. “Which Member of Phish Are You?” I don’t care), take a step back and entertain some of the bigger ones. Like, “Are you wasting your time taking quizzes?” (I’ll save you the trip: Yes.)
Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at email@example.com.