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Monday, February 17, 2014

What Kind of Cat Are You: Trying to Curb My BuzzFeed Quiz Addiction

Hi, my name is Shannon and I can't stop taking BuzzFeed quizzes. There, I've admitted it, and I know I'm not alone. By now, you probably know what career you should actually have, how many children you should have, when you should have gotten married, what state you actually belong in, what kind of dog you are, which Jane Austen heroine you are, and what kind of parent you are - all thanks to Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed, and his army of editors who've made the website into the stickiest little time-waster ever! And while I appreciate all of the psychological insights that a gal can garner over a 10-question quiz, I'm curious about why these quizzes are so seductive.

It's not like they're breaking new ground. When I was in college, my friends and I would take those Cosmo quizzes more seriously than our GREs, LSATs, and MCATs. However, those Cosmo quizzes were a bit more, shall we say, frisky, in terms of their content - from what kind of girlfriend are you to what your favorite sexual position says about you. You had a feeling that a team of Cosmo psychologists were working around the clock fashioning these quizzes, which, incidentally, seemed to go on forever, and which required deep introspection. Maybe my submissive tendencies in romantic relationships were sabotaging my workplace ambitions! 

By the time I entered graduate school, it was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test that was all the rage. This was the ultimate Cosmo quiz, only this time, instead of taking the test on a Friday night with a few glasses of wine with your girlfriends in front of the TV, this one was given to you in a classroom or at work. And the results of this test had implications far beyond your antics in the bedroom. Myers-Briggs produced the ultimate "aha" moment, putting the events of the test-takers lives inside of a framework that helped them to make sense of all of their successes and failures up to that point. So maybe my fear of public speaking had nothing to do with my intelligence, after all, and could be explained by my being a hardcore Introvert! In just four letters, a diagnosis for my life could be made, and also a prescription to fix what was wrong. No more ENTJ boyfriends for this INFP girl - no way!!

Myers-Briggs, Cosmo, and now BuzzFeed, are all a variant on our need to diagnose where we are. They are a third-party observer who can assess how we're doing and if we're happy. Did we take the right job? Are we married to the right person? These quizzes are our opportunity to check in - like cheap forms of therapy. And then we share the results with each other, providing another opportunity for people to know us better. BuzzFeed may be a new technology, but within it is the oldest human need, that of intimacy through revelation. And now I'm off to find out if I'm a hipster and what font I am. Spoiler alert: I think I'm a hardcore Verdana, although I've played the harlot with Courier once or twice:)

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