The Popularity of Internet Quizzes Is Fueled by Your Existential Dread

Are you an Olivia Pope or a River Song? Should you live in Tokyo or London? In what historical period do you belong? Is the speed of technological change destabilizing our sense of self and fundamentally altering what it means to be human? Bet there's an Internet quiz that can tell you!

Lately these quizzes—from BuzzFeed and Zimbio, in particular—have been tearing through Facebook like a 24-hour stomach virus. But why? Wired suggests it's due not to rank narcissism, but rather a kind of existential dread: "We crave the peace of mind that comes from believing the human condition is quantifiable." What a Miranda.

Wired talked to MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, who looks at the relationship between tech and ~the human condition~. She says we're all desperate for a number to ground us amid the chaos of existence (to paraphrase, anyway):

"People want a read on the self, an order to it. They'll use a [body] sensor to get the number; they'll use a quiz to get the number. It gives people something to look at, an object to think with. I think these quizzes are a kind of focus for attention for thinking about yourself."

This is, of course, only exacerbated by the rapid pace of technological change and the anxiety it inspires. Upping the ante is the fact this all goes on social media, so it's as much about touting who you are to the outside world as searching for the essence of the self:

"People have always been taking quizzes like this, but [before social media], you were doing it for yourself," Turkle says. "But now they're specifically for performance. Here, part of the point is to share it, to feel 'who you are' by how you share who you are. [It's] the conflation of who you are and who thinks you're okay."

"OMG, you're SUCH a Charlotte!" "I knooooow!"

The truly fantastic detail is that, as this NPR interview points out, BuzzFeed is likely tracking all this information and will very likely eventually make money using the data to sell more targeted ads. Data mining via the exploitation of your innate low-grade terror—how cyberpunk.

Anyway, my Patronus is a swan! What's your Patronus????