BEZAWADA: Self-discovery is not achieved on your own
Column: Traipse the Fine Line
Last Wednesday, over a virtual conference, late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien asked comedian Keegan-Michael Key what he learned about himself in quarantine.
Apparently, Key realized that he was a “close talker” — he tended to draw uncomfortably near the person he was speaking with, a behavioral trait he grew conscious of in recent months of mindful, if not enforced, social distancing.
Long periods of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) induced isolation have backed even the most self-assured personalities into a corner. Introverts are desperate for sunlight and human contact, repentant Twitter users are recanting unintentionally foreboding tweets they posted before quarantine and students actually want to return to school.
Weeks confined alone turned out to be a new kind of purgatorial torture: Promises to nurture personal productivity clash with the understanding that this newfound time for relaxation will never come again, resulting in a mental battle against an indefinite future of sheer boredom, overwhelming anxiety and mindless and idle hours spent scrolling through social media.
After a while, even notifications of spikes in screen time, once shameful, become dull.
People need engagement. It is the core of human nature. In its absence, people have no choice but to confront their greatest challenge. Their most formidable foe. At once the source of their problems and their only solution.
Their own selves.
“Being in quarantine … and being alone … I am learning about myself,” said O'Brien. The good news, for once, is people are not trying to avoid it. In fact, now more than ever, they are desperate to glean anything they can about their elusive identities.
What better route to self-discovery than quizzes?
BuzzFeed, students’ last resort when falling asleep in class, has racked up massive traffic in recent months. Its quizzes feature in particular has dominated its viewership rankings, and it is easy to see why. Quizzes like How Gross Are You?, Have Some Bubble Tea And We’ll Tell You Which Studio Ghibli Heroine You Are and This Is The Hardest “Would You Rather: Condiments” Quiz You’ll Ever Take present interesting premises and are far-fetched enough that their outlandish, usually very wrong results can elicit a laugh or two.
In a more abstract way, it serves as another medium of virtual communication, allowing people to assess their own polarizing qualities — as in How Gross Are You? — and compare these habits with those of others. Oftentimes, quiz takers can gauge the more popular, socially acceptable options and select those in order to ensure their own credibility.
So, while poorly constructed in a technical sense, these quizzes are an insightful perspective on contemporary culture as a collective — evidence that validates from the external community, vicarious or not, provides the stimulation people need to evaluate their own intrinsic traits.
Contrast this with the more niche social networking site and underrated producer of many world-renowned memes, known as Tumblr. Resigning themselves two years ago to a mass censorship and lauding themselves in 2019 over costing Verizon a $1 billion loss, Tumblr users are veterans in surviving consecutive cataclysmic events.
The year 2020 is no exception. Thousands of dashboards around the world are now overrun by quizzes created on uquiz.com, all of whose questions follow a certain formula unique to Tumblr culture: a series of aesthetic descriptions, the quiz-taker’s zodiac sign, their Tarot card, their favorite meme or quote, a raw, hard-hitting or relatable song lyric and so forth. Quizzes range from Who would you be in a heist crew? to If you were a deity, what would you be the god of?
Quizzes generated from this community differ from those produced by the much larger audience at BuzzFeed in their results. Tumblr quizzes are mostly categorical. Much like a virtual Sorting Hat, they designate the quiz taker into personality archetypes, all of which represent equal but unique and necessary parts of a whole, a positive, accepting culture very reminiscent of Tumblr’s young, highly liberal membership base.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed quiz results are more comparative and the quiz taker can see first-hand in real time how the options they select vary statistically with others.
But all of these quizzes share three fundamental, paradoxical aspects: They provide a temporary escape from a drab, unpredictable world, they stimulate the takers’ senses and at the same time (albeit not so scientifically), allow the takers to explore themselves. The act of creating quizzes has also grown in popularity, giving restless people an opportunity to engage their creativity.
Now that online traffic has soared, the internet’s global connectivity has proven quintessential in a time when physical connection is forbidden. Forums have compiled lists of links to off-beat websites ranging from downright pointless — such as this one, which is useful for only 1 day of the year — to eye-opening ones like Radio Garden, which permits users to snoop on local radio stations from all over the world in real time.
The surge in quizzes and online resources shows that the process of self-discovery is much more reliant on interaction with society than what we have taken for granted to believe. It seems that isolation is not isolation at all. In fact, we are now more mutually connected than ever.
Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School junior majoring in marketing and minoring in Japanese. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line,” runs every alternate Wednesday.
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