Tell Me How to Live

Design by Anasthasia Shilov

I must confess that I am a regular and voracious consumer of online personality tests. I’ve fished my birth certificate out of overflowing file cabinets to confirm the exact moment and location I was born, and I’ve set aside hours to weigh how I would respond to an endless spiral of hypotheticals. The invisible arbiters spit it all back to me, their algorithms reducing, compacting, categorizing me into a series of letters, numbers, and symbols. They say I am an ENFJ, Gemini Sun, Type 3, Pisces Moon, Sexual Variant, 3v2 Wing, Capricorn Ascendent. And then they proceed to strip me down and decode me like a cipher, providing long-winded, meticulously detailed explanations of what each label means. I swallow it up, nodding, smiling slightly to myself as I read a phrase that seems to encapsulate some facet of my personality to a tee. My eyes slide over the sentences that don’t quite apply to me, and I erase them completely in my mind. In this way I shift reality—I take control, submerging myself in velvety confirmation bias and soaking in its warmth.

Sometimes I feel like a silly little girl playing children’s games, but sometimes I just want to be told how to live. I want CoStar to tell me to wear pearl necklaces and avoid prolonged eye contact. I want cosmic explanations for why I saw a discarded childrens’ mitten on the street, damp and frayed, and it drew a lump into my throat. I want to be fully understood, compressed into a tidy box, digitized into a silhouette of zeroes and ones, made into a character, caricature, barely three-dimensional version of myself. Who are you? is infinitely easier to reckon with when the faceless questionnaire calculates a definitive answer for you first. The question twists, curdles, when a friend asks me for my sign. What are you? she asks. What am I indeed.

I relish the visceral reactions of others when I rattle off my assessments. The noses wrinkling in judgment, the eyes widening. That makes so much sense! Some won’t even let me get the words out; instead, they make it into a game, trying to guess who the websites say I am from who they already know me to be. In a way I wonder if they are enamored with—if we are enamored with—the way we seem to switch languages when we talk about these identities. The mystery of the dialect is strangely appealing, the fruits of our research rolling off the tongue, delicious like spun sugar. Here we speak in abbreviations—this is no “hometown,” no three-hour discussion of what makes us who we are. This is streamlined, efficient analysis. This is productive. 

It helps that the evaluative questions are answerable. It’s an exam I’m guaranteed to get a perfect score on, a no-pressure pop quiz that requires only the study of what’s inside my head. They have a tinge of romance to them—they ask, Are you more accepting or perfectionistic?, either choice filling my chest with the warmth of positive affirmation. And would I be lying if I said I didn’t idealize myself for the algorithm, metamorphosing into the person I’d like to be? Agree or disagree: You usually prefer just doing what you feel like at any given moment instead of planning a particular daily routine. I hover over the question, vaguely wondering if I am as spontaneous as I’d like to believe. My ultimate choice reflects how I want to act, making me savor the results even more. You are… they say, and I think, Yes. I am. I already am. 

I have no illusions as to what this is. Sometimes I want someone else to do the work of introspection for me. My desire to be complex dissipates in the wake of simplicity, clear formulas and directives. As I crawl my way into adulthood, I find myself craving the sweetness of decisions being made for me. I want to wake up in the morning, bleary-eyed, check my daily dos and don’ts, and become their disciple. I want to feel the thrill of cosmic coincidence when the intentionally hazy promises made by aesthetically pleasurable apps just happen to come true. I want my emotional fluctuation to be vindicated by the planets or chalked up to my uncontrollable, undeniable nature. I want to be told how to live.

Leave a Reply