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Taking the (Web) Test

By Alixandra E. Smith

In the cold light of a slushy Boston winter, the first reading/exam period of the new millennium is finally drawing to a close. For the average Harvard student, the past three weeks have been filled with a dash of studying, a smattering of paper writing and a whole lot of white noise. Of all the euphemisms that abound for this strange month-out-of-time, the most appropriate (although "hell on earth" might be a close second) is definitely "procrastination period."

Being the smart cookies that we are, there can be no disputing that Harvard students should be the most inventive procrastinators around. We should find no scheme too outrageous to imagine or too elaborate to execute, provided that it keeps us as far away from the interior of Lamont as possible. But if creativity has gone the way of your clean underwear and you find yourself succumbing too often to the usual suspects--namely Brain Break and the Grille--fear not. A new diversionary tactic has hit the scene, and it's all but guaranteed to waste hours and hours of precious time.

All it takes is a point and a click to log on to theSpark.com, where one finds the most popular personality test on the web. Part fortune-teller, part pop-psychologist, theSpark.com's Personality Test is loosely based on the more scientifically-minded Myers-Briggs model, and follows the same format. Using four basic scales with opposite poles--extraversion/introversion, dominance/submissiveness, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving--the test places each individual into one of 16 "personality" categories based on their responses to a series of questions.

What theSpark.com has done is taken the kind of boring career indicator foisted upon high school students by their guidance counselors and turned it into a revelation loaded with the kind of brutal honesty you only get these days in the locker room or on Conan. Dominant extroverts include The Politician (who is "manipulative" with a "propensity for cheating") and the Performer; submissive introverts include the brooding Mastermind and the rather pathetic Helper Who Finds Lost Children Over the Internet. A personal favorite is the Dreamer (submissive introverted abstract feeler): "reserved and imaginative, most everyone thinks you're a loser." Advice for the future? "Talk to yourself less, other people more, little shaver."

Thanks to a fun "friendly test-takers" list, you not only get to view your own results, but you can learn where friends (and their friends) fall. The results are unsettlingly accurate. Among my friends, the I-banking wizards were labeled as Businessmen, the drama queens as Performers and the loudmouths as Politicians. In some cases, the similarities were even more striking. My close friend, the Mastermind, fits the profile not only as a "schemer" and "plotter," but even her forehead bears a strange resemblance to the rather large cranium possessed by the Mastermind on the Web site.

It's possible to spend hours analyzing the personalities of your nearest and dearest, as well as the host of other randoms who land on your list as "friends of friends of friends." A separate function indicates how compatible you are with everyone else on a scale from one to 100; these percentages seem to be completely capricious, but provide for endless entertainment. And when the excitement dies down a bit, there are plenty of other tests to take: the Purity Test, the Sex Test, the Bastard Test, etc. These come in varying degrees of raciness: one part of the Bitch test wants to know "if you were working on a pirate ship, would you most likely be the captain, the first mate, the buccaneer, or pregnant?"

Not surprisingly, theSpark.com was started by a group of Harvard grads, (Christoper R. Coyne '99, Maxwell N. Krohn '99, Eli W. Boltin '99 and Sam A. Yagan '99), whose founding of the company in the spring of their senior year constituted their own brand of procrastination. Their dabbling, however, turned out to be quite lucrative--in February of 2000, iTurf Incorporated purchased the website for several million dollars. Today, the site averages about 3 million hits per day and its founders are earning "more than we spend," according to Yagan.

It's hard to say exactly why the Personality Test in particular is so popular. My blockmate believes it's all about egotism: What's more interesting than reading about yourself? I think there's something to be said for being able to finally put a name on the intangible, to finally having a simple explanation for why people act as they do. In the end, it's the ease of the process that's so seductive.

I myself am an Artist, supposedly "creative, adventurous and deep." Those are adjectives I can live with, but I refuse to heed my personal advice: "the real world can be a prison of foolishness and embarrassment if you don't get your head out of the clouds a little more." No thanks--I'm happy here in my own little world, foolishness be damned. Reading period stinks.

Alixandra E. Smith '02 is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.

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