I was taking a quiz the other day. Not like the quizzes that used to make you groan in school, the ones the teacher sprung on you to see if you had actually done the assigned reading or were paying attention during the previous lecture.
Let me pause early for a lengthy aside: in my short stint as a college lecturer, I assigned (because it was short) a very brief Kate Chopin story that was in our textbook, and then gave an unsurprise five-question quiz about the story to gauge reading comprehension. If you know Kate Chopin, which none of my students ever did, she was an ardent feminist long before the term was coined, and her stories all rejected the paradigm of a woman happy in her role as (sub)servant to her husband.
In this particular two-page story (“The Story of an Hour”), the protagonist learns her husband has been killed during his commute home. She goes up to her room, where instead of grieving it occurs to her that she is now free to do whatever she would like. As she comes down the stairs, in walks her husband, having taken another train and oblivious to the fact that he has been presumed dead. The woman, who already had a weak heart, drops dead on the stairs — “of a joy that kills,” everyone but the reader is supposed to think.
Do you know how many of my students read those two pages and then told me in their quizzes that she died because she was so happy he was alive?
But one quiz came back completely blank except for the following note: “I read this story three times and still can’t understand it.” I suggested to that student that we talk out of class; we did; he went to the campus center for students with disabilities, where he discovered — in college — that he had dyslexia. He dropped out for a semester, went to some facility where they had him speak a lot of D’s and B’s and do a variety of other verbal exercises, came back, worked very hard and got his degree.
That’s where some quizzes get you.
But if we go back to the notion of quizzes in general, I was not taking a school quiz. I was taking a voluntary quiz. They used to be in magazines, often teen magazines so that you could learn about your “dream partner.” But now they’re all over the internet, and you can learn about anything you want about yourself just by taking these quizzes.
I am kind of a sucker for quizzes, and am sad the Washington Post stopped doing its weekly “how well did you keep up on the headlines” quizzes. I no longer subscribe to the Denver Post, which means I’m not taking the Sunday geography quiz. So I don’t know how smart I am these days.
Everything you read on the internet comes with ads, and I was reading something when an ad for a quiz popped up. Of course, I should be immediately suspicious when it’s an ad — that means the end purpose is not for me to find how how current I am on my current events, but because I have something the advertiser wants. But I fell for it.
The quiz promised to tell me what region of the United States I live in by answering questions. But I think the real purpose of the quiz was a psychology experiment to see how much information I would give them before I realized the quiz was endless.
I can’t tell you how many questions I answered, only that I was growing more exasperated with every answer I provided, mostly because of the four multiple choices, my answer on nearly every one wanted to be E) none of the above, and that was not an option.
The only one I understood as it feeds into regional differences was my choice of terminology for carbonated beverages. I know “soda” and “pop” are supposed to be regional indicators, although I use them fairly interchangeably, and apparently in some part of the U.S. not where I am, “Coke” stands in for all other beverages. Perhaps that’s Georgia, home to Coca-Cola.
I am baffled as to what I like to do on a Friday night defines where I live, particularly when none of the options was anywhere close to “go home, eat dinner, fall asleep on the couch,” which is especially Friday night but also pretty much every other night of the week as well. For some reason that wasn’t an option.
Because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the questions the first time around (because I didn’t realize it was going to be fodder for this blog), I decided to try the quiz again this morning. I see it tells me this is a five-minute quiz, but it felt twice that long the first time before I gave up. Perhaps because I was agonizing over choices that don’t include answers I would actually give.
For instance, McDonald’s is not my favorite fast-food restaurant, although it’s the one of the four choices listed I go to most often. There is a Taco Bell in Gunnison, but it’s never on my radar. I opt for A&W (not a quiz choice) in Montrose over Burger King, which is a choice, and I have no idea what a Bojangles is, which I suppose would be an indicator that I don’t live in some part of the U.S. where people can tell me exactly what it is.
Do I prefer coffee or tea? Or iced tea or espresso? How about, “None of the above?” So I go with “tea,” which I drink if I am in a coffee shop needing to be sociable. Outdoor activities: swimming, hiking, fishing or barbecues? I don’t know that I would classify barbecuing anywhere near those other three, and around here, most of the swimming takes place indoors, perhaps another regional clue. So I have to go with hiking, and we will pretend that taking Oz out for a quarter-mile stroll along a flat road constitutes “hiking.” I wear the boots, anyway.
Eventually I realize they’re just going to keep asking me questions, perhaps developing a profile to better target ads, so that I can buy the proper brand of tea as I hike to whatever Friday night activity I told them I like that I really don’t (I think it was “going to the movies,” even though these days the movie comes to me on my TV as I fall asleep in front of it.
And then I look at the map, which is not replicated on their site but only in their ads, and see a major problem with how they’re going to tell me what region I’m from: there is no Colorado. It looks, at first blush, that we are there, part of a grouping with Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, until the geography gleaned from years of Denver Post quizzes kicks in and you realize, “Wyoming is a rectangle as well.” So then you look to the Southwest, which if I were grouping is where I would put Colorado, and while there are rectangles, they all have little doohickeys on them — to the top if it’s Utah, hanging off the bottom of New Mexico (which is, despite some people’s assertions, part of the United States).
So apparently it doesn’t matter if I get to the end of the endless quiz or not: Colorado is obviously only a state of mind, and that state is: “None of the above.”