I was saying something about this to somebody else on email the other day, only about quizzes rather than about popularity-contest stuff. Actually, I'm going to quote exactly what I said, because they probably wouldn't mind, and it was my words anyway:
I did a crap "Which box can we put you in?" internet quiz, which was supposed to tell me whether I was a goth or whatever, and it told me that I didn't fit in any box. I laughed so much at that, and nobody else thought it was funny. They were, like, "That's a really cool result!"
Everybody I know seems to be completely into the internet quiz thing at the moment, it's doing my head in. It's, like, "Which tube station are you?" "Which colour/animal/city/fruit/film are you?" "Which preposition are you?" FOR FUCK'S SAKE! It's self-definition gone mad. And then I end up doing the quizzes anyway because I'm bored, and I find myself getting dragged into them. "No! I'm not a wolf really, I think I'm much more of a ... a cat!" or "Yes! I *am* Dream from Sandman! That's so... *me*!"
So that's what I said. It's not just that I'm bored, though -- although I like to tell myself it is. Like when you tell yourself that a tarot reading or something is just a game, but secretly you want to believe in it and you know you're going to be affected by the results. I think part of the reason I do the quizzes is that I secretly want to have my opinions of myself confirmed ... or to get "good" results so that I can laugh at them and say "That is such a joke, I'm not like that at all, these internet quizzes are a load of rubbish anyway". It's one of those things where you can believe in it as long as it gives you the answer you want.
I'm currently having a bizarre "Desert Island foo" email conversation with one of my cow-orkers. Yesterday we did "What 5 vegetables would you take with you to a desert island?" -- today it's been "What 5 cheeses...", and "What 5 things to distract you from being hungry". It's just another symptom of the same thing -- "High Fidelity" syndrome (it existed before the book, of course, but the book expressed it so well, the way the protagonist lists all his records and his broken hearts in much the same way, and he knows it's sad and pointless, but he does it anyway, because it provides structure). We need to make lists of things, to state our position in the universe -- it's like adding more and more co-ordinates, in more and more dimensions, endlessly refining our definitions of ourselves, adding more dimensions in case we've missed something important.
<aside>This ties in with some of the things I was going to say the other day about "I have never", although others of the things I was going to say (about peer pressure and suchlike) don't really fit in here. But a lot of the reason I think people play "I have never" is that they want to list what they've done, what they haven't done, where they can place themselves in the grand order of who-has-done-what. Am I hot or not? Am I dodgy or not? Am I relatively experienced, or relatively inexperienced? Where would you rate me?<aside>
And the questions remaining to be asked are infinite. What shape of glass would you be? Which flavour of ice-cream? Which major chord? Which minor dramatist of the late 19th century? What does your handwriting say about your taste in clothes? Who uses the most pronouns in their usenet posts? Who posts the largest volume of crap to livejournal?
Who would you sleep with out of Hollyoaks? Who would you sleep with out of your cow-orkers? Which five people would you take to a desert island with you? To which five people would you send anonymous tokens of affection, assuming you only had five heart-shaped clichés? If you have to count, it doesn't count. List your friends in order of attractiveness. Let us put you on this graph, and we'll tell you how much you're worth. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. All in all, you're just another bit of writing on the wall.