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Mechanical Proust

Posted by Samuel Arbesman  October 12, 2010 10:09 AM

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John Horton, a graduate student in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (and a friend of mine), has created a project known as Mechanical Proust. It combines two rather different matters: the Proust Questionnnaire, designed to gain insight into an individual's personality, and Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online market where people perform simple tasks for pennies, like labeling photos, though more recently, social scientists are using it to do online experiments). Marcel Proust popularized this type of questionnaire through his answers to such questions as "Where would you like to live?" Vanity Fair's website even allows you to take a version of the questionnaire and compare your answers to those of celebrities, generally published on the back pages of their magazine.

Horton's Mechanical Proust pays individuals three cents to answer randomly chosen questions from the Proust Questionnaire, which are then posted automatically to the blog (more information here). And the result combines literature and technology to yield beautiful and heartfelt, and sometimes existentially weird, answers.

A selection:

Q. What is your favourite colour and flower?
A. Purple - and I love freesias

Q. Where would you like to live?
A. I would like to live In Rockwall Texas near the Lake.

Q. What is your favourite occupation?
A. I have drove truck, worked in a factory, counseled, been in sales, and worked on a farm. Out of all of these, my favorite occupation has been working with animals on the farm. They don't argue, talk back, try to use you to promote themselves, and they never ask for raises, vacation time, sick leave, etc.

Q. What is the natural talent you'd like to be gifted with?
A. eidetic memory

Q. What is your idea of misery?
A. Misery is the death of your child.

Q. What is your biggest accomplishment in life?
A. I would say graduating college because it took me 6 years plus I paid for it all out of my own pocket.

Q. What do you hate the most?
A. THE HUMAN BEINGS

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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