Predictive text memes: The rush of a personality quiz with none of the work

Predictive text memes are all over Twitter for a few reasons. First, they’re easy to do: All you need is 30 seconds and a phone; no Photoshop required. Second, they’re in a pliable format with nearly endless room for variation. And finally, they scratch that weird itch many of us feel on the internet: The desire for an online entity — a quiz, an astrology app, a device full of our own data — to tell us something about ourselves.

This particular brand of meme is made using autocomplete, which is available in some form on most smartphones. Apple, for example, says it uses your “past conversations, writing style, and even websites you visit in Safari” to suggest the word it thinks you’d like to type on your iPhone next. 

While the service is often finicky, I’ve found it to be genuinely helpful — even though it produces an unmistakable “dystopia!” feeling in the pit of my stomach. My iMessage app clearly knows stuff about me: It suggests my friends’ names, it throws in a “y’all” where I’d say “y’all,” and it often assumes I’m talking about dogs (I am). This makes it a fairly compelling online Ouija board — for me and for other people who like to mess around on the internet.

Autocomplete memes seem to pop up in time of relative meme scarcity, i.e. when people are super bored. They ask participants to type a phrase on their phones, then post what autocomplete suggests to finish the sentence. 

Unsurprisingly, these memes mostly involve things everyone is thinking about all the time, like sex, dying, and personal identity. In January, for instance, a bunch of people used predictive text to write their own epitaphs, which is a gloomy but sort of irresistible proposition. Who hasn’t imagined their own funeral? (My epitaph: “Here lies Chloe. She was really good at something.”) In February people used a predictive text meme to define sex. (Mine: “Sex is not bad.”)

The memes have even invaded the ever-popular astrological space a few times. In March, Hank Green tweeted out a template for a “predictive text horoscope,” which elicited some fun results. And the “I am a [sign] and that’s why” game — another foray into astrology memes — ended up being pretty on the nose for a few people.

Well, at least that’s what they said. We don’t actually have a way to know if anyone’s results matched their actual personalities. Frankly, I don’t think my results match my actual personality, but it was fun to type them out for you in this post. That is, perhaps, the appeal of predictive text memes: As with BuzzFeed quizzes and retweeted horoscopes, the real allure is posting your results.

Devon Maloney explored this phenomenon in a 2014 article for Wired focusing specifically on online quizzes. She wrote:

The reason quizzes have proliferated, of course, is the same reason they have any social relevance at all: We share our results with each other. As quizzes have become a lucrative option for online publishers, they’ve also a signifier of self, as indicative of who we are as the profile pictures we choose, the music we publicly listen to on Spotify, or even what kind of bath towels we just bought on Amazon. The fun isn’t taking the quiz—it’s showing the result to others.

Predictive text memes are a natural next step in this tradition. We use them in the same way we use quizzes, which is to share what we want to share online under the guise of “prediction.” Autocomplete results are curated traits designed to appear natural.

The real allure is posting your results.

Of course, performing a personality online is not a new concept. But it’s interesting to see how the ways we do so have developed in tandem with our relationships to technology. Predictive text memes are very 2019: They get their information not from a Q&A, but from information you’ve been providing quietly in the background the entire time you’ve had your phone. 

Sometimes this produces disturbingly on-point results, like a creepily accurate targeted ad, and sometimes it produces garbage that doesn’t make sense. One of my attempts at an “introduce yourself” meme, for example: “My name is Chloe. I was born in a new one. My age is a new one. I like to see a new one.” (I did not share this, as it is neither accurate nor acceptably self-deprecating.)

Luckily, predictive text memes are mostly just fun diversions. (As far as memes go, they’re not even particularly good.) Even more luckily, you can simply retry them again and again until you get a result that feels right. 

It’s your epitaph, after all.

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