The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

“One man. Nine extraordinary quests.”—a quite precise and interesting back-cover quote that summarizes the book, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, that I have just finished reading. The idea of using oneself as the test subject of an experiment is not new. Scientists have done it. Ordinary people have done it as well, though usually would not result in volumes of research reports and thesis papers. In fact, who wouldn’t agree that life itself is an experiment? The author, A.J. Jacobs, purposefully put his life to various tests and reported his findings in a humorous tone that makes the book an interest read.

Among all the tests, “My Outsourced Life” is one of my favorite. Not only does the experiment illustrate various unusual, if not bizarre, requests Jacobs made to his outsourcing team, but it also sheds light on personal outsourcing, the concept of virtual assistant, and more importantly, how the Indian workforce has become more competitive. Judging from Jacobs’ description and a number of excerpts from emails that were written by the outsourcing team to Jacobs, the outsourcing team had done very well in almost every aspect. The outsourcing workers even had good English grammars and the ability to learn to reduce their Indian accent. Their extreme politeness and willingness to accept seemingly any projects within their capability (e.g. Jacobs asked a worker to fulfill his filial duty by making a call to his parents to wish them Happy Anniversary) easily made the requester feel like king. Thankfully, outsourcing has its limits. I can’t imagine how people will turn out if they keep inching toward abuse of power and avert their personal duties and soul-deadening chores through outsourcing.

Little things that happened in the other experiments left memorable impression as well. For example, there is a chapter about being radically honest. I think it’s one thing to being genuine, another to being brutally honest to the point that it hurts other people. Jacobs’ narration also introduces me to George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, many of which still applies in today’s society. The book ends with Jacobs’ experiment of being an obedient husband for a month. In my opinion, it is the most entertaining chapter. Jacobs’ description of talking to his wife the way he talks to his children and the funny scene about male chastity belt made me smile. It becomes more interesting when his wife concluded the chapter (and the book) by looking at the experiment from her perspective.

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