AJ Jacobs, Author of “A Year Living Biblically,” Stops by for Feature Thursday!
AJ Jacobs, the best-selling author of A Year of Living Biblically, agreed to drop by and share his experience with immersion in his various adventures. The following is an excerpt from the introduction of AJ’s book, My Life as an Experiment.
Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of suggestions.
Some are intriguing. My brother-in-law suggested I spend a year growing my own food in my Manhattan apartment. Some are intriguing, but possibly come with a hidden agenda. A friend—I think he’s a friend—told me I should spend a year without human contact.
Some definitely come with an agenda. My wife keeps suggesting that I spend a year giving her foot massages and write that up. I usually counter-offer that we could try all the positions in the Kama Sutra.
The subject is generally dropped after that.
The suggestions come with the territory. For the last fifteen years, I’ve attempted to live my life as a human guinea pig. I’ve engaged in a series of experiments on my mind and body, some of which have been fruitful, some humiliating failures. I’ve tried to understand the world by immersing myself in extraordinary circumstances. I’ve grown a tremendously unattractive beard.
My career as a human guinea pig began with a piece of furniture. I was working at Entertainment Weekly magazine in the mid-1990s, and the La-Z-Boy company had just created the most pimped-out, excessive chair in the history of human seating. It pushed the concept of leisure—or sloth, if you are feeling moral—to unheard-of extremes. It had a butt massager, a heater, a built-in fridge for you to store beers and Fritos, and a modem jack. Everything but a toilet and an outboard motor.
I figured the only way to address this magnificent monstrosity was to road test it. See how it held up under sever conditions. Being a committed journalist, I offered to spend 24 hours watching TV in this La-Z-Boy and then write about it.
The experiment was actually a bit of a bust. Somewhere in the middle of a Law and Order marathon at 3 A.M., I fell asleep for five hours. But I glimpsed the possibilities this type of journalism offered. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve put myself (and my patient wife) through a battery of experiments…
To understand the global phenomenon that is outsourcing, I outsourced everything in my life. I hired a team of people in Bangalore, India to answer my phone, answer my email, argue with my wife for me. This, by the way, was probably the best month of my life.
To explore the meaning of truth, I decided to practice something called radical honesty. I spent a month without lying. But more than that, I vowed to say whatever popped into my head. No filter between the brain and the mouth. This, by the way, was probably the worst month of my life.
To slow the descent of my rapidly plummeting IQ, I read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. To try to understand religion, I lived by the rules of the Bible, from the Ten Commandments all the way down to stoning adulterers. And so on.
I’ve been told—many, many times—that there are easier ways to make a living.
Which is true.
But I’m addicted to these experiments. I’ve come to believe that if you really wanted to learn about a topic, you should get on-the-job training. You should dive in and try to live that topic. If you’re interested in Rome, you can look at maps and postcards and read census data. Or you can actually go to Italy and taste the pesto gnocchi. As the old saying goes: to understand the Italians, you must walk a mile in their loafers.
You have to be interested in the topic. That’s rule number one. If you aren’t passionate, it shows. But if you are committed to the possibility of change—then there’s nothing like it. And these experiences have transformed my life for good. I may not keep everything from each experiment—after my year of living biblically, I decided maybe I should stop stoning adulterers and I hang up my robe and sandals. But I still observe the Sabbath, I still say prayers of thanksgiving every day (even though I’m an agnostic, go figure), I still try not to covet and gossip, with varying degrees of success. You just have to hope that you keep the good parts, and don’t descend into insanity.