Finding the Outsource of Life
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, our bodies ourselves, the kids' version in song.
But first, A.J. Jacobs is not the most self-promotional man in the world, strictly speaking. Sometimes he needs help, and in these times in America, that means outsourcing. Mr. Jacobs, who's been on our program frequently, make that too much, in the past to talk about what he's learned reading every volume of the encyclopedia--a stunt that's being made into a movie by the way--decided to take up the challenge of these times and outsource huge portions of his professional and personal life overseas. He contracted with two firms in India to hire what they call `remote personal assistants,' and this introduced him to Honey, Asha and eventually, Mr. Naveen. "My Outsourced Life," which A.J. has already managed to sell to a movie maker, is the title of his article describing one man's relationship to people on the other side of the world whom he has never seen but who undertake his most personal tasks. A.J. Jacobs joins us from New York.
Thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. A.J. JACOBS (Esquire Magazine): Thank you.
SIMON: In line with your other work, A.J., this is an utterly inane idea that began with a pretty serious perception, right? That th--Tom Friedman--no less than Tom Friedman--says that outsourcing's coming to every avenue of industry and life in our country. And you found a couple of companies in India, probably more than a couple, that were up to this.
Mr. JACOBS: Yeah. I mean, they usually work for health-care companies or banks. But they decided to work for me, and they did everything for me.
SIMON: Did you talk about price?
Mr. JACOBS: I did. It was $1,000 for one of the companies and $500 for the other.
SIMON: So tell us about Honey.
Mr. JACOBS: She is so enthusiastic and eager and delighted to work, and she was frighteningly good for my ego 'cause she kept telling me what a brilliant editor I was and what a great family man. I mean, she was more supportive than my mother.
SIMON: What sort of tasks did you ask Honey to undertake for you?
Mr. JACOBS: Honey was my work assistant, so she did research for me. And I refused to talk to my boss, so she would talk to him and answer e-mails to him. And eventually she ended up writing the Esquire article for me, which was a delight.
SIMON: She didn't write the whole article for you, did she?
Mr. JACOBS: No, she wrote the end for me, and I have...
SIMON: Oh, she wrote the end of it. Yeah, she wrote the end of the article, yeah.
Mr. JACOBS: Right.
SIMON: Honey wrote what you consider to be an exceptionally well-worded note to someone who sent you too many e-mails.
Mr. JACOBS: That's right. There was a company--the Colorado State Tourism Board kept sending me e-mails about events in Colorado, and at Esquire we don't really cover local events. So I had Honey send an e-mail and she wrote, `Dear all, Jacobs often receives mails from Colorado news--too often. They are definitely interesting topics; however, these topics are not suitable for Esquire. Further, we do understand that you have taken a lot of initiative working on these articles and sending it to us. We understand. However, currently these mails are not serving right purpose for both of us. Thus, we request to stop sending these mails. We do not mean to demean your research work by this. We hope you understand, too. Thanking you, Honey.'
SIMON: Gosh, that's great, isn't it?
Mr. JACOBS: It's so polite, and yet she seems almost a little outraged that they would be bothering me with these things.
SIMON: A busy man like you.
Mr. JACOBS: That's right.
SIMON: And let me ask about Asha. Asha you decided to delegate your personal life to.
Mr. JACOBS: That's right. So Asha started out returning my phone calls and answering my e-mails, ordering my groceries. But by the end, she was arguing with my wife and reading my son bedtime stories.
SIMON: Now you asked her to advance an argument in your behalf with your wife.
Mr. JACOBS: That's right. And she was actually much more diplomatic than I would have been. And she apologized to my wife and sent my wife an electronic card with hugging teddy bears.
SIMON: Which doesn't sound like the kind of thing that you would do offhand.
Mr. JACOBS: I got to say my wife saw through that one. Yeah.
SIMON: Mr. Naveen, who I guess was like a daytime Asha...
Mr. JACOBS: Right.
SIMON: ...or at least another shift--he helped you put your son to bed one night.
Mr. JACOBS: That's right. I asked Mr. Naveen to read him a bedtime story. But he didn't have any children's books so he ended up reading him sections from the India Times about the domestic economy there, which put Jasper right to sleep.
SIMON: Now you've been--obviously began this as a--forgive me for putting it this way--but, you know, one of your stunts. But you wind up in the article making some pretty serious observations about the quality of work you encountered among Indians who were taking outsourced work, and you think a real lesson it has for us.
Mr. JACOBS: Yeah, I really do. I think that the people I worked with in Bangalore were so creative and so efficient and so eager that I really think America has to get off its butt. You know, Tom Friedman talks about in his book how in India and China Bill Gates is their Britney Spears, and in American Britney Spears is our Britney Spears. So I think that really is the problem.
SIMON: So do you hear from Honey and Asha and Mr. Naveen anymore, or was this just, you know, strictly business?
Mr. JACOBS: You know, I became a little addicted to the whole thing, so they are actually still in my employ.
Mr. JACOBS: Yeah, I...
SIMON: So now you must be doing this on your own dime at this point?
Mr. JACOBS: I am, I am. Think now they're giving me a little discount, but I am indeed paying them on my own dime. I just--I couldn't imagine answering my own e-mails anymore.
SIMON: A.J., nice talking to you...
Mr. JACOBS: Great talking to you.
SIMON: ...and our best to Honey and Asha and Mr. Naveen, as well.
Mr. JACOBS: Absolutely.
SIMON: A.J. Jacobs. His article, "My Outsourced Life" is in the current issue of Esquire magazine.
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