Life’s Multiple Choices

Long before I experienced puberty in any meaningful sense I had an inherent proclivity for multiple choice. As a schoolchild faced with fundamental questions about the world, our laws of physics, its abstractions in mathematics and other unyielding numerical yet uncanny arithmetic relationships, multiple choice was a crutch for me. If you sat me down in one of those spartan, silent, soulless, pre pubescent body odor filled rooms at exam time and handed me six or so open-ended questions relating to the laws of physics or geometric relationships between bastardized-looking 3-dimensional shapes drawn by my dog my tender little heart would sink precipitously.

But if you gave me multiple choice answers my young fragile soul would soar unfettered like one of those big birds in an updraft over the Andes, preferably aired in HD and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, or in a pinch, Morgan Freeman. Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn’t cut it for me with that particular voiceover although I generally admire the man when he doesn’t act and I am almost fully supportive of his charitable causes. I still don’t get that movie Inception and the notion of watching the new Wall Street thing is unappealing to me.

With multiple choice, suddenly, instead of trying to regurgitate some obscure and seemingly unnecessary sixteenth century theorem all I had to do was simply choose a latin letter anywhere from A to E. Anyone who has had trouble with their regulator when night diving at 100 feet knows the experience of elation when oxygen again starts flowing freely. At teenage exam time, my emergency air supply came in the form of multiple-choice answers. Sometimes I knew the right answer, sometimes I winged it, and if I was feeling a bit cheeky I sneakily filled in two of those little boxes. Occasionally I justifiably felt that there were multiple correct responses.

Decades after my first open-ended exam traumatization, and with puberty no longer visible in my rear-view mirror, I still face multiple-choice assessments on a seemingly increasing and frequent basis. The rapid emergence and indomitable presence of the Internet tests and vexes me all the time. When I book a flight or hotel I must answer questions from those ubiquitous little drop down menus, else I cannot travel or even proceed to the next virtual page. However, some of the questions are much easier than in my lurid childhood exams. For example, after typing the single letter U I am asked if I live in Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay or the United States of America. Dead easy that one, except maybe if you are from Ukraine and you are pro-Putin (which I find unfathomable). Likewise, the multiple choice of Virginia or Vermont is an equally simple selection for me

Prefixes and suffixes are also seemingly requisite in these days of drop down multiple choices. You can be a mister or a miss or a Ms. (I think that means Scottish spinster) and you can be a junior or George Worthington the third, with three little trailing roman Is at the end of your name. I must admit that upon coming to America the use of the Jr. suffix threw me. Whenever I encountered a junior I automatically felt some impulsion to request an audience with the parent. Heretofore I generally ignored drop down prefixes and suffixes and it is probably fair to say I treated them with a measure of disdain. For example, in 2008 when I became a Fellow of a Royal Society I was forlorn when I could not drop that suffix on my name when ordering a book from Amazon or a cheap flight on Expedia. But last year that all changed. Last year I became a doctor.

A doctoral degree exclusively offers the recipient a really cool suffix or prefix. You can be Dr. Bob Anderson or you can be Bob Anderson Ph.D. It’s really quite brilliant in terms of dealing with drop downs. I would say moreover that I am generally under the impression that the Dr. prefix affords me more reverence in certain situations. So recently I have succumbed to using the Dr. prefix on my main airline and hotel websites. For example, at hotels, freshly cleaned underwear for Dr. has some aplomb and conveys some element of dignity, as does another cup of coffee or croissant for Dr. on the airplane.

Eleven hours after leaving Heathrow my flight from London to Singapore en route to Burma neared the gate and three beautiful flight attendants (one was a guy) presented me with a little completely unnecessary and impractical floral arrangement and told me that they were pleased to know that there was a doctor on board the aircraft. The lead attendant (who goes by purser) told me that on occasion having a doctor on the plane is really handy. I tried to explain that I could only really render aid to a fellow passenger if he or she was suffering from business plan problems and we then settled on my titular rights to professor, not doctor. It was “aaaaah you’re a professor, not a doctor!” I disingenuously agreed to that statement in order to settle any confusion, although at that point I was lying as I am indeed a doctor but not qualified as a professor. Sometimes I just go with the flow as life can be short. As they waved goodbye to the professor I was again the first off the airplane. Making a mental note to check if there is a professor prefix on the airline website drop down, I was once again greeted with an individual holding a Dr. placard. I felt no need to repeat the whole professor doctor thing as this lady took me on my own golf cart through the diplomatic channels at the airport. I just went with doctor on board the cart.

Sorry if these updates are a little bit long. Since I just spent the last three years attaining a PhD, I am haunted by my professor’s urges to strive for at least 5,000 words on any form of communication. Next, I will report on Burma’s golden millennium of cultural development.


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