Book Review: “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

God, I’m so glad I’m not dating anymore!

Interpersonal Attraction, AKA, “Dating & Mating”, is a topic I’ve paid attention to since my first graduate work in the seventies. And I’ve been fascinated to watch what “the kids” do with all this Internet and mobile technology I helped bring into the world.

Sure, we created email to help speed up the “where are we going after work” discussions endemic in labs on campus. And I remember the first match making service in town (bootlegged on left over mainframe time). So, we knew it was going to be used for dating and mating.

But, wow!

This book is especially interesting because Ansari, who works as a stand up comic, produced a legitimate piece of social science, based on solid academic research, data sets from commercial providers, surveys, focus groups, and discussions with researchers. It’s the real deal science-wise.

And, bonus!, he’s a comic. So the writing is light and irreverent, even as he digs pretty close to the nerve in some cases.

This makes it both enlightening and fun to read.

Even with my previous academic knowledge of the topic, I learned a lot. For one thing, some of the fundamentals have actually changed since I was studying it. And not all of the changes are technological.

Basically, the overwhelming role of propinquity and familiarity that had been the basic rule for at least a couple centuries are out the window. In addition, a lot of the “it’s good enough, let’s make it work” behavior has been replaced by “searching for a soul mate”.

Throw in Internet technology that, if it can do anything, can do shopping. Now there are simple technical means to explore zillions of possible mates with, literally, a flick of the finger. The pool has expanded from tens to millions. And it is no longer “people like me”, but “anyone”.

At the same time, most of us use screens much more, and develop online lives. Us old geezers would never want to hook up with someone on the basis of digital information about them. (That’s not the real world, and who trusts it?) But digital natives expect to connect with people digitally as the normal way to do things.

Digital communications, especially ubiquitous texting creates a sense of connection, which also keeping separate. Navigating that space adds to the challenge of meeting and getting to know each other.

Whole new protocols and unwritten norms have emerged and continue to evolve.  Kids have to interpret the tea leaves of terse messages, dangling conversations, and spam.  They also have to juggle the diplomatic issues of, say, how to break up.  Is texting it OK?  Change your status to “single”?  Before or after texting the schub?

There are also crazy new problems, like digital snooping, stalking, hacking, and sexting. Dealing with the continuing presence of an ex on line.  How to screw up the courage to meet in person.  How to say no.  How to say yes.

Sheesh! Dating was hard enough, without having to go all NSA about it.

Ansari also visited a sample of locations outside his normal habitat (NY & LA), including small towns in the US, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Paris. These investigations are interesting because the technology is pretty much universal, so differences in behavioral are cultural.

Well done, and definitely worth reading.


 

  1. Ansari, Aziz, Modern Romance, New York, Penguin Press, 2015.

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