Friday, November 6, 2015

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Stand up comic Aziz Ansari's first book, Modern Romance, proves to be a pleasant surprise. Equal parts self-help, sociology and humour, Ansari's book is the perfect guide to finding love in the internet age.

Aziz Ansari is perhaps best known for his role in the NBC comedy series, Parks and Recreation. Aziz is also a stand up comic. For his first book he has teamed up with sociologist Eric Klineberg to write about dating in the age of the internet. Modern Romance is the result.

The book is based on extensive research. Ansari and Klineberg conducted hundreds of interviews with participants from many countries, getting them to open up about their experiences of dating online. They also set up a forum on reddit and solicited answers to questions about internet dating.

Before the internet, we learn, most couples found each other locally, through friends, church groups or simply in the neighbourhood. People didn’t have a lot of choice and would mostly settle for someone who didn’t necessarily tick all the boxes, but was a pretty good match nonetheless. Fast forward to today and the world is your oyster. The internet has allowed those looking for a partner to pick and choose amongst literally millions of candidates. Even better, searches can be narrowed down to the exact characteristics you are looking for. It all seems too good to be true. First time internet daters confess to finding all the choice exciting and appealing. But after a while the gloss rubs off and the constant trawling through hundreds and hundred of potential mates becomes frustrating and tiring.

In what has been termed the paradox of choice, having so much freedom ends up being a trap in itself. Too much choice creates a fear of missing out, or FOMO, a social anxiety peculiar to the internet age. In one mad, but surely not unusual example, Ansari describes a young woman flicking through the dating app Tinder looking for potential dates while actually on the way to a real date. Anxious that her set date might not be up to the grade, she wanted a back up. As Ansari shows, the research on choice demonstrates that those who set the bar very high experience great dissatisfaction, even when they get what they want.

Another major problem the book highlights with the phone world of internet dating is the method of communication. Text messaging fosters the use of glib, pointless back-and-forth messages. Many daters complained about the amount of time wasted on these “conversations” that would fizzle out and go nowhere. Text messaging also gives a false sense of bravado, as phone users quickly dash off inappropriate messages they would never say in person. It’s quite gobsmacking to read some of the texts (young men especially) write. Compounding the problem is the fact that more and more people are uncomfortable actually speaking to each other over the phone. They find it too confronting and prefer to text.

Although this all sounds pretty depressing, Ansari tries to end the book with some upbeat tips. Basically, he suggests using the internet as simply one tool in your bag of tricks. Avoid too much texting, he suggests, and remember not to think of faces on dating apps as just digital bubbles on a screen, but as real people with feelings. Talk to people face-to-face. Give the real world a chance. All pretty common sense advice, really.

The most valuable thing about Modern Romance from a social sciences point of view is the detailed picture it gives of internet dating and how young moderns are searching for love. It’s kind of like a Hite Report on love and sex in the 21st century. As a self help book, it offers some salient advice, but one wonders how easy it is to resist such an addictive force as the internet.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klineberg. Published by Allen Lane. ISBN: 9780241211830 RRP: $39.99

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