I had a bunch of books lined up in my Audible queue and ultimately chose this one to dive into. Having recently listened to The Nerdist Way, written and narrated by Chris Hardwick, I knew that I wanted a similar, engaging and whimsical narrator. As a fan of both Parks and Rec, and Master of None, as well this appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, I knew that I would find my next narrator in Aziz Ansari. In addition, the book was highly recommended by some very smart friends whose opinions I trust. (Also, I suppose, that it doesn’t hurt that it was a New York Times bestseller). I started up the book and almost immediately felt good about my decision, primarily with Ansari’s intro, whereby he proclaims that the listeners are probably pretty lazy for having him read his book to them. He’s probably right.
Once the book gets going, its clear that this is no ordinary book of comedic ramblings. In fact, it is actually an insightful sociological study of the impact of technology on dating culture. I went into it thinking I would hear a lot of his personal anecdotes, but came out of it with a pretty holistic view of how the dating world works these days (I should note that I have been in a monogamous relationship for the past 9 years. Do the math and you’ll find that that was right on the cusp of the slow death of Myspace, a pre-smart phone era (that is if you discount Blackberry), and many years before Grindr, Tinder, or Ok Cupid would dominate the means by which people meet each other for romantic entabglings). In other words, I haven’t been in a situation where those tools would be beneficial to me, which actually made me an ideal listener as I had much to learn.
Here are my thoughts:
Aziz Ansari did a fantastic job researching, writing, and narrating this book. That said, I cannot leave out the importance of the involvement of co-author Eric Kilnenberg, a prominent sociologist, professor of the subject, and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University – not too shabby. There is no doubt that his part took Ansari far deeper into the subject than he may have anticipated. And Ansari seemed to have welcomed going into the sociological trenches to gain a truer view of how love – particularly those early, how and when-they-first-meet stages – has evolved, largely due to the impact of technology. They go back in time to uncover that it was geographic proximity that once brought people together, or that a relationship was arranged by the families. They research how things like newspaper classifieds and video dating transformed the landscape of how people meet. The thread that’s most tightly woven throughout the book however, is that of our current techno-lives – that our smartphones are practically embedded into our hands, and how all it takes is a swipe left or right to determine if you may be compatible with someone. They touch upon the paradox of choice – that argument that too much choice leads to indecision. In dating, this translates to a one-foot-is-always-out-the-door attitude, wherein one is constantly wondering if maybe there’s someone better out there. This ultimately leads to a lack of depth and an abundance of superficiality – people don’t give one anther a chance anymore, and rarely go on more than just a few dates with the same person before ditching them for someone else that they think might be a better fit for them. This behavior seems to just cycle for most online daters.
Ansari and Klienenberg travel the states to see how different environments impact dating behavior. For example, In New York, where people mostly get around on foot, one can expect to meet a myriad of people throughout the course of the day. Whereas in Los Angeles, a major U.S. city with a vastly different landscape that does not favor foot traffic, the probability of multiple interactions with strangers is substantially less. Go out to a rural area and that probability decreases even more drastically. They even traveled the world, going to places like Tokyo, Paris and Buenos Aires to see how dating has evolved in different cultures.
While the study is focused on romantic interactions, what I found most interesting is how the findings depict a general sense of contemporary culture. There is no doubt that technology has permeated our lives, no longer acting as external peripherals, but embedded into the fabric of our day to day behaviors. That said, the findings in this book reflect how we have not yet mastered these new tools. We are in beta testing, finding out what works to optimize our life experiences, what needs tweaking, and what can be tossed aside as either useless or obsolete.
Overall, I really dug Modern Romance as an approachable means to a complex subject. It is well written, well researched and serves as a unique bridge between pop culture and academia. Aziz Ansari’s personable narration is a welcomed bonus, and in spite of his inquiry of the laziness of his listeners, he remains committed to delivering a gratifying performance through and through.
Here are the drawings I made while listening to the book: