Modern Romance

Love in the Time of Facebook

After hearing Aziz Ansari discuss his book on the Freakonomics podcast a few weeks ago, I decided to get a copy of Modern Romance from Amazon. In his book, Ansari teams up with sociological experts to discuss how technology has changed how we form and maintain romantic relationships. In addition, he set up a subreddit for ordinary people to tell their stories of romance from around the globe. It is a short read, but remarkably empirical, using stories to illustrate data rather than picking the most lurid stories and spinning them - he finds that online dating and texting have their benefits and problems, and suggests ways to improve the modern romance experience.

I liked that Aziz Ansari wanted to write a book that wasn’t a rehash of his standup routines, but it became quickly clear why most comedians adopt their standup to the page rather than write new material - the best jokes came from his Modern Romance standup routines. The newer jokes feel like they are trying too hard to sound like Tom Haverford - except Tom is funny because he’s not funny, and Ansari is expected to be funny on his own.

Not that I didn’t laugh; It’s a good advertisement for his standup, but Ansari was far more interesting on the radio than in his book. I don’t feel the book contains anything that wasn’t in the Freakonomics interview. However, the content itself is good. He satirizes the internet as a terrible but infinitely long novel, that we get addicted to. This is a metaphor for online dating, where we never invest in a partner because it’s easier to try with the next of thousands of potential mates if they aren’t perfect in some way. By looking for the perfect mate, we make the search extremely hard on us.

He gives some good advice on how to make the search less frustrating, noting that the behavior of people online is much different from how they would act in the real world, often in ways counter productive to building relationships. He suggests that people invest more into each potential relationship they meet, rather than try to create as many relationships as possible, and to accept that your soul mate may not be perfect.

I can’t really recommend picking up Ansari’s book unless you have never studied the topic and want a good jumping off point for love in the age of social media. Most of it is a summary of well known Okcupid data articles, and some well know sociological sources - all freely avaliable on the internet. It’s a short book, and each topic could fill a large book on their own. The citations are probably the most valuable part of the book, giving beginners a way to study the science in more detail.

I hope that Ansari finds the time to write more detailed books in the future; He picked a great topic and it works well with his standup. He shines the most in his serious interviews, getting subjects to frankly discuss things they would be too ashamed to acknowledge to themselves, and gets them to laugh at themselves. He could find himself a great communicator of taboo issues, if he addressed them seriously.

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