By Aziz Ansari. Penguin, 277 pp, hardcover
Those who’ve watched Aziz Ansari’s Netflix special Live at Madison Square Garden likely experienced an “aha” moment. The Parks and Recreation star was performing a bit on dating in the digital era when he called a woman up to the stage, convinced her to surrender her smartphone, and read an exchange with a guy she was dating. It was horrifying—and illuminating—to see how quickly the flirty connection disintegrated into a complete waste of time.
“And that’s what everyone has to deal with now!” the comic said with a laugh.
The penny suddenly dropped: people weren’t frustrated because they happened to be crap at texting, or dating people who were crap at it. They were frustrated because texting itself is crap.
Modern Romance was born out of this standup gold. Ansari paired up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, conducted original research in a number of countries, threw a bunch of hilarious rap references into the mix, and wound up with the definitive book on dating in the Internet age.
Among its revealing tidbits: we all now live double lives, toggling between the real world and the dissociated world of our phones—and this dizzying navigation makes it easy to forget we’re dealing with actual human beings; texting often fizzles because it turns us all into boring secretaries “trying to schedule the dumbest shit”; online dating has increased options exponentially and necessitates selection based on meaningless information; the current generation suffers from Soul Mate Syndrome, swiping endlessly in search of perfection and missing out on scores of great companions along the way. In short: we all give up on each other way, way too easily these days.
Has technology ruined romance? The central question of the book is worth contemplating, at least if we want the species to continue. (The Japanese government is so concerned, it has begun bankrolling the singles scene.) Ansari isn’t willing to go so far as to say that it has. He points to how exciting it can be for smitten new couples to create their own private phone world of photos and inside jokes.
Still, he acknowledges that even that best-case scenario is full of landmines. One misstep—one misjudged mood, one delayed response—can jeopardize the real-world relationship in a way no old-school phone call ever could. So technology isn’t exactly helping romance, either.