Modern Romance: An Investigation,
by Aziz Ansari, Dr. Eric Klinenberg,
Published by Penguin Group (2015)
Ansari has a way with words. He communicates thoughts in the simplest manner possible, without much regard for form – the substance of the idea is superior. It’s something that is noticeable on his stand-up specials, and even his hit show, Master of None. It’s what makes Ansari’s work so polarizing – with people on both sides of the like/hate spectrum.
This book is no different.
Technology controls the way we lead our lives. From the news, to the weather, to human interaction – we spend more time on screens and electronic devices than we spend with people. This, naturally has an effect on the way relationships develop. That is the premise of Ansari’s quest in Modern Romance.
A few caveats before we delve into observations. The book is not gut-wrenchingly humorous, as Ansari’s clips may well be. It does not, in any manner, make you laugh out loud at every second page. It is merely written by an individual with an incredible sense of humour – and therefore even mundane observations will get you to laugh because of recurring gags in the book itself. The book is also research-driven. It is something Ansari lays out categorically at the Preface, and therefore, the work does contain large references to previous papers, and transcripts from conversations with sociologists and leading relationship experts. If you aren’t interested in that kind of thing, this is not a book for you.
I was intrigued by the premise, which is the only reason I read this.
The book both fulfilled my curiosity and disappointed me.
My disappointment comes from the fact that I was not startled by anything the book presented. In fact, it felt very normal to read observations about how “iPhone users are twice as likely to sext than Android users are”, and how previous generations married and dated within a smaller cultural and geographical field. While the former is something I’ve observed as a result of my conversations with friends, the latter is something I have discussed with my parents. It is something that newspaper tabloids and sociologists have been writing about for a while now.
That theme runs true throughout the book. We discover that people find dating today exhausting, and that there are individuals who have different personalities over the phone and in person – all of which has been documented before. While there is no harm in presenting material available elsewhere, my grouse was the manner in which it was presented. It seemed mechanical and forced – lots of screenshots (which could be real, but also, could be doctored) to prove a point.
But, Ansari does do some things uniquely. And therefore, if you’re trying to understand relationship culture a little better, this book would be a great place to start.
First, of course, is the level of research. It is commendable that they relied on Reddit as a focus group. But it is also most representative because people have admitted that Reddit is perhaps the best place to be honest and anonymous on the internet.
Second, is the fact that Ansari chronicles his own relationship history through the book. There is a connecting, identifying element to the entire narrative – one that you miss out on while reading non-fiction. It makes you invested, to say the least.
Finally, the book provides really good perspective on dating in other countries. In India, we’re a real mixed blend of liberal people and conservative individuals – tilted toward the conservatism. Reading about practices in Qatar, Japan, France and Argentina, just opens up your mind to possibilities – and how much society influences the way you think about your own relationships.
It is intriguing and all in all, was a quick read.