Modern Romance is a novel ostensibly written by Aziz Ansari but Eric Klinenberg at NYU also had a heavy hand in the matter. From what I can tell, Erik sourced a lot of the background research and provided a scholarly air to the whole endeavor while Aziz’s job was to make that scholarly research entertaining. Modern Romance is an overview of current state of affairs in dating in the year 2015.
The main takeaway I had after reading Modern Romance was that dating culture has changed significantly from our parents’ generation and continues to evolve at an incredible pace. Ansari makes this point most eloquently in what he doesn’t talk about, namely Snapchat. The book was published in 2015, and I read it in late 2016. The book doesn’t focus on Snapchat at all, even though it is the primary form of communication for many of my friends and my siblings. Instead, it focuses an entire chapter on the intricacies of flirting via text. It was like reading about how to flirt on Myspace after you’ve just spent a year on Facebook – does that advice really still apply?
Another particularly strong part of the book has Ansari traveling to different countries to examine the dating culture there. The comparisons with dating culture in the US are particularly enlightening. Turns out that while dating in Japan or in Argentina is vastly different than the US, these cultures are also experiencing rapid change and haven’t “solved” dating in the 21st century, either.
The most striking part was finding out how low-quality online dating is given its prominence. While I have tried online dating before, I deleted all of my accounts two years ago and it was interesting to learn how the scene has changed (not significantly, from what I can tell). On swipe-style apps like Tinder, women have an absolutely insane number of matches yet the quality of their discussions is appallingly low. On the other hand, most men have extremely low match rates – yet most of their matches have such crowded inboxes that it can be impossible to stand out. People are clearly drawn to the instantaneous, gamified, swipe-style matching system as pioneered by Tinder. And it clearly works. Tons of people use the platform and plenty of sustainable couples have been matched. But most people using the platform as their primary method of meeting potential partners seem to be pretty apathetic about the situation. It seems like there is a pretty big opportunity for an upstart challenger here. But can a challenger really succeed if IAC (which owns Tinder, Match, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish…) can just copy-cat a superior model while leveraging a vast amount of domain experience, is it even worth it?
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book. I found it too light and fluffy, and it will probably just tell you things that you already know from first-hand experience. You may consider listening to the audiobook; I haven’t read it but Ansari narrates it and apparently the jokes come across a lot better. Aziz, if you’re reading this, don’t take it personally. You seem like a cool guy and we should grab a drink sometime.