What is texting doing to our lives? What has sexting done to Anthony Weiner’s life? Why is it O.K. for women to send photos of their breasts to men they barely know? (Why is it O.K. for authors to call breasts “boobs”?) How likely are you to introduce someone you met on Tinder to your parents? Why do Japanese men avoid women but go to bed with the Tenga, “a single-use silicone egg” that they “fill with lubricant and masturbate inside?” What is it with men, anyway?
Mr. Ansari, who is 32 and now enjoys a healthy textual relationship with a steady girlfriend, might not be the first person who springs to mind when it comes to dispensing romantic advice. But he is as good a guide as any. He’s old enough to remember what life was like in the era before cellphones, yet young enough to understand the point of Snapchat, a disappearing-image app beloved by the young and only vaguely understood by everyone else. Better still, he has a knack for getting people to talk to him and a sense of what to do to fill out a book that could easily have felt too thin or anemic.
“Modern Romance” is full of actual data; as Mr. Ansari puts it, “I also knew that I, bozo comedian Aziz Ansari, probably couldn’t tackle this topic on my own.” So he enlisted Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, whose own book, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” might at first glance make him, too, seem like an iffy prospect as a dating authority.
But Mr. Ansari and Mr. Klinenberg applied rigor and seriousness to their subject. Their energetic research program included focus groups and interviews with hundreds of people in New York; Los Angeles; Wichita, Kan.; Monroe, N.Y.; Tokyo; Paris; and Doha, Qatar. They set up a discussion forum on the social networking site Reddit; interviewed experts; consulted books on sociology, psychology and human behavior; and dug up sober academic studies about current dating trends.
The result is a sprightly, easygoing hybrid of fact, observation, advice and comedy, with Mr. Klinenberg, presumably, supplying the medicine — graphs, charts, statistics and the like — and Mr. Ansari dispensing the spoonfuls of sugar that help it go down. “Damn, dude, shorten the names of your studies!” he writes, having just cited a report called “Couples’ Shared Participation in Novel and Arousing Activities and Experienced Relationship Quality.”
I could have done without some of the statistics and studies, frankly, but they were broken into digestible chunks and so slid by easily. The best part of “Modern Romance” comes when Mr. Ansari and his team get people to share the most embarrassing aspects of their romantic quests: the dorky text (“I wanted to say hi and sort of ‘texty’ introduce myself. Haha. :),” writes one unfortunate fellow); the bad personal-ad photograph; the guys who seem great but turn out to be married or criminals. “I Googled my date,” one woman says on the Reddit forum. “According to a weekly synagogue newsletter, he and his wife were hosting a Torah class for children the same day as our date.”
We learn about the perverse phenomenon wherein people spend weeks texting or messaging potential partners and then just stop texting altogether, “without actually going on a date.” We learn the answer to one of the puzzling questions of our time: Why millennials do not like to answer the phone. Here it is, according to a woman they talked to: “Phone calls suck and they give me anxiety.”
They talk to people who live in big cities who are paralyzed by choice, and people who live in small communities who cannot seem to meet people their friends haven’t already met. “It’s like a cesspool,” says a woman from upstate New York. “Everybody has slept with each other.”
Perhaps there is some comfort in the realization that all of us have done mortifying things in the pursuit of romance. It does not take a cellphone to humiliate yourself, as my friend Jackie and I did in elementary school, by leaving a heart-shaped note saying, “Dear Lover Boy, We Love You. Signed, Anonymous” at the house of a boy we both liked. (We did not remain anonymous for long.)
As Mr. Ansari says — after exhorting us to use technology wisely; to get out of the house and meet real people; and to wait decent, nondesperate-seeming intervals before returning text messages — “The main thing I’ve learned from this research is that we’re all in it together.”Continue reading the main story
By Aziz Ansari With Eric Klinenberg
Illustrated. 277 pages. Penguin Press. $28.95.
This useful handbook introduces the present state of qualitative methodology in German media research. While its formal focus is on media, it covers many aspects which are of general interest. The chapters are short and provide useful examples of the application of different methods. The book proceeds from theory via data collection to analysis and meta-methodological reflections. In some chapters, it is not always clear whether data collection or analysis is the focus. The book also indicates three desiderata of qualitative methodology today: 1. the logics of sampling are often neglected; 2. the process of analysis beyond structuring the material is not sufficiently clear; and 3. comprehensive criteria for the validity of qualitative research are still lacking.
data analysis; data collection; epistemology; interpretation; qualitative media research; sampling; validity
Copyright (c) 2007 Peter Hilger
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.