Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance (due out in June), will explore how technology — smartphones, texting, social media, online dating, and more — is affecting today’s dating landscape. It’s a topic he’s already explored extensively in his stand-up comedy. So for his book, he decided to come at it from a different angle, partnering with a trained sociologist and consulting studies, holding focus groups, and doing the kind of serious research that’s certainly not present in most books by famous comics. His co-author, Eric Klinenberg, was also on hand for a talk at BookCon this Saturday. Klinenberg is a professor at NYU and the author of Going Solo, a book about the phenomenon of people living alone. The two were matched by their shared publisher, and Klinenberg was pleased to find that working with Ansari had certain advantages over his usual research methods.
“One of the hard things about being a social scientist is you’re trying to get data, you’re trying to produce data and get really reliable information,” Klinenberg said. “And that’s hard to do. But we had this incredible ability to get information that no one’s ever gotten, and that is that, if you’re a random social scientist and ask someone about their dating life, they’re going to be pretty distrustful and a little conservative in their answers. You’re not going to get everything you want. People know Aziz from his stand-up and feel comfortable with him. People want to talk to him. So, people would actually hand us their cell phones.”
The co-authors’ research took them abroad so they could explore how technology is shaping romance throughout the world. In Japan, for example, studies have found that the country is facing a future population crisis because a significant amount of men and women are uninterested in — or despise — sex. “I mean, despise sexual contact,” Ansari said. “That’s like you see boobs and [say], ‘Ugh! Get them away! I despise those!”
The government has even stepped in to see what they can do to spur more romance. “They’re worried about Japanese people running out!” Ansari jokes. He and Klinenberg spoke to dating-age Japanese people to learn more. “There’s kind of this stereotype there of what’s called a herbivore man, which is basically a guy who’s not as interested … very passive, doesn’t care about sex as much,” Ansari explained. Certain details about their online dating habits surprised him. “Their culture is very interesting … For them, putting a photo of yourself having fun or whatever would seem very narcissistic. So people don’t do that, they don’t post those kinds of profile pictures. I said, ‘So what would a guy post for his profile photo?’ And [a woman they spoke to] is like, ‘Maybe a picture of his cat. Or maybe a photo of his rice cooker.’”
Argentina was the site of another research trip. There, Klinenberg explained, there’s a culture of male aggression and an idea that “no doesn’t mean no.” Ansari summarized: “If Tokyo is the land of the herbivore man, Buenos Aires might be the home of the carnivorous-eating douche monster.”