Book Reports

Modern Romance (and Our Old Friend, Choice!)

I just finished Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. As a devoted Parks and Recreation fan, it was on my must-read list and it definitely didn’t disappoint. He looks at our approaches to dating through the lens of modern technology, and while I’m not currently in the dating pool, I still recognized myself in lots of what he was talking about. Of course you would expect Ansari’s fantastic sense of humor to be prevalent throughout the book (and it certainly is), but I wasn’t prepared for all the research and science he uses to inform his thinking and back up his observations.

I wrote about choices last month and the difficulty I have with options. It turns out I’m not alone (not too shocking, I suppose). Ansari’s writes:

Barry Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College who has spent much of his career studying the annoying problems that come from have an abundance of options. Schwartz’s research, and a considerable amount of scholarship from other social scientists too, shows that when we have more options, we are actually less satisfied and sometimes even have a harder time making a choice at all.

Ansari then goes on to talk about the concepts of “maximizer” and “satisficer” which are the ways we deal with all these options (both of which were new to me, but apparently not the rest of the world…or so my husband tells me). A maximizer is someone who wants to seeks out the best of all the options available and a satisficer (a combination of satisfy and suffice) will be happy with something that’s good enough. And we can be both of these types of people, depending on the situation. Ansari points out the trouble we have today with all the different ways we can meet and select people thanks to technology, but these ways of dealing with all choices rang true to me in other areas of my life as well.

For instance, I love to try new restaurants, but usually when someone else is making the decision. I’m too overwhelmed by all the options and the important thing to me is the company, so I’m pretty willing to go someplace that’s good enough. But having said that, I am a karaoke maximizer. There is no “good enough” experience. You either play to win and bring the house down or you don’t go at all. I am constantly on the look out for the best karaoke song for the situation (and ballads are always a no-go. Sorry, Celine Dion. She’s great, but no one wants to hear that out at a karaoke bar. You’re welcome, world.)

There are only so many hours in the day and so much brain space we have to give, so we’ve got to decide where we want to maximize and where we want to satisfice. I’m glad I chose to spend my time on Modern Romance. In addition to my new vocabulary word, I definitely laughed out loud at some of the text message exchanges Ansari found in his focus groups and stand up acts. Those alone are make the book worth the time.

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