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Aziz Ansari gets help from MIT professor on book

Natasha Dow Schull.MIT/handout

He’s known for his stand-up comedy and the lovable character he played on “Parks and Recreation,” but Aziz Ansari has another, more serious side that’s on display in his new book, “Modern Romance: An Investigation.” The book combines personal stories and witticisms about love in the age of the cellphone with scientific studies that underscore Ansari’s observations. Friday, the first-time author was at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre to hype his literary achievement. MIT professor Natasha Dow Schull wasn’t in the crowd, but she did consult with Ansari while he was writing. A cultural anthropologist, Schull told us Ansari contacted her after reading her book, “Addiction by Design,” which looks at gambling and why people increasingly are drawn to the bells and whistles of slot machines instead of the poker table. (Other social scientists cited include Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer.) “Using texting and social media to communicate with someone is similar to the way a gambler uses a slot machine,” Schull said. “They’re both about instant gratification . . . timing has become key.” Indeed, in his book, Ansari writes about staring at the screen of his cellphone waiting for a text that never arrives. Says Schull: “You come to expect an instant response, anything longer makes people nervous. Remember leaving a message on someone’s answering machine? It was something slow and leisurely. The person leaving the message wasn’t awaiting instant feedback.”