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Review: Top Model Alum Tackles iPhone Addiction and Social Media in New Book

3 minute read

There are two things the world really doesn’t need more of: former reality stars with book deals and screeds about how technology and social media are undermining our humanity.

But both are bound to keep happening, and if you’re determined to read up on the topic, Kim Stolz — otherwise known as “the gay one” from the fifth season of America’s Next Top Model — isn’t a bad choice for a guide. The author of the new book Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I’ll Never Do) must have serious social media self-promotion skills if we’re still talking about her almost a decade later, right? (Kidding — Stolz has had an impressive career beyond Top Model: she’s the vice president of equity derivatives sales at Citigroup, a former MTV News correspondent and a co-owner of the currently closed New York City lesbian bar-restaurant The Dalloway).

As a writer, Stolz is non-judgmental (she admits to Googling herself and once almost checked her phone during sex), self-aware (she knows she has no business comparing her iPhone detox to Thoreau’s Walden) and sometimes pretty funny (she gives the real-life people in her book code names from Beverly Hills, 90210). So it’s too bad the book is short on the groundbreaking insight promised by the effusive back-cover praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham. Yes, we know we can’t put down our phones at the dinner table. Yes, Facebook has made the definition of “friend” a little fuzzy. Yes, technology can make romantic communication a war zone, and, yeah, social media is just one big performance. Oh, and people sometimes embarrassingly text the wrong person? You don’t say!

Mixing personal anecdotes with social science research can be a compelling way to understanding human behavior, but it often feels forced in Unfriending My Ex. Stolz has experience writing for MTV and other outlets, so journalistic ambitions aren’t a stretch, yet when she drops studies and statistics into her stories, it comes across like a cursory attempt to justify bad behavior, rather than truly explain it. Stolz often quotes other writers and journalists, too, which isn’t so much a problem of originality as it is an issue of timeliness—the Times’ Jenna Wortham wrote about Facebook resisters and FOMO back in 2011, so when her work is referenced here, the book’s themes (to say nothing of its Candy Crush shout-out) feel dated.

In the very first chapter of Unfriending My Ex, Stolz talks about her self-imposed technology hiatus and the difficulty she had staying focused while reading a book. It’s a relatable struggle, sure, but it’s also a little ironic: there’s not a lot in this book that will keep you from wanting to check your phone, either.

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com