There are few people more qualified to chronicle the lessons and elaborate on the pitfalls of living digitally than Randi Zuckerberg. Because she is the sister of Facebook (FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg, her accidental photo-shares and unconsidered viral videos can have a much larger audience than, say, yours or mine. Some have ballooned into national news stories: Last Christmas, she posted a photo of her family clowning around in their kitchen with a new Snapchat-like Facebook feature; it made national news by the next morning.
But some of Zuckerberg’s most memorable and cringe-worthy digital moments were not accidental at all. Witness her 2012 parody “Fund Me Maybe.” Or her Twitter conversation about making up with a friend after blogs rumored they were fighting. Last year, she tried her hand at a more traditional medium, launching a Bravo reality TV series called
Startups: Silicon Valley
that never managed to draw an audience.
Simply put, on the spectrum of online sharing from silent misanthrope to exuberant chatterbox, Zuckerberg falls on the tell-all side of the divide. In her new memoir, she writes, “I never post anything online that I wouldn’t feel comfortable being reprinted on the front page of a newspaper.” Left unstated: She’d be comfortable and even happy printing most things on the front page of a newspaper.
Or, as it happens, in the pages of a memoir. With Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, released by HarperCollins November 5, Zuckerberg offers up her narrative for Facebook’s founding alongside a helpful list of tips for navigating the social web, most of which were learned through experience. As self-help tomes go, it’s spotty. Because Zuckerberg has not always exercised the best judgment herself about what and when to post online, it’s hard to buy her attempt to build her reputation as an expert in the field. Sure, she’s lived the mistakes so she has some experience from which she can draw to advise the rest of us on how to manage our digital lives. But it hasn’t even been a year since her embarrassing Christmas gaffe, and I wonder if her tolerance for negative blowback clouds the advice she dispenses to everyone else. It’s also good to keep in mind that Facebook, the company that made her brother a multi-billionaire and probably made Randi’s life far more comfortable than the rest of America’s, gets its wealth from users posting quasi-public images, status updates, and “likes.” Encouraging people to upload their lives online is in her financial interest.
For all the authenticity and depth of wisdom her advice lacks, the memoir portion of Zuckerberg’s book is a valuable contribution to the chronicles of Facebook’s earliest days, brimming with descriptions of tech’s first family, as well as working at Facebook for six long years. How accurate is it? Most of what we come to understand about Randi’s relationship with Mark comes from what is not written; he is the unwitting manufacturer of her celebrity, having created the platform she has used to launch the reality show that is her life, yet he comes up infrequently, and often in the context of the larger family. However, Zuckerberg’s perspective on Facebook’s early days is as valid and likely as accurate as any of Facebook’s other early employees — and probably more accurate than the movie.
In tandem with her memoir, Zuckerberg has also launched a children’s book designed to share digital advice with a younger audience. Entitled
, it chronicles the adventures of a curly-haired child, Dot, who tippetty-tapetty-tip-tap-taps on her various devices until she lands on her back on the floor “all talked out,” a small cloud rising over her crossed eyes. I found Dot to be a much more relatable character. In short, I’ve been there — on that floor, with that cloud or digital exhaust hanging too low over my head. Dot’s mother pushes her into the backyard to “Reboot! Recharge! Restart!” and she discovers the particular joy of connecting with people and things without a device to mediate the experience. The end, however, falls short; Dot is playing with friends and also using her iPhone to photograph them. Zuckerberg tell us “Dot’s learned a lot.” Has she? Just what has she learned? Because I’d really like to know it, to find a happy medium that leaves me as smiley as young Dot.
Both of Zuckerberg’s books argue we must turn away from the social web and live a more balanced life. “We have at our disposal incredible communication devices, but we seem to forget how to communicate with each other,” she writes at the end of Dot Complicated. It’s true, and we cannot read it often enough. Public debate has recently escalated over the issue as adults retreat to weekend technology-free camps and Facebook-refusers abound. In her most authentic moments, Zuckerberg is just trying to do what we’re all trying to do: find the ways in which technology can help us to feel more closely connected to others. In that way, Dot Complicated should not be read as book so much as the latest entry in her ongoing chronicles of that effort.
Correction, November 11, 2013: The original version of this article misstated the date and publisher of Dot Complicated.