Randi Zuckerberg Aims to Help Women and Kids Untangle Their Digital Lives

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Are we too plugged in? Randi Zuckerberg sets out to answer this question in two new books — and an interview with Women 2.0.

By Betsy Mikel (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

Convenient, life-changing and becoming more efficient almost every single day, it’s no doubt that tech has made it easier to communicate, shop and work.

But when the smartphone is the baby’s favorite toy and when work follows us around in our pockets 24/7, concern begins to creep in.

Are we too plugged in? How is our relationship with technology affecting our human relationships? Are we seriously addicted to our iPhones?

The woman who set out to answer these questions might surprise you. Once Facebook’s Director of Market Development, Randi Zuckerberg founded her own media company in 2011. Yes, she’s Mark Zuckerberg’s older sister, but she has plenty of her own accolades.

Randi’s led Facebook strategy during the 2008 presidential election, implemented Facebook’s live-stream video for the 2009 inauguration and was nominated for an Emmy for her coverage of the 2010 mid-term elections with ABC News. What’s more, she just released two books about the influence technology has on all aspects of our hyper-connected digital lives.

In Dot Complicated, Zuckerberg explores how technology plays into women’s lives as they manage their careers, raise their children and interact with the world around them. Dot is a children’s book illustrated by Joe Berger about a plugged-in little girl who discovers how much fun she can have playing outside away from her tablet.

Zuckerberg says she began examining her digital life when her son was just six months old. As she juggled new motherhood and work, Zuckerberg said at first she thought her son was far too young to notice her actions. That is, until he picked up a remote control and started mimicking typing a text message.

“It made me re-evaluate if I wanted my son to feel like he was competing with a tech device for my love and affection,” Zuckerberg said.

In researching her book, she partnered with MSLGROUP to find insights about tech-savvy women in the U.S., Brazil, U.K. and China. She said she was interested to see if women of different cultures engaged with technology in different ways or if there were fundamental similarities across countries. And, she wanted to remove “tech talk” from the equation entirely.

“What happens when we don’t use the word “technology” when we talk to women? What if we talk to them about modern lifestyle? Will they be more truthful and open up and be more honest?” she wondered.

The results, which are published in The Social Wisdom of Wired Women Around the World as well as in Dot Complicated, are a bit eerie. Zuckerberg and her research team found that of women they interviewed, 38 percent would prefer to give up sex for an entire month than go without their phone.

“As I was researching this book, I came across all these ads from the ‘80s that warn against putting a television in your bedroom because you’ll never have sex,” said Zuckerberg. “In speaking to so many women, I found checking their phone is the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do at night.”

With other stats such as “75 percent of women would rather give up wine for a month instead of their smartphone,” it may seem like Zuckerberg is advocating  not just unplugging, but for letting your smartphone battery die completely. That’s not entirely true.

She admits that without her own smartphone, she couldn’t be a great working mom. She couldn’t stay connected to the office while waiting in the pick-up line at preschool or allow herself to leave for a long book tour if she couldn’t FaceTime with her family.

“In some respects, it’s due to all this tech we have that I’m able to do a lot of what I am doing. I owe it to our mobile smartphones completely that I have flexibility as a working mom… I just think we all think we’re better at multitasking than we really are, and when I am trying to balance too hard, I wind up feeling like I didn’t do anything well. It’s about allowing myself to focus on work, then focus on my family.”

Instead of unplugging completely, Zuckerberg advocates for mindfulness in your technology use. It’s more of an enjoy-the-moment message to encourage women to put down their smartphones when dining with friends or playing with their kids. As Zuckerberg learned herself the hard way, children mimic their parent’s behavior, so it’s important to set a good example. That’s also why she authored the children’s book. And even though she has a son, she decided to make the main character a tech-savvy girl to try to help other girls feel like they’re on the level playing field in tech.

So, is Zuckerberg the model for unplugging mindfully and mastering one’s digital life? Even though she has two books under her belt on the topic, she admits she could do better. Her New Year’s Resolution is to stop checking her phone in bed. But when I spoke to her on Dec. 17, she sheepishly admitted that it wasn’t 2014 just yet… and she wasn’t quite ready to stop checking her phone in bed until the very last minute.

What is one way you could be more mindful of your technology use?

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Betsy Mikel is a freelance copywriter and content strategist who helps brands, businesses and entrepreneurs tell their stories. A journalist at heart, her curiosity drives her to find something new to learn every single day. Follow her on Twitter at @betsym.