Love it or hate it, Facebook has become an integral part of daily life for the masses, with more than a billion users around the world sharing their kids’ best one-liners, waxing political on the news of the day and posting photos of their lunches via Instagram. As it turns out, one of the very people responsible for bringing the world’s best-known social network into our collective consciousness is officially admitting to a bit of tech fatigue: Mark Zuckerberg’s own sister, who once served as the spokesperson and director of market development for the social media giant, is now publicly confessing her own struggle to maintain a little tech/life balance.
These days, 31-year-old Randi Zuckerberg is the CEO and founder of Zuckerberg Media, and after having a child and seeing the power of the Internet from a more mature perspective, she decided to write two books about finding balance between living life online and off.
One, Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, is a New York Times bestseller geared toward adults while the other, simply titled Dot, is a children’s book.
We caught up with Randi (via email, of course) in the days leading up to her recent Austin visit as a speaker for the Texas Conference for Women. Here are her unedited thoughts on seeing the rise of the interactive realm, supporting girls who want to work in tech fields when they grow up, and finally, ironically enough, learning how to step away from the screen every once in a while.
CITYGRAM: Randi, you’ve talked openly about your resistance to being placed on the interactive team at Ogilvy & Mather back in the days when ‘interactive’ was a fairly new term. Was there a specific moment — before Facebook, even — when you realized just how enormous an impact the realm of interactive marketing would have on everyone’s lives?
We need to strive for tech/life balance so we can set a good example for future generations.
RANDI ZUCKERBERG: At the time, I hadn’t thought much about the significance of interactive and digital in the marketing industry. To me, advertising still meant glossy photos and 30 second commercials. So all I could think about was that my colleagues were getting to work on “glamorous” things while I was writing online and direct marketing copy. However, I soon realized that the industry was changing in a huge way, and my placement was a blessing in disguise, positioning me very well for the future. I also discovered from my friends that their “glamorous” roles, weren’t actually glamorous at all!
C: You left your advertising job in New York for California at the age of 24 to work on the front lines of your brother’s enterprise. Since you’re now an entrepreneur in your own right, has your perspective changed on the way social media is (and should be) used? If so, how?
R: The biggest change in perspective for me was having my son. When you’re in the thick of things in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to just focus on what you’re building, innovating, and disrupting right now. But when I had my son in 2011, that was the first time I picked my head up and realized that these tools we were building — they bring so much joy and opportunity to people’s lives, but with that territory also comes added complications and chaos, especially around raising children in the digital world. That was the point for me when I started changing my perspective on how we need to think about these sites in our daily lives and how we need to strive for tech/life balance so we can set a good example for future generations.
C: At Citygram, our readers enjoy the intersensory experiences our magazine provides. And yet, as individuals, there are definitely moments when some of us find ourselves longing for a more lo-fi, organic way of experiencing the world around us. How do you reconcile those two sets of needs and expectations? Are you ever able to truly log off without anxiety?
R: It’s a balancing act I face every day. There are studies that show how new notifications, messages, and pop-ups release a burst of dopamine in our brains – we are literally addicted to being constantly connected. On one hand, this is a wonderful thing. I can keep up with all the great content I want at any time, and stay in touch with my family, even while traveling. But on the other hand, it can get quite overwhelming. Or, #DotComplicated, if you will! It’s not realistic to tell people to unplug completely – we live in the real world, and many of us have jobs dependent on us being available online. Personally, I make an effort to have at least 2-3 fully unplugged hours each day, that I can devote to my family, my friends, or myself.
We are literally addicted to being constantly connected.
C: Tell us a bit about your new children’s book — it’s about kids allowing themselves to be untethered from their devices and striking a balance between online and off, right?
R: It always is so amazing to me when I see a 2-year-old navigate an iPad like they’ve had it for ten years. My children’s book, Dot, is about a spunky tech-obsessed girl named – you guessed it – Dot. Over the course of the story, she learns to unplug and get outside, where she rediscovers the beautiful world around her. I actually had a woman at a book signing tell me she was buying it for her husband! I think is a valuable lesson for both kids and adults.
C: You’re speaking at the Texas Conference for Women this month, and you’ve been entrenched in the tech sector for quite some time now. What advice do you have for young women curious about pursuing careers in STEM fields?
I think pursuing a career in tech/engineering is about the highest impact career a young woman can strive for today.
R: I think pursuing a career in tech/engineering is about the highest impact career a young woman can strive for today. If you were an engineer at Facebook right now, you could build something that would be seen by a billion people. A billion people! What other industry can say that? That’s why it was so important to me that my children’s book features a tech savvy girl. The good news is that there’s increasingly more support and opportunity for women in tech. And I recently read something that said the youngest developer in the iPhone App Store was a 9 year old girl!
C: What are some of your favorite websites and apps for creative inspiration?
R: I love perusing Pinterest for style ideas and listening to TED talks for insight into the next big idea. I also spend a lot of time on Red Tricycle looking for the best weekends activities we can do as a family. With the holidays coming up, PayPal is a life saver to make holiday shopping easier than ever.
C: You’ve been through Austin a few times and spoken at SXSW panels and such. What are your favorite things about the city? And, aside from the obvious — i.e., that it’s teeming with small tech startups, hosts SXSW each year, etc., — how do you personally view Austin’s place in the tech world in general?
R: Austin is truly an up-and-coming city, which merges a lot of different creative industries from tech, to music and advertising. With such a young culture, especially with University of Texas at the heart of the city, it is a great place to foster young talented innovators who can engage with some of the bigger companies and captains of industry who are already located there, or come visit for SXSW. Whereas Silicon Valley is focused on tech, Austin is a big melting pot for art, history, music, and more, so the tech culture takes a very different angle that that of Silicon Valley. Oh and the bats!!! That’s my most favorite thing.
Dot and Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, both published by HarperCollins, are on bookstands now.
This article originally published in The Gather Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [December 2013].
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.