Facebook founder’s big sister has basic advice for life online
DOT Complicated is part memoir and part self-help book, aiming to use stories from real life to help readers navigate social challenges in the online world. This mediocre book is the first literary outing for U.S. entrepreneur Randi Zuckerberg, 31, who worked for six years as a marketing executive at Facebook, the social media empire founded by her younger brother, Mark, before leaving to start her own company. She begins with a lengthy autobiographical section, followed by chapters on specific topics, such as friends, love and career. Each chapter offers her observations on the influence of new technology, peppered with vignettes from average people. When she’s not dropping the names of celebrities she has met, Zuckerberg provides lots of anecdotes from her own happily domesticated life — she is married to her college sweetheart and has a young son — often in tedious detail. In contrast, her stories about other people, sometimes friends, sometimes strangers, are in the third-person, usually in a single paragraph. It’s a curiously lost opportunity for Zuckerberg to fail to include any commentary from the actual subjects of these sketches or from the researchers whose studies she briefly cites; their voices could have provided a welcome breather from Zuckerberg’sZ personal narrative. While Dot Complicated spends a lot of time recounting tech-related situations Zuckerberg has encountered, it provides little practical advice to help readers manage their own online lives. An example: Before the Internet, Zuckerberg writes, information was either public, private or personal — the lastla including “things you might tell your friends but you probably wouldn’t share with strangers.” Online, she argues, there is no longer a category of personal information; whilew you might post a picture to a select audience of close friends, you then lose control of its distribution since any member of that group could share the photo more widely. “This whole situation needs to be fixed,” she writes. “We need to find a way to bring back personal information online.” However, she’s short on solutions. “Be careful who you choose as your friends,” she advises. “Repost unto others as you would have them repost unto you.” The practical suggestions Zuckerberg does present tend to fall into the “well, duh” grade of advice (“Don’t be a jerk” or “Protect your privacy”), and even the limited amount on offer is often conflicting. For example, she rolls her eyes about couples on Facebook who are “constantly posting lovey-dovey photos,” or people who record concerts on their smartphones. “Put the phone away,” she intones. “The world does not need another hashtagged sunset.” Pages later, though, she shares an epiphany reached when colleagues admonished her for filling their Facebook timelines with too many pictures of her infant son: “The answer isn’t fewer baby pictures; it’s more baby pictures,” she writes. “It’s not that I should post less; it’s that everyone else should post more.” In the end, the reader is left with many unanswered questions. Should mom Instagram a cute photo of Junior playing? Or put the phone down and enjoy the moment? Or give the phone to Junior to improve his tech skills? And how could that photo affect Junior’s future job prospects? Readers looking for general rules of thumb to apply to their own online social lives will be disappointed. Zuckerberg notes that people can be cruel on the Internet — now there’s a revelation — but she advises readers to put their “big-girl pants on” and “embrace the haters.” Since attention is currency in the new online world order, even the attention of haters is worth “celebrating.” “Love me, hate me, just don’t forget me,” she writes. Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, the book is largely forgettable. Wendy Sawatzky is associate editor digital news at winnipegfreepress.com and commander in chief at wendysawatzky.com.
Zuckerberg provides little practical advice to help readers manage their online lives.
Dot Complicated Untangling Our Wired
Lives By Randi Zuckerberg HarperOne, 256 pages, $28