The Word

Books | Inspectress gadget

Books | Inspectress gadget

Posting in Technology | From Issue 03 December 2, 2013

A review of Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, by Randi Zuckerberg.

As the former marketing director for one of the world’s most valuable brands and a sometime TV personality who leads her own media company, Randi Zuckerberg is glad you know her name. She’s just not thrilled with why you know her name.

The same inevitable impasse comes with being one of Alec Baldwin’s brothers or Joaquin Phoenix’s sisters. Out of respect to Ms. Zuckerberg, I will not use the vexing phrase that will be in every article about her for the rest of her life.  

I’ll say only that she’s a female relative (with identical parents) of a recent Time magazine “Person of the Year.” The why is the reason she’s worth an estimated $100 million.   

I would love to have her particular problem. One reason (besides never having to worry about medical coverage, affordable housing or her son’s college fund) is that last month, Zuckerberg did something that very few debut authors have done: She had two books published on the very same day.

The first is a children’s picture book called Dot. (book trailer here), about a gadget-happy girly-girl who knows when to put her away her digital play. Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives (HarperOne, $27.99, excerpted here), the adult counterpart, champions a  “tech-life” balance in a world where work happens everywhere and at all hours. In essence, Dot. and Dot Complicated share the same message with vastly different audiences. Genius marketing.

If I had kids, I would certainly read them Dot. I did not enjoy Dot Complicated, but paradoxically, I’m happy I read it, especially before I have kids. (I had no idea that many parents buy their child’s domain name as part of the pre-birth prep).

Zuckerberg’s most effective talking point is the implications for generations after my own, the first where children will always have the Internet to turn to. This notion is scary and cool. (Zuckberg acknowledges the former while leaning toward the latter.)

Expectant Facebook users should be privy to the knowledge that they may be creating their baby-to-be’s online identity before he or she is even born. Posted sonograms, delivery room photos and home videos will be forever searchable. It’s not merely celebrities who must now choose when to protect their children from the limelight.

For a moment, I was impressed -- maybe the book was a cautionary tale from one of the earliest Facebook users, someone who’d made mistakes before the rest of us had log-ins. How intriguing for a major Facebook player to acknowledge the pratfalls of the site that minted her and unleashed a dominant new strain of human connectivity. Dot Complicated even begins with the day the author quit her job at Facebook. Perhaps that significant career confirmed a shift in her Internet philosophy.

Not so much. Everyone’s hyphenate status should be celebrated on Facebook, Zuckerberg argues. “It’s not that I should post less; it’s that everyone else should post more,” using our real names for culpability in the age of cowardly anonymous comments. A few chapters earlier, she writes, “If social media is making mini celebrities of us all, we might as well be our own publicists.”

How we’re supposed to post more while also absorbing “that there is a beautiful world when you look up from your device” is beyond me.  

In accordance with the idea of boosting transparency, Zuckerberg overshares. Nothing vulgar or too embarrassing (she differentiates between what’s private and personal) but it makes the text a little frenzied. Dot Complicated reads like a memoir of the 31-year-old author. We learn the AIM screen name she used in high school. That she met her South African husband at drunken Ivy League party. That she bought her dress a seat on her flight to get married in Jamaica. She reveals how much planning went into her "I’m pregnant!" post, as well as her son’s name and birthdate. I can tell you her go-to karaoke song, the name of every band she’s been in and her drink of choice (margarita, no salt on the rim). Also, she’s a fan of BeDazzled clothing and thinks Anderson Cooper is sexy. Want me to recite her resume?

Zuckerberg has a very unique perspective to offer -- because of her proximity and gender -- on how to succeed in Silicon Valley. Of course she’s smart (here she takes a dig at a near-and-dear dropout: “To this day, I remain the only member of our family who has actually graduated [from Harvard].”) One of her professional mentors is Sheryl Sandberg (whose book I reviewed here). And I appreciate that she’s being her authentic bubbly, slightly hokey self when giving advice in Dot Complicated. It's Kelly Ripa meets Tony Robbins. 

What I’d appreciate more is a warm narrator who concentrates on commerce and business communication without veering into sugar-studded Shangri-la. I didn’t need to hear about her wedding cake toppers.  

Share this

Jenna Marotta

Columnist (Books)

Jenna Marotta is a party reporter for New York magazine and has written for their five blogs plus The Daily Beast, The A.V. Club, Jezebel, Nerve, Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago, and Chicago magazine. She is the books editor at SmartPlanet. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure