The Optimalist

Health, science, and creativity

A Plea to Unplug, From Someone You May Least Expect

A newly-minted best-selling author challenges our relationship with technology.

Randi Zuckerberg recently became an author for the first time with Dot Complicated, and her book has been doing quite well—in fact it's now a New York Times bestseller! The topic is not quite one you'd expect from someone who was an early executive at Facebook and is sister to the company's founder: It covers our complicated, and sometimes co-dependent, relationship with technology.

As a techno-optimist, I struggle to find any downside to the myriad of wonders that technology bestow upon our world—after all, aren't musical instruments and writing utensils a form a technology? Humans have always had a symbiotic relationship with tools of invention, be they motherboards or melody. However, I have been accused, like many people I know, of occasionally being a little too absorbed in my smartphone, so I gave the book a chance and I'm glad I did. Dot Complicated makes some fantastic points and will definitely leave even the most technologically-obsessed among us questioning, and maybe even amending, their level of techno-indulgence.

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I sat down with Randi for an interview. She didn't check her phone once, I swear. (My questions are in bold.)

Your book spotlights some crazy lengths that people would go through just to not have to part ways with their mobile devices. Can you share some of the things that most surprised you?

Crazy is an understatement—I really could not believe some of the things I found out while working on this book. For example, more than a third of the women in the “Social Wisdom of Wired Women” study from Dot Complicated and MSLGROUP would give up sex for a month over their devices. 40% of U.S. adults said they would rather go to JAIL for the night than give up their social media accounts. And 21% of smartphone users would give up their shoes for a week over their phones. While all these facts are pretty outrageous, I wasn’t that surprised—technology has become such a huge part of our lives that in a lot of ways it does feel like we couldn’t live without it.

You did a lot of your own research for the book. What was is like donning a lab coat after your marketing background?

Doing research for the book was a lot of fun—I worked with MSLGROUP to coordinate a study that surveyed women in the US, UK, Brazil and China on how technology has impacted their lives. The study, available here, definitely asserted my belief that tech has changed everything from romantic relationships to family life to the workplace dynamic. Tech’s here to stay—now it’s up to us to figure out how to use it in a way that makes our lives easier, not more stressful.

I'm one of those people that you'd have to pry away from their smartphone with the Jaws of Life simply because I find myself so often wanting to google new and interesting things. Hasn't technology made life better by a wide margin?

Without a doubt. It seems silly for me to sit here and list the ways that tech is making life better, because it’s like, DUH! Technology has improved life across the board, making it easier to access information, communicate with loved ones and colleagues alike, and manage our day-to-day lives. My message is that it’s time for us as a society to come to a consensus on healthy, mindful practices for using this tremendous gift. 

You discuss the downside of technology addiction in your book. Isn't the hope of making addicts out of users built into the DNA of successful sites like Facebook? I mean, receiving a notification is literally a shot of dopamine to the brain.

You know, it might surprise some people to know that some of the brightest minds in tech are actually very good at unplugging. That’s something I’ve always admired about the top Silicon Valley CEOS. And when you think about it, it makes sense: your mind needs the quiet and stillness that comes with tech-free time to dream up creative, disruptive ideas like Uber or Facebook.

Which facets of daily life are most positively affected by social media? Which are the most negatively affected?

Social media is an incredible tool on so many levels; you can stay in touch with old friends, learn more about new ones, find common interests with people, organize events and celebrations, and share special moments in your life quickly. As a working mom, tech lets me stay up to date on work email in the carpool line, of check in with my son via Skype from the office or when I’m traveling. Tech has given me unparalleled opportunities to stay connected at home and focus on my career, but there are also real challenges presented when checking on profiles and keeping them updated begins to dominate your actual, physical life, rather than enhance it.

Your book implores people to take find more balance in their lives, which may entail reducing ones time on Facebook. Have you asked your brother Mark what he thinks of that idea? 

My whole family has been very supportive of my book and message. I’ve been on the road for the past six weeks on a whirlwind book tour, but I’m really looking forward to spending the holidays with my family and hearing their reaction to everything!

Dot Complicated is available now in bookstores and on Amazon.com

Follow Max Lugavere on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maxlugavere

Max Lugavere is a content creator for AOL's Acting Disruptive.

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