BY RANDI ZUCKERBERG11.03.136:30 AM
Everyone was gathered in the kitchen on the Christmas holiday 2012, clearing dishes and drinking coffee, while my brother Mark demonstrated the brand-new Poke app that Facebook had launched earlier that week.
We had all downloaded Poke so we could try it out firsthand. Looking around, I thought it was funny that here we were, standing around the kitchen counter, and rather than speaking to one another, everyone was looking down at their phones, frantically texting and sending one another vanishing messages on the Poke app. “Say cheese!” I said, pulling out my camera. “Pretend you’re all sexting!” Everyone made funny faces, and I snapped a quick photo.
I don’t often post intimate family photos online, because I am a firm believer that you can (and should!) have meaningful relationships with people that you don’t necessarily need to broadcast out to the world all the time. I never post anything online that I wouldn’t feel comfortable having reprinted on the front page of a newspaper. And this photo was the turducken of tech photos: Facebook family, using Facebook, on Facebook.
So, I posted it to Facebook (under the friends-only privacy setting) and headed home to tuck my son into bed. I had no idea what was in store for me.
Someone had taken the family photo that I had posted on Facebook and posted it on Twitter. That meant that one of my Facebook friends had seen the photo pop up on Facebook, downloaded or taken a screenshot of the photo, saved it to his or her phone or computer, and then uploaded it to a totally different site. It was late at night; I fired off a response expressing my frustration. Then I went to bed.
The next morning I woke up to what seemed like a national news scandal. I had dozens of text messages, several urgent missed calls, and thousands of tweets. Every news station (“during the slowest ever news cycle possible”) I flipped past was showing my family photo and talking about my Twitter exchange. Obviously, people were greatly enjoying the Schadenfreude of a Zuckerberg getting mixed up in anything that had to do with Facebook and privacy. Gulp.
The media world was abuzz over the headline “Zuckerberg’s Sister Caught Out by Facebook’s Privacy Settings,” but it really wasn’t about that at all. I understood my privacy settings completely. This was about the gray areas of sharing, social conduct, and online etiquette. (Ironically, the downloads of Facebook’s Poke app rose in the Apple store during the next few days.)
More important, the whole incident made me even more passionate about starting a discussion: Here I was, a living, breathing example of how tech could be a wonderful and amazing tool, but it could also get you into a lot of trouble.
To understand how identity, humanity, and etiquette are so crucial to our modern lives and our relationships with tech moving forward, I think it’s important to understand a bit about where we’ve come from.
From Science Fiction to Science Fact
Technology and connectivity are becoming more advanced every day. What’s the upside? We’re more connected. And the downside? We’re more connected.
Once it was cool to have your own landline. Now five billion people around the world have their own mobile phones.
Devices are faster, cheaper, and more powerful than anything we could have imagined even a few years ago. Moore’s law has led to billions more people getting phones and hooking up to the internet, and why a phone today is now a hundred thousand times more powerful than the computer on the Apollo spacecraft that took men to the moon.
Plus, people share more online every year. A few years ago, someone came up with the name for a technology trend designed after our own family: “Zuck’s law,” so-named for my dear brother, says that the amount of information we share in the world doubles every two years. Of course, there are limits to this trend. At some point, people simply can’t handle any more information — there are only so many hilarious cat videos and cute baby pictures we can look at. But you get the idea.
The scale of what’s being shared is almost beyond our comprehension. Here’s an incredible thought: there are more pieces of digital content in the world today than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth (according to a Digital Universe report published in December 2012 by the analyst firm IDC).
None of these trends is slowing down.
Today, we expect to be online all the time, and we expect to be reachable everywhere. We usually are: over 90 percent of people keep their mobile phones within three feet of them, twenty-four hours a day (Morgan Stanley Internet Trends report). Fifty-three percent of people, according to a May 2012 Harris poll in the U.S., regularly check their phones in the middle of the night after they’ve already gone to bed. And a surprising — and slightly disturbing — number of people check their phones while on the toilet. (I don’t imagine most wash their handsets afterward. Think about that the next time someone hands you his or her phone and asks you to take a photo with it. You’re welcome.)
This online-all-the-time mentality pervades every area of our lives. Two 2012 surveys, one from Yahoo! and the other from Gazelle, and a 2012 TeleNav survey (that asked people which of life’s “little pleasures” they would rather do without for a week instead of parting with their phones) revealed the following eye-opening data:
And a 2012 study from Harris Interactive revealed that 40 percent of people would rather go to jail for the evening than give up their social media accounts.
So, this is the world we live in now.
Technology is almost everywhere and has come to dominate our lives. So much so, in fact, that we’re starting to see people yearning to be less connected and trying to implement rules, structure, and discipline in both their own and their families’ lives, to ensure that all this connectivity does not come at the expense of relationships, skill development, and manners.
It’s going to become increasingly important to find that balance, because in the next decade we’re going to see something even more extraordinary. Everyone and everything will be connected. There will be no division anymore between online and offline. One of the most popular Silicon Valley predictions is of a future with an “Internet of Things,” and we’re well on the way to seeing that become a reality.
The Screen-Balancing Act
One afternoon I was working on my laptop while my son, Asher, was playing with his toys on the rug. He got bored after a while. I saw him staring up at a photo frame with my parents.
“What is it, love?” I asked.
Asher looked at me and then pointed at the frame. “Booney?” he asked.
For a moment, I didn’t realize what he was talking about. But then I got it. Asher had come to realize that content always flows from screens. On the big TV and iPad, he can get Barney and Friends. Surely a photo frame must also be able to conjure up his favorite television character.
I laughed. But then I thought, He’s absolutely right. Why shouldn’t he be able to watch Barney on that photo frame? For that matter, why shouldn’t any device be able to show us any information we want? Every piece of glass will be a screen, and every screen a portal to another world of information, content, ideas, and entertainment. There’s absolutely no reason there can’t be a purple dinosaur in every frame.
As a new mom, that’s both exciting and utterly terrifying. It’s hard enough to balance screen time versus non-screen time as it is. So what happens in a world where everything is screen time?
As we get more and more connected, it’s also going to become increasingly important to know when to step away, when to focus on the people and places around us. A world where every object is a screen means a world of endless access to information, but it also means a world where we risk jeopardizing our relationships with loved ones if we don’t look up from that screen from time to time.
I once overheard a major Hollywood film executive say, “Social media has ruined our ability to release bad movies. And we need to be able to release bad movies to stay in business.” It used to be the case that a really bad movie could still have a great opening weekend, because it would take word of mouth a few days to spread. But in the age of Facebook and Twitter, a movie can be dead in the box office just hours after it opens.
But just because we have a megaphone doesn’t mean we need to shout from it all the time. If we’re constantly crying “Wolf!” nobody will take us seriously. As a society, we need to accept the gift we’ve been given and realize that it comes with a set of responsibilities. When used thoughtfully and mindfully, we can expand access to knowledge and information, demolish old barriers to understanding, and give a global voice to those who were once voiceless.
The famous science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He was right. New technology is a kind of magic, and today we can do things with ease that were impossible just a few years ago. Like magic, each new innovation has advanced our society and our potential. Of course, the seductive glow of these magical devices can also blind us to some of their downsides and side effects.
Once upon a time, all this was science fiction. Now it’s science fact.
Some Tips for Achieving Tech-Life Balance…
Keep Things in Perspective
Sometimes social media can ignite a firestorm, which has devastating, career-ending consequences. But most of the time, getting things wrong online merely results in temporary embarrassment and some hurt feelings. In the end, most things pass, and you have to keep them in perspective. If you’re going through a flame war, stop, drop, and roll with the punches. In time, people will move on and you’ll recover.
It’s Okay to Friend the Boss
A Wharton School study, titled “OMG, My Boss Just Friended Me,” showed that people were anxious to friend their bosses because of the potential to suddenly eliminate what was previously thought of as a solid hierarchy of communication. Social networking can level this distinction with a simple friend request. What matters, then, is using the platform to your advantage. Add the boss, but make sure to utilize your privacy settings and only give access to things you want him or her to see.
Protect Your Privacy
Become a privacy-settings expert. It might seem tedious, but it will pay off. Of course, the controls are never foolproof. It may also be smart to practice posting abstinence. If you stand to lose a job or friends if certain aspects of your behavior were brought to light, then it’s probably smart to stop either doing these things or posting about them, and be cautious of other people posting about them, too.
Digital Posts Can Have Real-Life Consequences
A few years ago, I was going out in NYC with my girl crew when, like so many before us, we were rejected from a super-trendy bar with a famously strict door policy. Waving us to the side, the bouncer told my friends and me that we didn’t fit the “dress code.” Annoyed at the bouncer, I pulled out my BlackBerry to vent my frustration on the then-new platform called Twitter. “Worst bar ever = ….. Worst bouncer ever = …. It would be a huge bummer if their facebook pages ‘accidentally’ went down.” I thought it sounded vaguely funny at the time, but I didn’t invest a whole lot of thought into my message.
When I woke up the next day, my inbox was filled with howls of outrage from commentators complaining about my threatened retaliation against the club. Ah, man. I had no idea the internet could propel my single tweet so far. Something I meant as a bad joke had taken on a life of its own. Of course, I didn’t have the desire or power to delete anyone’s profile, but as someone with a perceived influence at Facebook, that was an incredibly dumb and irresponsible thing to tweet. I didn’t quite get it then, but I do now.
When going out for a night with friends, it may be a good idea to assign, for the night, a “designated poster,” a friend with whom you have to clear any online post before hitting “share.” If you’ve had a couple of drinks and are about to go on a posting spree, this could help prevent you from making a potentially career-ending mistake. Better yet, just enjoy the moment and don’t post at all until the following morning.
I kinda feel like she's still making excuses for her bad digital etiquette.