We recently had the total pleasure of Skyping with mom of one, Randi Zuckerberg. If the last name looks familiar, yes–she’s the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the former Director of Market Development and Spokeswoman for Facebook. Now, she’s the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and the author of two new books: Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives and Dot, a picture book for kids about a young girl who’s both tech-savvy and interactive with the actual world around her (imagine that!). We talked to her about the various ways technology influences modern day parenting.
In what ways have you found technology makes parenting easier or harder?
In some ways, I think definitely both. You have so many other ways you can interact with your children; you can expose them to apps that encourage learning and creativity. I think it’s easier for kids to learn art, music, and reading then ever before. But in other ways, sometimes you have to pry the devices out of their cold hands, and I think that can be very difficult to remind children to develop human-to-human personal interaction skills–like reminding them to go outside and use their creativity in other ways as well.
And you have one son, correct?
I do, I have one son. I have actually found that technology has been tremendous in our family for fostering a love of Judaism and Jewish education because there are so many great apps. I actually helped advise on a Rosh Hashanah app, where you blow into the iPhone like a shofar. Apps like that have been so fantastic. On Pandora we use the Hanukkah and Shabbat stations. So I feel tech has helped bring Judaism in our life much more, but on the other hand I have to make sure I’m not using it as a babysitter.
How old is your son? Does he know how to use an iPad/iPhone?
He’s 2.5 years old. I was shocked the other day; I opened a game for him on the iPhone to play in the car and when I turned around he had navigated out of the app, into a totally different folder, and opened a different game. I was like, “You are 2 years old! I don’t even know how to do that!” So that really blew my mind.
What about posting photos? Do you post photos of your son on Facebook?
I used to post a lot of photos of him and then I started thinking a lot about how I was leaving a digital footprint for him online without his consent. So after that I started posting a lot less, and I created a private Facebook group that’s just me, my husband, in-laws, parents, and other people who want to see all those photos but in a private setting. I upload a ton of photos of him there, but I’ll only load a picture to Facebook of him every few weeks or months, but never on a public platform like Twitter or Instagram. But if you look at my timeline from two years ago, you’d see a big change in my thinking. I want him to have the opportunity to develop his identity online when he’s ready to think that through with me.
Yeah, we have a lot of people writing about their kids, and then their kids are getting to the age when they can actually read.
Yeah, they can actually see things their parents are posting about them. I think in some ways some of that can be really nice. I used to have great joy when asking my mom to take out the baby book and look through all those photos together. And now you can do that anytime. I think we just have to be careful that we’re not leaving traces of our children digitally online that they might be embarrassed by or wouldn’t be putting their best foot forward.
What were things your own parents did right that you’d like to replicate with your kids?
My parents definitely fostered a love of reading very early in us. Almost every night growing up, I would sit with my mom, and we would take out a book and she would read one page and I’d read the other side and we’d alternate. Even when we grew into chapter books, we still read it that way. I just remember how that fostered such a love of books, knowledge, and reading. That’s definitely something I want to do with my own son. Whether it’s on a Kindle or a physical book, I just think it’s really important for kids to have a love for reading and knowledge.
Do you see a difference in the experience for kids reading a book on a Kindle or iPad versus an actual physical book?
I do think with young children there’s still something about the beauty of a physical book–turning the pages, seeing the pictures. But I can see that not all children learn the same way. Some children really need the digital environment where the book comes out at you and there’s all kinds of ways to interact. I personally think as long as children are reading, bring it on in any format. There are all these great tools now that are allowing older children and teenagers to annotate books, to see what other children are thinking about things, digitally. But for me it’s not about digital books replacing the written book; it’s about the next generation of apps that will come out that will be companions to books, and the exciting things we can do with that.
What’s your take on parents on the cell phone while at the park with their kids? Do you feel there’s a disconnect going on there?
It’s a hard one, because generally my reaction leans toward putting your phone away and giving your children undivided attention. That being said, I have definitely on occasion been that mom.
On occasion… kudos to you!
I think what’s so hard about it is that these mobile devices are the things that give us the freedom to be working moms. The fact that I have this mobile device means I can be at the park with my son in the first place and not be chained to a desk in my office. On one hand I definitely want to give him my undivided attention as much as possible. On the other hand I would not be having that face time with him if not for the mobile phones. So I think we need to be very mindful of the example we’re setting for our children, but also make it clear that our children understand when mommy is having work time and when she’s having interactive time with them.
I always find that the sort of connection, like you said, is good and bad, but it also often makes me feel like I’m never doing either thing well.
I think women are better at multitasking than men are, but I still don’t think we’re wired for such multitasking as the world demands of us right now, as we’d like to be. Actually, I’m Skyping with you right now from a co-working space in Palo Alto. I think that’s a really great opportunity for working moms who like the flexibility of not being chained to a particular office but are having trouble balancing working and being out of their home.
How do you feel about your own sense of ambition after having a child? Do you feel it’s shifted in some ways?
It definitely has in some ways. I’m actually working the hardest I’ve ever worked. I didn’t think that was possible with the hours we were keeping at Facebook, but there’s a few things going on right now. First of all, I really want my son to grow up seeing women as incredibly productive forces in the work place. He’ll be working with and for women, and I think it’s great for him to see his mom doing that early on.
I’m curious to hear more about how Judaism plays a part in your family.
Judaism plays a huge role in our family. One thing that we’ve really integrated is our little spin on Shabbat–we do a digital Shabbat. On Saturdays we keep our phones at home, stored away, and do something as a family with no devices, just giving one another undivided attention. It was really hard the first few weeks. I kept thinking I forgot my phone or was missing something, but now it’s something we really look forward to as a family and we are now trying to expand that to other areas of our life, too. That’s something we really borrowed from Judaism, incorporating it into our modern life.
Finally, we must ask, what is Mark like as an uncle?
Oh, he’s a great uncle! Our whole family is so close. I live within 40 minutes driving distance of my brother and my two sisters right now so we see each other all the time. They’re always showering Asher with gifts. In fact they all bought him so many Hanukkah gifts that my husband and I stashed away all of our gifts for his birthday, because he got too many! They’re the best uncle and aunts ever.