Excerpt from “Dot Complicated”

by Randi Zuckerberg

Excerpted from DOT COMPLICATED: Untangling Our Wired Lives, by Randi Zuckerberg, published by HarperOne. Copyright© 2013 by Randi Zuckerberg.

The whole world is getting connected. You can get online anywhere. You can connect to the Internet on top of Mount Everest. You can find a signal at the International Space Station. Many astronauts have built up online fan followings by posting mind-blowing photos of the Earth from orbit. Talk about a Kodak moment.

So, in less than four decades we’ve gone from talking about connecting the world to actually connecting the world. And our expectations of connectivity are becoming a lot more demanding.

While growing up I remember how exciting it was to get online for even a few minutes and how lucky I felt to enjoy a good thirty minutes of chatting with my friends on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) without one of my family picking up the telephone. Then I would wail frantically for them to hang up.

Today, we expect to be online all the time, and we expect to be reachable everywhere. We usually are. A Morgan Stanley Internet Trends report shows that over 90 percent of people keep their mobile phones within three feet of them, twenty-four hours a day. A May 2012 Harris poll in the United States found that 53 percent of people 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, revealed the following eye-opening data:

  • 25 percent of women would give up sex for a year to keep their tablets.
  • 15 percent of all survey respondents would give up their cars to keep their tablets.
  • Nearly 15 percent of all survey respondents said they’d rather give up sex entirely than go for even a weekend without their iPhones.
  • A 2012 TeleNav survey asked people which of life’s “little pleasures” they would rather do without for a week, instead of parting with their phones:

  • 70 percent would give up alcohol.
  • 21 percent would give up their shoes.
  • 28 percent of Apple product users would go without seeing their significant others; 23 percent of Android users agreed.

  • A recent study from McCann Truth Central claimed that 49 percent of married moms would give up their engagement rings before they would part with their mobile phones. 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.

    Beyond people, we’ll see objects, our environments, our homes, our clothes, and our cars come alive with data. One of the most popular Silicon Valley predictions is of a future with an “Internet of Things”—a world where our cars, kitchen appliances, and even shoes are connected. We’re well on the way to seeing that become a reality. According to a Cisco study in April 2011, there are between ten and fifteen billion connected devices in the world today, but by 2020 that number will have reached fifty billion.

    A few months ago, I had a cute, hilarious, and sort of terrifying moment with my son, Asher, which showed me what tomorrow might look like. Asher has come to know and loveBarney and Friends, the children’s TV show about that famous purple dinosaur. Asher loves to sing and dance along with the characters, and he could easily watch the show for hours on end, if only I would let him. One afternoon I was working on my laptop while Asher was playing with his toys on the rug. He got bored after a while, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him staring up at a photo frame on the bookcase. It was a photo of 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, he can get Barney.On my iPad, he can get Barney. So, surely a photo frame must also be able to conjure up his favorite television character.

    I laughed. Asher looked disappointed.

    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? One day he’ll be right, and already his child’s logic shows just how intuitive and obvious this future will be. 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. What happens in a world where everything is screen time?

    The future will be a place of infinite possibilities. No one will ever need to sneak into his or her dad’s office again for a chance to experience the magic. But 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.

    Our definition of “magical moments” may change to become those increasingly rare simple moments when nobody is connected, and there is no magic whatsoever.

    What’s the upside? We’re more connected.

    And the downside? We’re more connected.

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