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Silicon Stupid

Beth Spotswood | June 17, 2013 | Story Tech World

Women of the Bay Area, nothing about your life will ever be good enough. This mantra is driven into your brain from the day you enter junior high until the day they move you into hospice care. Everywhere you look, you’re reminded of your inadequacy: at work; while watching television; when the woman ahead of you at Whole Foods is buying organic kale, and you didn’t even bring a reusable bag for your frozen chocolate croissants.

As if there weren’t already enough indications that you’re living your life all wrong, Randi Zuckerberg— that is, Mark’s sister—recently began publishing a weekly newsletter that underscores the fact that you’re screwing up. It’s called Dot Complicated, and its mission—other than to reinsert Randi into our daily lives now that her Bravo show, Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, has mercifully gone to the Y Combinator in the sky—is “to help you untangle your modern and wonderful life.”

The gist goes something like this: We’re hooked on technology; it’s wasting our time; it’s making us less adorable. And, as the sister of the man who played no small role in creating the world’s greatest timesuck, Zuckerberg is uniquely positioned to help us out. “Along with being part of the team that built Facebook, I also grew up on Facebook,” she explains on Dot Complicated. “I changed my relationship status to ‘engaged’ in 2007, shared my wedding photos in 2008, announced my pregnancy in 2010, became that mom who posts nonstop baby photos in 2011…. I even had a family photo go extremely viral over the holidays. Oops.” But all along, Zuckerberg writes, she wished that she “had someone who would just give it to me straight about my own online behavior. A friend who would say, ‘Randi, sitting side-byside on the sofa with your husband while you’re both on your laptops does not count as quality time.’” Dot Complicated is intended to be that meddling, obvious-advice-giving friend.

Women have been breaking glass ceilings for decades. Recently, those Frank Gehry– designed ceilings in Silicon Valley have been smashed by the likes of Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Jack Dorsey’s hair stylist. Why, then, are the rest of us sophisticated, bright, supposedly tech-savvy women being fed colorfully designed and cutely worded Internet advice from faux besties telling us how our Fitbit fitness tracker can make us “more flirtatious”? (Dot Complicated’s mortifying “tip”: Let your Fitbit peek out of the top of your blouse so that more men will notice it.) With all of the leaps and bounds that women have made in the technology industry, does Silicon Valley still think the fairer sex really needs a bunch of lame e-help to function? The answer is a somewhat amusing, but mostly appalling, yes.

Much like Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop, only without all the phony British upspeak, Dot Complicated offers subscribers tips on things that they probably already know. For example, this reader-suggested item for mothers who work from home: “Make sure your office has a door, invest $100 in a train table, and pay a babysitter for a few hours a week.” There’s also nuptial etiquette, such as “Don’t invite people to your wedding over Facebook.” This last nugget seems a little contradictory when you read another item from a recent Dot Complicated: “Zuckerberg Media teamed with Brides magazine to produce Briana and Jason’s wedding live on Facebook.” Apparently, you can get married on Facebook, but you can’t get married using Facebook. You’re right, Randi. It’s all so complicated.

Women’s publications have been offering inane lifestyle advice for centuries (for that matter, so have men’s). Time-saving waxing tips and “top five girdles” are nothing new. But we expect this drivel from dumbed-down magazines in therapists’ offices, not from the forward- thinking, cutting-edge minds of Silicon Valley—which is why Dot Complicated strikes me as disingenuous, if not totally hypocritical. While simultaneously congratulating women for even attempting the impossible task of having it all, Dot Complicated consistently implies that we’re having it all wrong.

Not that we should pick on Zuckerberg exclusively. She’s hardly the only woman advising fellow females on how to navigate the complicated, futuristic world of smartphones, Facebook, and basic, commonsense functionality. The Huffington Post recently published a gallery of “Awesome iPhone Apps for Women,” which jarringly included—and I don’t know if I can even type this without killing myself—the Period Tracker. This charming app informs a gal when her menstrual cycle is coming around and describes the moods she might be feeling when it does. Did I mention that one of those moods is “in love”?

Then there’s online diva Brit Morin and “her team,” who “help you discover innovative ideas for simple, beautiful, and creative living.” One of those innovative ideas is an app that allows your bra to push up your boobs. (UPDATE, 1:16 p.m.: Brit Morin just tweeted that this product is actually an April Fool's Joke. Looks like we've been duped.) When you press a button on your phone (after buying an app-ready brassiere, of course), the True & Co bra app will take your tits from “Safe for Work” to “First Date.” (The latter, in case you haven’t guessed, is the slut setting.) On subsequent dates, you can feel free to downgrade your ta-tas to the more modest “Going Steady.” In cleavage, as in life, it’s all about compromise.

Apparently, part of that compromise is celebrating the success of the sisterhood in Silicon Valley while simultaneously setting womankind back 50 years. The ugly reality of this paradox is that while a few big-name females are making headlines for leading a few companies, the tech industry is still run by men who have decided that women prefer their information on etiquette, dating, and lady parts with a heavy dose of condescension. Somewhere in Mountain View, a man in dad jeans is saying, “Put a unicorn on it. Chicks love that.”

But the weird thing about some of these sites is that, for all their purported solutions and straight talk, they are really difficult to navigate. Clicking on various Dot Complicated links sends me in oddly wrong directions. Brit Morin’s bra app simply clicks through to a website that sells bras (many of which are red, which goes with everything)—but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how the bras get fitted with the technology to manipulate my boobs. And don’t even get me started on the Period Tracker.

Maybe I do need some help navigating my way around all this confusing “woman friendly” technology. Because the more I try to figure out how my breasts and I should behave at a wedding, the more I realize how Dot Complicated “wired living” really is.

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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