Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Steve Jobs offer lessons on technology use

There's no question that the tools created by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are shaping our lives. But what lessons can we glean from looking at the way tech titans approach technology and privacy in their personal lives?

Tech titans' personal approach to privacy, work-life balance, screen time speak louder than words

While Facebook encourages users to share information, CEO Mark Zuckerberg built a buffer around his home by purchasing neighbouring properties. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

There's no question that the tools created by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are shaping our lives. But what lessons can we glean from looking at the way tech titans approach technology and privacy in their personal lives?

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg has famously said that sharing is the new social norm which has replaced privacy. He told the crowd at a 2010 technology awards show, "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people."

Facebook relies on that kind of openness. Our willingness to share information online directly impacts the massive company's even more massive bottom line. After all, none of its billion-plus active users pay a cent for use of the social network — at least in dollars. 

But back in 2013, when it came time to put down his roots, the Facebook exec bought up all of the neighbouring houses around him as a buffer from the world, according to reports.

Maybe that's lesson number one — actions speak louder than words. It's one thing to say that privacy is dead, but when it comes to the way we live, our desire for downtime, and the instinct to protect the ones we love, we might say we're comfortable sharing everything — but only if we have the option not to.

Yahoo CEO criticized over parenting choices

A lack of privacy has enveloped Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently. She's facing rumours that her time as the head of the company is limited.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer received backlash last year for taking just two weeks of maternity leave. (Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press)
But much of the chatter around her has been about the way she is raising her children, and the brevity of her maternity leave.

Part of this is gendered — female executives face far more scrutiny over their personal lives than any male leaders.

When's the last time a male CEO had to debate whether or not he could "have it all," and truly excel at being both a businessman and a father?

But this also speaks to the conflict between the promise of technology and the social standards set by the actions of executives like Mayer.

The mythology of the internet is that we can work from anywhere. However, it also means that wherever we are, and at whatever time of day, work never truly stops.

Our devices promote an "always on" culture of increasing work pressure, and decreasing boundaries between work and home life.

While Mayer's two-week maternity leave may be an extreme case, it sets an example that ripples beyond the Yahoo boardroom. Despite the promise of the freedom to balance work and home through our connected lifestyles, we ultimately sacrifice time off and the sanctuary of home so we can always work.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs limited kids' screen time

And then there's the hotly debated issue of screen time. 

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs said he limited his own kids' exposure to screens like Apple's own iPad. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press))
It may come as a surprise to hear that Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO, was a self-proclaimed low-tech parent, telling the New York Times he limited his kids' use of the very tools he created while they were still young enough to be impressionable.

Here we are, living in an age in which tablets can be found appeasing restless toddlers in strollers around the world, and yet the godfather of the mobile device would never have allowed the same for his kids. It's like a fast food executive insisting that his children be vegan — and makes you wonder what Steve Jobs knew that the rest of us don't.

When it comes to technology, there is often a sense of "do as I say, not as I do." And that's true of the leaders of industry, as well as parents and teachers. We think we know what is best, but often don't follow our own advice.

Don't let technology use become second nature

But it's not entirely our fault. The technologies that we welcome into our lives are designed to seamlessly enhance our experiences. And as such, over time, we lose sight of them.

It's sort of like driving. When you're a new driver, you're reminded to consciously check the rear-view mirrors every few seconds. But after a decade of driving, that becomes second nature, a behaviour you're no longer conscious of performing.

The same is true of our digital encounters,  from what we post and share online to putting an iPad in front of a toddler without giving it a second thought. The allure of the tools is so great that we sometimes lose track of how they're shifting our behaviour — and in turn, shaping us.

So maybe it's time to take a closer look at the leaders in the world of tech  and not just the tools they create — but how they choose to use them.

About the Author

Ramona Pringle

Technology Columnist

Ramona Pringle is an associate professor in the RTA School of Media and director of the Transmedia Zone at Ryerson University. She is a CBC contributor who writes and reports on the relationship between people and technology.


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