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What scary photo of Mark Zuckerberg says about our dystopian tech future

What scary photo of Mark Zuckerberg says about our dystopian tech future

What scary photo of Mark Zuckerberg says about our dystopian tech future

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In the photo, Mark Zuckerberg is half-smiling, dazed, as if he couldn’t make sense of the show he put on. He walks past his peons, heel-toe down the carpeted center aisle, as they swivel and grimace, unaware of his presence, in their own virtual realities.

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Later, when the assembled journalists take off the headsets, they are Samsung Gear VR headsets, for the record, and it’s Mobile World Congress in Spain, they’ll be amazed to realize that Zuckerberg is there; they’ll press him for quotes and stage photos. Much later, people from the network invented by Zuckerberg will start circulating this photo. It looks like “1984”, they say, or that Apple ad from 1984; it reminds them of “The Matrix”, in which humans grow up in amniotic pods and experience the “world” via a plug in their head.

Zuckerberg said that in his vision for the future, these virtual experiences will be fundamentally social. But the photo suggests something quite different: hundreds of people share a physical space, but no perception, no experience, no phenomenological anchoring. The community of a conference (literally from conferre, “to bring together”) is turned upside down by a series of hyper-individualized bubbles. And Zuckerberg’s goofy half-smile reminds you that the man who owns the bubbles also owns what’s inside. That controlling virtual reality, in other words, is only one step in controlling reality itself.

Again, Zuckerberg is probably already doing this. There’s nothing particularly photogenic about the News Feed and its constant, imperceptible updates.

“In the age of high technology,” wrote media theorist Neil Postman, “spiritual devastation is more likely to come from a smiling-faced enemy.”

© 2016 The Washington Post

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