The aesthetics of Mark Zuckerberg

By The New York Times | Amanda Hess

What is given to the man who has everything? How about a vivid fantasy world of his own design?

Last week, during a presentation at Facebook’s annual virtual reality conference, Mark Zuckerberg appeared in a full-length video detailing his plans for the “metaverse,” an immersive digital world powered by his own products. In the realm envisioned by Zuckerberg, humans will teleport around the world in hologram form. Virtual fish will swim in the sky. You will have a large virtual telescope at home and a floating cast iron fireplace, and David Attenborough will be there. You will still have to spend your days video conferencing at work, but now some of your colleagues will look like cartoons.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse will be influenced by your financial interests and strategic drives, but also your tastes. In your world, you could become our architect, decorator, concert promoter, movie distributor, fitness guru, curator, and stylist, or at least your boss. It’s time to evaluate Zuckerberg not only as a business leader, but also as a cultural one.

What is the aesthetic of Mark Zuckerberg? What do you like? His nearly twenty years of public life offer few clues. We know that you have expressed an interest in the voice of Morgan Freeman and the work of Vin Diesel. In 2015, she organized an absurdly broad-based book club on Facebook, selecting works by both Michelle Alexander and Henry Kissinger. He has broadcast himself smoking meat on Facebook Live.

His personal style is expeditious. Like a comic book character, he appears to have a closet full of indivisible uniforms, pure dark blue jeans, and subtly openwork crewnecks. He has had his hair cut the same way for more than a decade, with the tiny fringe of a medieval squire. At 37, her pale and strangely smooth face gives her a vampiric quality. There is something puzzling in the static nature of his image, in his impermeability to the passage of time and his own growing fortune. It is as if he has always moved through the world as an avatar.

However, some things have changed. When we first met Zuckerberg, he was a hooded hacker in a bedroom who had improbably risen to power. “Social Network,” David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation of the founding of Facebook in 2010, portrayed him as a frustrated geek with trouble socializing with girls. However, as the company gained global influence, he came to be seen as something of an obscure prince online, and he strove to restructure himself as a plausible civic leader. He began to quote Abraham Lincoln. His bearing might be rigid and charmless, but now he was also gentle, like an android programmed for a custodial position.

On Instagram, he presents himself as an aggressively normal father, filling his account with images of his wife, Priscilla Chan, their children, and their long-haired dog. He has twice posted blurry and too close night selfies in front of the Louvre. His caption style is mechanical: “Happy Mother’s Day!”; “For a great 2019!”; “We hope you had a spooky Halloween!”

As early as 2017, Zuckerberg published a manifesto stating that Facebook was dedicated to building the “social infrastructure” for a “civically engaged community.” He wrote about “spreading prosperity and freedom,” “fighting climate change,” and “preventing pandemics.” (Whoops!) When he referred to “building the world we all want,” he was talking about the real world. Now he has retired to a place where he is not primarily concerned with democracy or the survival of the planet, but with what he calls “joy”: attending virtual concerts, playing virtual chess, and nodding to colleagues in virtual offices.

Although the term “metaverse” suggests a fully articulated sci-fi realm, Zuckerberg uses it to glamorize a network of augmented and virtual reality apps and equipment, such as headsets, that he swears will one day create the perfect illusion of a “profound sense of presence ”. He will allocate $ 10 billion this year to those projects (and more in the years to come), assign 10,000 workers to them, and change his company name to “Meta.” And he is also restructuring his image on the web, as he is assuming another unlikely role: that of virtual entrepreneur.

In recent months, Zuckerberg’s Instagram account has elegantly professionalized. He appears as an athlete who practices elite hobbies: foil, fencing, rowing, throwing spears. In an Instagram video posted on July 4, he flies across the water in an airboat, waving an American flag to the beat of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” This summer, the paparazzi captured Zuckerberg in bizarre leisure scenes: heading into the jungle to hunt wild boar with a group of friends, in tactical gear and knitted shoes; surfing in the ocean, her face covered in opaque white sunscreen like some kind of tropical mime. He recently posted a series of videos shot using Facebook’s new smart glasses, inviting the viewer to see through his eyes while driving a boat or launching into a backyard fencing match. Now, in this presentation, Zuckerberg becomes our avatar to experience the entire metaverse.

The video begins in a house, it can be assumed that Zuckerberg’s. Background music blasts as Zuckerberg walks through a beige expanse dotted with raw wood trim, ceramic pots and fossilized sea urchins. When he invites us into the metaverse (actually, simulated images of a virtual reality product that doesn’t exist), his living room dissolves into a grid and a computerized fantasy version of his house appears. In it appear several globes, a bonsai that grows in an urn and a row of suits: a Spartan, an astronaut. Huge windows offer views with the kind of images of nature that are used in screensavers that come preloaded on the computer: tropical islands on one side, snow-capped mountains on the other.

The most striking item in Zuckerberg’s fantasy house is a slim, wall-mounted television. “You can do anything you imagine,” says Zuckerberg. “You will experience the world with increasing wealth,” he promises. But most of all, it foresees that we will consume content in increasingly antisocial ways. Zuckerberg’s portrait on “Social Network,” fueled by romantic resentment, never turned out to be entirely accurate. It seemed too human. Even your personal hobbies and habits stink of compromise. On his Instagram account, he embodies the spirit of “working hard and playing hard,” ruthlessly turning leisure time into opportunities for technical mastery. When you post pictures of your children on the platform, you assure the public that there is nothing problematic about plugging their private lives into your products. He has said that he puts on the same thing every day “to have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” as if acting less like a person could benefit the rest of humanity.

Given the disturbing events Facebook has been accused of facilitating, some people are naturally skeptical of transforming the platform into an immersive playground where we can experience, for example, racist screaming or body dysmorphia from way even more vivid. Instead, Zuckerberg has offered a different kind of horror: a frictionless world in which nothing unpredictable or monetizable never happens. Its metaverse is inhabited by softened and perhaps neutered cartoon figures who converse with phrases like “Hey”, “How crazy” and “Let’s meet for a moment to have a report.” And if that all gets overwhelming, Zuckerberg says, we can “teleport into a private bubble to be alone.” Alone in a bubble: that’s the sleep from the future. The reality will surely be much worse. An undated image provided by Meta. Tech, entertainment and fashion leaders have been quick to claim their place in the metaverse, though few seem to agree on what exactly it is. (Meta via The New York Times)

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The aesthetics of Mark Zuckerberg