All the ways people freaked out about this insane Zuckerberg VR photo

A single photo can sometimes capture a moment, and our collective fears, in a thousand different ways.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

Meet Mark Zuckerberg and his army of Gear VR-wearers.

It all started at this year's Mobile World Congress, during Samsung's Galaxy S7 press event Sunday evening in Barcelona. Each seat at Samsung's venue came with its own Gear VR headset. Attendees were encouraged to put it on (I wore one at home, too, while live-streaming the event through an app). And then, Mark Zuckerberg made a surprise appearance.

A photo posted to Zuckerberg's own public Facebook feed went viral, and suddenly no one could help themselves -- myself included -- from cracking jokes everywhere.

It's an image that captures a lot. Let's break it down.

It's a sense of 1984-like subservience

Zuckerberg walking down the aisle, and the rows of identical, submissive-seeming VR participants at Samsung's Mobile World Congress press conference, has similarities to Apple's famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial. The lighting, the rows of dulled masses. But then, should Zuckerberg be wielding the hammer, or someone else?

It's The Matrix

Obviously, because everyone's jacked in. The wires, which were required to keep the VR-phone systems powered (normally they're wireless), add to the unfortunate sense of tethering.

It's human grumpy cat

That man in the front. Look at his frown. Everyone else has. It's curved so extremely, it looks like a mask. It feels like the face of a Cenobite from Hellraiser. Maybe it's resting VR face. Perhaps it's unfair, because I look awful with a VR headset on. I'm not sure I frown that much, though.

It's Zuck's weird smile

Like that man's frown, it gets stranger as you get closer. This is meme catnip.

It's everyone drinking VR Kool-Aid

Look at everyone! They're all blindered to the world! Everyone is a sheep! We're doomed! It seems awful, but right now I find it hard to even wear a VR headset for more than a half hour at a time. Plus, we're already glued to our phones, laptops, watches, etc etc. The screen-in-our-face-forever is an obvious end-goal nightmare. Hey, can I make you feel better? Future VR/AR glasses will be see-through, and look more normal. Can I make you feel worse? We'll probably be hallucinating in them 24/7.


Drudge Report's front page today

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

It's "Celebrities aren't the same as us!"

Zuckerberg having a glowing, ethereal presence, walking among the masses and doing something different, suggests the gap we already fear: big famous people living like gods among us. I found Zuckerberg pretty charming during his backstage live feed after Samsung's event, which he posted to Facebook. But yeah, you could put any celebrity face in that photo and it could represent our increasing divide.

The present feels like the future...or, it's all just ridiculous

Look: VR isn't that scary. Or maybe it is. It's early days for a weird, fascinating, and fast-growing technology. It all feels like another episode of Black Mirror. But, yes, it's real life. And it's a little bit of real life trying to be like science fiction, too, straining at the edges.

But the most amazing part of all of this was that this photo came from Mark Zuckerberg's own Facebook feed. Somehow, Mark Zuckerberg thought this was a good idea. And instead, this photo ended up being Scoble in the shower. In one day, it became everyone's favorite image of the nightmares of mass adoption of VR. Maybe this will be the image that becomes as iconic for VR as that Scoble was for Google Glass.

Or, maybe we'll forget about it by next week.