It’s rare for an image to become iconic so quickly:
There’s a Rorschach Blot element to it, with everyone seeing what they’re expecting to. The source adds some context. The folks buried in the matrix are journalists. (Everyone knows who the other guy is.)
The picture was everywhere on social media, almost immediately. Zuck isn’t really looking at anyone (he’s staring forward into his own — eminently practical — dreams). The journalists are looking at what he’s showing them, and only that. We’re looking at them, asymmetrically (through social media). In other words, we’re seeing a new media system interring an old one inside itself. The press is being buried alive, in front of our eyes, and we’re (typically) trying not to laugh alongside Zuck too conspicuously, because the idea of that makes us nervous — perhaps even slightly nauseous. Everyone knows something real is happening, precisely because of its near-parodic virtuality. When people look back at this, it’s the obvious bizarre novelty of it — to us — that will look comical.
Social media is a phase. What comes next will still be social media, just as social media is still the Web, and the Web is still the Internet, but it will have been reconfigured no less drastically. Decentralization, potentially, will have been raised to a higher power, which will demand a superior strategy of re-centralization from the coming big winners. Bandwidth will continue to rise, with VR proposed as a way to soak some of that up. News will be consumed predominantly through these channels. Whoever dominates them will command the landscape of opinion. The existing social media giants will be the threatened dinosaurs of this rapidly changing environment. Knowing this, they will leverage all the advantages of incumbency to make bold strategic moves. (Most of this is clearly visible in the picture.)
As systems decentralize they take on the characteristics of self-organizing collective intelligence (SOCI). Agency becomes distributed in increasingly complex, unpredictable ways, and positions of domination have to be earned and defended with ever-greater objective cunning. Placing target audiences in the role of passive consumers requires perpetual dynamic effort. Already, social media users are showing this picture, as well as absorbing it. At least nominally, relationships within the emerging media-matrix are orchestrated as ambiguously competitive-cooperative games, rather than as a simple matter of service delivery (with clearly settled producer-consumer roles). People use social media to produce media, and not merely to accept what they are told. This disruption of informational hierarchies can only intensify, erratically (as it has for half a millennium).
Twitter is not dealing with this well. Things are happening too fast for them. The down-grading of (content-relevant) media power from monopolistic broadcasting, to competitive broadcasting, to curation is already slipping into something else — following the inherent censorship-resistance of the Internet. Trust-vaporization is still accelerating. This is what corporate death looks like, when formulated as a mission statement. (I’m not sufficiently interested in Facebook to pull out the parallels on that side.)
Zuck’s smile in that picture isn’t Mona Lisa material, except in its capacity to absorb analysis. If it looks as if he’s laughing at you, you’re responding like a loser. The coming chaos is far too unpredictable to justify that.