Why have social networks blossomed in as antisocial an environment as Silicon Valley? Because they allow computers to become a crutch for a task most engineers find imposing: dealing with other human beings. Turning relationships into a social graph that can be fed into a database and ruled by algorithms is a genius move for tech's clumsy savants. Alex French, a writer for GQ, interviewing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a profile, wonders if his cold stare and cagey responses are an incredibly calculating attempt to intimidate, or merely a sign that he's awkward. Either way, Zuckerberg shows a disdain for displays of emotion. Asked if he celebrated Microsoft's $240 million investment in Facebook, Zuckerberg seems puzzled by the question's premise. And yet emotion is at the core of Zuckerberg's plan for world domination.In a conversation — conducted on instant messenger, the computer-moderated communications mode of choice for the socially impaired — Zuckerberg reveals that he hopes Facebook will one day broadcast its users very emotions. French probes him on this issue in the following exchange:
(12:25 p.m.) Alex: How’s things? (12:25 p.m.) Mark: There’s this definite evolution happening. Where the first part of the social web was mapping out the social graph. And the second phase is now mapping out the stream of everything that everyone does. All of human consciousness and communication. (12:29 p.m.) Alex: Imagine if you could broadcast people’s emotions into a feed? (12:30 p.m.) Mark: I think we’ll get there. (12:30 p.m.) Alex: So how are you going to map all of human consciousness and communication? (12:30 p.m.) Mark: We don’t map it directly. We give people tools so they can share as much as they want, but increasingly people share more and more things, and there’s this trend toward sharing a greater number of smaller things like status updates, wall posts, mobile photos, etc. A status update can approach being a projection of an emotion. (12:31 p.m.) Alex: That’s what I use it for. (12:31 p.m.) Mark: So it’s not so crazy to say that in a few years people will be doing a lot more of that. It takes time for people to be comfortable sharing more and for the social norms to change.
Facebook will one day broadcast our emotions. He's kidding, right? It's easy to dismiss Zuckerberg as someone who watched The Matrix one too many times on late-night cable at his Harvard dorm. Be careful, though: Neuroscience, the study of the human brain's electrical wiring, is one of Silicon Valley's nerdy obsessions of the moment. (Palm founder Jeff Hawkins has a startup, Numenta, devoted to it.) How long before the Bluetooth headsets we wear start listening to us 24/7, using voice-recognition software — already in use at call centers — to deduce our mood, and send it to Facebook, which then broadcasts it to our friends? This frightening future may be closer than we think. If he realizes his ambitions, Zuckerberg will know not just who you're poking, but who you're thinking about poking. It would be less disturbing to contemplate this power in the 24-year-old CEO's hands if we had any idea what he was feeling.