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Mark Zuckerberg’s Makeover: Midlife Crisis or Carefully Crafted Rebrand?

For Mark Zuckerberg’s fortieth birthday, his wife gave him a photo shoot.

Zuckerberg smirks at the camera as he sits amid a carefully crafted recreation of his childhood bedroom. It’s all childish – a lava lamp, a participation trophy, a white stuffed dog – but the environment foreshadows the culture-changing technological force that Zuckerberg would create. Amid thick volumes on C++, Java, and Windows 95, we see a sepia-toned framed photograph of what appears to be a young Zuckerberg, posing in his office chair the same way he is now: one arm resting on the file in his office. chair, the other hanging above her spread legs.

This series of photos, modeled on different phases of the CEO’s life, evoke the journey Zuckerberg has taken: once a skinny kid learning to code, he is now one of the richest men in the world… but that’s not the main takeaway for the audience. the picture. Instead, they beg the question: Does Zuck have the drip?

For the first time in his life, Zuckerberg looks a little too cool for all the retro tech paraphernalia. A thick gold chain hangs around his neck, but it’s not long enough to cover the large gothic-style text on his graphic t-shirt: Carthago delenda isor Carthage must die.

Zuckerberg’s sudden change in style is noticeable: for about thirteen years, he has worn the same gray shirt and jeans during most of his public appearances, because of course he focuses on such broad issues that are beyond comprehension of us laymen who are not as rich as others. it is, because we spend too much time getting dressed. In April, when Zuckerberg posted an Instagram Reel about updates to the Meta AI assistant, viewers focused on Zuckerberg’s frat boy-esque channel, rather than the intricacies of the Llama 3 model. edited a photo from Zuckerberg’s video and added a beard to his face, and it went viral because he was surprisingly handsome! And now the top comments on the video are imploring her to let her facial hair grow.

At a recent high-profile wedding in India, Zuckerberg wore a beaded Alexander McQueen suit, which he followed the next day with a luxurious organza shirt by Rahul Mishra, one of India’s top designers. The shirt is so finely embroidered that its cost is listed as “asking price” online, as if it were a freshly caught lobster at a high-end restaurant. Sporting his sparkly tiger-clad shirt, Zuckerberg was photographed next to Bill Gates, whose outfit would be permitted under my elementary school’s dress code.

Zuckerberg’s fashion choices may seem frivolous, but they impact how the public perceives him and his company. It’s not something to take lightly when you’re the CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, especially one that has been criticized for its child safety and addictive design issues. If Zuckerberg suddenly becomes a fashionable MMA fighter instead of an idiot who profits from our personal data, could this suave style protect him from scrutiny?

“Personal style is a communication tool,” Amber Venz Box, the fashion blogger turned founder of business platform LTK, told TechCrunch. “We have oral and written communication, we have body language and we have the ‘drip’ – our appearance communicates a lot about us and influences the way people feel about us.”

This is not the same man we saw, ghostly and wide-eyed, testifying before Congress about Facebook’s potential to undermine the electoral process. Remember just two years ago when we were all clowning around in that Metaverse Zuck photo in front of the Eiffel Tower? And now we crave his non-existent beard? Zuck’s outburst happened about as quickly as we stopped caring about Horizon Worlds. Now he’s an avid MMA fighter who humbly brags on Instagram about running a 21-minute 5K. He no longer looks like the kid who was bullied in high school, but more like the kid who would do the bullying.

“Maybe he stopped caring,” Avery Trufelman, a podcaster and fashion historian, told TechCrunch. “He looks like Taylor Swift after the Reputation era.”

Trufelman’s comparison of an abnormally powerful computer geek to a record-breaking pop star may seem like a stretch, but in an age where tech companies control our attention for hours and hours every day, tech CEOs are something of a celebrity.

The most mainstream celebrities, like Swift and Beyoncé, rarely speak to the press. They don’t have to do it. Instead, fans analyze the lyrics for secret messages, as if they were Talmudic scholars carefully reading ancient texts. It’s not much different from the techies who listen to Meta’s quarterly earnings calls, studying the scant information we get about how Zuckerberg talks about his empire.

“It’s kind of what fashion talk has become: image decoding or armchair psychology,” Trufelman said. “Should it matter this much?” I don’t know. But I think, especially for large, intimidating public figures, it’s one of the few open windows we have into their inner workings, and so we try to use it in any way we can.

Zuckerberg didn’t just wear this Carthago delenda is shirt because it looks cool. The phrase is a nod to the CEO’s early days as a startup founder, who reminds us in his photo shoot that he slept in a single room with a mattress on the floor until Facebook hit $100 million. users (sure, he could have just received a second-hand bed frame and light decoration, but then he wouldn’t be able to glamorize his sigma grindset in a possible 40th birthday photo shoot).

The hostile nature of his old room, as well as its nod to the destruction of Carthage, makes Zuckerberg a rebel against the tyranny of traditional tech companies. According to Business Insider, Zuckerberg made this statement Carthago delenda is on Facebook in 2011, when Google launched Google+, then considered a Facebook killer. Zuckerberg put his team into “lockdown mode” – another “era” described in his photoshoot, to use the Swiftian term – where he worked tirelessly with his team to crush their competitors.

This Latin expression comes from the ancient Roman politician Cato the Elder, who concluded all his speeches with a call to defeat Carthage. But Rome wasn’t exactly the underdog during the Punic Wars, and Zuckerberg isn’t an underdog either: the republic emerged victorious in all three wars, but it didn’t rest until Carthage is completely destroyed. It’s a slightly more violent adage than “move fast and break things”, but then again, Google+ no longer exists. It worked.

Zuckerberg’s desire to ingrain himself in American business history is evident in his photoshoot. In one photo, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is eerily present, sitting in a small chair next to Zuckerberg in a mock-up of the Harvard dorm where he started Facebook.

The image is disturbing. Gates is dressed like he’s about to go for a run, wearing a hoodie, gym shorts, Adidas sneakers and tube socks. Zuckerberg, sitting in a higher chair, looks like he’s holding court with the tech icon. At this point, Zuckerberg is richer than Gates.

Zuckerberg always seemed to understand that he couldn’t take Meta’s dominance for granted, nor be content with his place in the company – the board is set up so that Mark can never be ousted against his will. The bloodthirsty slogan on his t-shirt is still relevant: Right now, Meta’s biggest competitor, TikTok, is fighting for its life.

Meta is full of reminders that it’s hard to stay on top forever — just look at its shares’ massive decline in 2022, when it became clear that Zuckerberg’s big metaverse plans weren’t as inevitable as he let it be understood. One such reminder is embedded at the entrance to the company’s corporate campus. When the company first moved to Menlo Park, it kept the entrance sign from SunSystems, the land’s previous tenant. The company simply flipped the sign over and put the “thumbs up” on Facebook, intentionally leaving the SunSystems logo visible from behind.

“I always thought it was so poetic to keep these reminders of empires rising and falling, and clearly Zuck has that Ozymandias mindset,” Trufelman said. “I think he definitely sees his place in the framework of the story.”


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