Mark Zuckerberg is a success story, having gone from Hollywood sociopath and interview nightmare to mere super-dork. He's awkward, but much of the alienating superweirdness has been coached away. But Instagram honcho Kevin Systrom is still one bizarre, robotic dude.
At a press event this week, Systrom gathered a room full of chilly New York tech reporters, PR bobbleheads, and lukewarm expectations, to reveal a new product. Only a new product wasn't debuted, but rather a way to send direct messages on Instagram. This is even less interesting than I'm making it sound here, and yet Systrom, clothed in a cardigan like the Martin Embassy had dressed him in the morning, took to the stage with faux-enthusiasm.
It was the sort of eagerness that you'd summon if you'd studied file footage of humans giving excited, important presentations before, studied them for centuries as your Emotion Matrix was slowly uploaded and refined. But his performance didn't work. It's hard to watch. Systrom, in the stilted monotone of a man reading his own obituary, describes brunch as "revolutionary." He tries to connect with the crowd by mentioning his new puppy—but speaks of how fun it's been to "use" the animal, the way one might refer to a can opener or, well, Instagram. It is creepy.
Systrom doesn't need you to like him. He's rich off that Facebook acquisition money, and barring a nuclear device at the stock exchange, will remain rich until he dies. But he wants to be liked, despite an android personality and nothing of apparent interest to say—call it the Zuckerberg Dilemma. I'm told he recently showed up at a party in the most deliberately HELLO I AM COOL MAN fashion, stepping out from a helicopter with his girlfriend in a red dress, all done up in a gaudy suit. No one else had taken a chopper.
Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, despite being private monsters in their own right, turned their respective companies into cultural fixtures because they make people like them—they beat you over the fucking face with charisma until you just nod and hum and click and buy. You can buy many choppers, but you can't buy that kind of stunning super-humanity—though maybe Systrom can spring for a few more of Zuckerberg's publicity coaches. Until then, here's a tip for a person who wants us to change our daily habits around his software: you pet dogs, you don't use them.