Here’s what it’s really like inside Facebook’s F8 conference

“Brain vitamins?” I said, confused, to the man standing at the entrance to Facebook’s annual F8 developer’s conference as he reached out to hand me a cold little pink and blue bottle. “Neutonic,” the label read. “Shake it first, and take it like a shot,” he directed me. “It’s not a fine wine.”

This is a conference — there are stages and schedules and registration badges — but F8 isn’t like your usual work event.

The unstated dress code is blue jeans, backpacks and zip-up sweatshirts. Thousands of attendees fill San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, but the noise never gets above a gentle buzz. Most people aren’t talking, they’re working.

Every bench is taken by one or two people hunched over their laptops, headphones in. The line for artisan coffee extends past 40 people, even though jugs of regular brew sit just a hundred yards away.

It felt like I walked into an exclusive club, where everyone has a secret project and no one is sharing the details. And the snacks are endless.

What was announced here today, in an old military fort along the San Francisco Bay, is going to change the world — for better or for worse. Nearly one-fourth of the humans on this planet use Facebook. Even slight tweaks to the tech giant’s platform could change everything about how we communicate with each other.

F8 (Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY)

In a giant warehouse-like building, Facebook has displayed the best they have to offer in interactive exhibits. A bright screen shows blue dots on a map showing every single Facebook Live stream happening around the world. A dissected model of the new Surround 360 camera stands in the middle of a display of seven different kinds of 360 cameras. Yellow, white and blue beanbags cover the floor in the center of the room where developers cluster with their laptops in between sessions. An enormous black wall with the word “Oculus” glowing in giant letters draws a line of hundreds waiting up to an hour and a half in line to demo the Oculus Touch, Gear VR and Oculus Rift.

As about 2,600 of Facebook’s developers pack in like sardines to watch Mark Zuckerberg deliver a keynote that will likely define the immediate future of online communication, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg chats casually in the aisle.

With no introduction, Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage. “It takes courage to choose hope over fear,” he tells the silent audience.” You have to be optimistic to think that you can change the world.”

That’s what it feels like in this old airplane hanger, illuminated with blue lights and futuristic decor, a drone buzzing behind Zuckerberg on stage.

Like we are at the forefront of a new, beautiful future. One where an app can help diagnose skin cancer or discover a new planet. Where there is a new way for the blind to experience photos. Where the internet is available and accessible to everyone. All things, Zuckerberg, the pastor of this technology sermon, sees in our near future.

The updates like Oculus’s virtual reality features or the ease of ordering flowers from 1–800-flowers through a Facebook Messenger bot feels secondary. This isn’t about app, this is about the future of humanity. That’s how it feels anyway, for a first-time visitor to Facebooklandia. It’s easy to forget, that we’re talking about a company. The speakers are charismatic and excited — like a big brother you almost don’t mind.

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