Apple’s Vision Pro headset, the hotly anticipated reveal during the 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference, finally pulled back its curtain, shedding a sliver of light on the future of technology. It wasn't long ago when the tech giant implored us to save our eyes by distancing our devices. Yet, in a paradoxical twist, it unveiled the Vision Pro, a device designed to be strapped directly in front of users' eyes. The design—undoubtedly Apple-y in its sleekness—might evoke chuckles and looks of incredulity. Apple is envisioning a future where such headsets become daily wear, suggesting a future both intriguing and absurd.
Admittedly, the Vision Pro feels like an eerie appendage, a technological phantom looming over our heads, enabling us to interact with people through screens placed directly in front of our eyes. The promise? No more isolation. The Vision Pro isn’t just a “virtual reality” device but an “augmented reality” headset designed to bridge the gap between our reality and the digital realm. But does it, really? The actual gap between augmented and virtual reality seems to blur as the promise of a bright, unified future fades into a shadowy outline.
Despite this unsettling blur, Apple championed the Vision Pro's myriad use cases, from working at home or office to watching movies or safeguarding personal space in public transports. The tech behemoth stresses on the concept of work, subtly weaving a narrative of constant productivity and making the headset's lofty price tag palatable. But is this the future of computing we're ready to embrace?
When Screens Drive Profits
Tech companies during the pandemic painted a vivid picture of their motives. We were shut inside our homes, helpless but to feed the growing maw of screens and digital services. Companies with already unimaginable valuations saw their profits soar, revealing a straightforward, unambiguous incentive: keep us glued to our screens.
Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse, kicked off in October 2021, played right into this motive. In the guise of a digital haven for remote workers, the metaverse quickly morphed into a surveillance tool, tracking users' activities. While the metaverse hype has since dwindled, replaced by the AI bubble, the intention to keep us tethered to our screens hasn't changed. Apple's foray into this market now signifies their pursuit of similar profits, pushing us towards a digital future that may not necessarily be beneficial.
The Isolation Profit: A Cautionary Tale
The Vision Pro’s claim of augmenting social interaction feels far-fetched, almost contradictory. The device, by its very design, isolates users from their immediate surroundings, creating virtual workspaces or cinema halls, thus reinforcing the cocoon of solitude digital technology has spun around us.
The increasing isolation fostered by digital tech has been incredibly profitable for the tech industry. Lauren Smiley, in her 2015 essay, raised an important point about the “shut-in economy” tech companies were building. From ecommerce services to gig apps, everything was being delivered right to our doorstep, creating a dual effect: we became more productive, while also more isolated.
Changing Relationships and Social Dynamics
With the Vision Pro and its ilk, this isolation takes on a new dimension. Tech companies seek to sequester us within their digital ecosystems, where our interactions with people are replaced by interactions with apps and chatbots. The Vision Pro further advances this isolation, allowing users to project “digital personas” in lieu of their real selves, hence furthering the disconnect between actual and virtual interactions.
Entertainment, too, is becoming a solitary experience. From collective movie-watching experiences, we've transitioned to individual streaming services and now to devices like the Vision Pro, which privatize our entertainment experience. It's unsettling to see tech moguls, cocooned in their wealth and exclusivity, fail to recognize the intrinsic social nature of humans, advocating for an increasingly digitalized existence.
Should We Embrace This Future?
Apple, with its Vision Pro, forces us to question whether we should let tech companies dictate the course of our future. Smartphones, despite their ubiquity and indispensability, have also made us increasingly individualistic, fostering a pseudo-connection that often belies actual social disconnect.
Vision Pro and similar products may find specific use-cases in certain work environments or among a niche gaming community. However, the idea of a headset as a mass consumer product seems far-fetched, despite the persistent efforts of tech giants. We need to quash this expectation before it gains momentum.
Consumer Power: An Antidote
Apple's ability to legitimize products is a clear and present danger. There are legions of early adopters who would buy its products just because they bear the Apple logo, thereby validating their existence. While I confess to once being a part of this demographic, I now find myself questioning our incessant need to surround ourselves with digital tech.
The Vision Pro, priced at $3499 and slated for a limited 2024 rollout, offers us a unique opportunity. We can ensure that this project fails, as was the case with crypto, the metaverse, and Google Glass. We must stand together, resist the onslaught of tech that seeks to isolate us, and assert our collective power.
To stir you into action, let's ponder over these questions:
- How much of your daily interactions are through digital mediums?
- How do you feel after spending a significant amount of time in the digital realm?
- Are you willing to allow a device like the Vision Pro to mediate your interaction with the world?
- Do you think wearable tech like Vision Pro will improve your productivity? Or would it merely isolate you further?
- How can you assert your control over the use of such technologies?
- Can you foresee the long-term consequences of such a heavily digitalized future?
- How do we collectively influence the direction of tech development?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of your activities being constantly tracked?
- Can we prioritize actual social interaction over virtual connectivity?
- How do we prevent tech companies from creating a “shut-in economy”?
- Is there a way we can use technology to truly augment our reality without falling into the isolation trap?