My favorite unintentionally hilarious part of the official Vision Pro website is about three-quarters down the page, where you’ll find the headline, “Stay connected to people around you,” and the description, “When someone approaches, Vision Pro simultaneously lets you see the person and reveals your eyes to them.”
It’s accompanied by a ridiculous image of a woman “staying connected”: smiling at the person next to her on the couch, wearing a giant pair of ski goggles, showing them not her eyes but a video of her eyes (see above).
You know. Connection.
I'm sure there will be lots of extremely practical uses for Vision Pro. I can imagine the portable work environment, the technical training environment, the 3D modeling environment. I'm sure Apple will make many billions of dollars from this product -- as Azeem Azhar points out, the company only needs to sell to one in roughly 5,000 Apple users to generate the first billion.
But the product is most definitively not social.
Mark Zuckerberg was, of course, thrilled to point this out, saying that, while his product is about “people interacting in new ways and feeling closer,” Apple's product was about people sitting on couches by themselves.
His product is, of course, equally antisocial.
Look, we may be addicted to our devices. We may stare at our phones while sitting right next to people we love, while they stare at their own phone. We may text someone sitting right across from us. We may check email on our watches while an actual human being directly in front of us is telling a deeply personal story.
But at least those situations allow us to pretend. A device in your hand or on your wrist lets you pretend -- to yourself if no one else -- that you’re actually present to the person in front of you. Surely they didn’t see me glance at my smartwatch!
Most of us minimize our own addiction to our phones while being acutely aware of that addiction in others. (Yes, that sentence is about me.)
Giant ski goggles break the illusion. There is no pretending when the computer is strapped to your face. I can no longer delude myself into thinking my obsession with checking the latest notifications and updates is anything other than what it is: a complete disconnection from the here and now, from the people physically in the room, from my own present self.
I have not tried Vision Pro, but I understand and readily accept that the experience is phenomenal. This is Apple, after all, and I would expect nothing less.
But it is a device for being alone. It is not a replacement for a large-screen TV, unless your only aim is to watch TV on your own.
This is a technology to immerse yourself in, to swim in, perhaps to drown in. It is a technology that sucks in all of your focus: Tom Cruise as John Anderton in "Minority Report,” manipulating the precog data, utterly absorbed. (Incidentally, the movie’s science advisor, John Underkoffler, demonstrated a real-life version of the “spatial operating environment” interface at TED in 2010. Think about that for a second: “Minority Report” is the future this technology is modeled on.)
I can’t wait to try Vision Pro, and I’m also terrified of it. It feels like the final surrender to our ever-more-digital lives: I give up, I have no more interest in the real world in front of and around me. I only care whether someone replied to my email or liked my post. You can ditch the fake display of eyes on the outside, Apple. There’s no point in pretending anymore. Our journey to being an antisocial species is complete.