This is an edition of the newsletter Pulling Weeds With Chris Black, in which the columnist weighs in on hot topics in culture. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.
The much anticipated Apple Vision Pro headset was finally released last week. It is, if you somehow missed the hoopla, a pair of $3,499 “spatial computing” goggles that allow you to play a game, check your email, update a spreadsheet, or do all three as you walk down the street or drive your Cybertruck.
Big dog Tim Cook has maintained for a decade that the future is in augmented, not virtual, reality. And Apple has delivered, by all accounts, an amazing product, as polished as Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse was crude when it was launched in 2022. (Remember “Legs are coming soon”?) But devices are already pervasive in our culture. Coffee shops are filled with laptops, tourists are using iPads as cameras on the streets, and every phone on the train is blaring TikTok videos. Technology, the good and the bad, is unavoidable. I love my MacBook Air and my iPhone. I am on them all day for work and pleasure; my screen time rivals a teenager’s. But do we need people walking around with headsets on all day?
The Vision Pro undoubtedly represents a huge potential leap forward for multitasking, and the excitement that greeted its release attests to just how eager some people are to maximize their productivity. In fact, we are all being pressured to lock in at work and stay in constant contact with friends, while influencers like Andrew Huberman encourage us to optimize every second of our lives through practices like biohacking. The pressure to perform, at work and home, is only growing. Meanwhile, many of us are already complaining about being “burned out” and “overworked” and obsessing over our mental health. This device represents the final frontier of connectivity, a way to prove to your friends and coworkers that you are always online—while never being present in the moment. You are choosing to see life through a screen, when most people are trying to spend less time looking at one.
Historically, whatever Apple makes, we buy and fully integrate into our lives. People are tracking their every move, checking text messages and emails on a watch, and dropping $600 on headphones. No one needs the Vision Pro, but no one needed an iPhone at first, either. For now, people with more money will buy it to be ahead of the curve, get the attention of people walking by (or watching their TikToks), and use Slack as their kids sit next to them, watching cartoons.
I’m sure you’ve seen some of the videos: a skinny teenager in a hoodie and khakis sitting on the subway in New York City clicking a phantom mouse, an old guy strapped in while on the elliptical machine at the gym, or the one with the guy sitting in his self-driving Tesla Cybertruck with the headset on, flailing his hands around the steering wheel to operate his new toy from inside his slightly less-new toy. The polarized reactions to these clips—check out the dunks on the one with the caption, “This has to be the hardest, most futuristic exit of a Cybertruck owner anyone has ever seen thus far 🔥”—hint at the deeper story here, which is that there’s a growing resentment against the early adopters and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs dragging us into a driverless, unmoderated, always-on future. In other words, we’re reacting as much to who is wearing the goggles as we are to the goggles themselves.
My friend Naomi Fry reposted a 10-minute YouTube clip in which Casey Neistat, the elder vlogger, uses the headset to watch a Mr. Beast video while sitting in Times Square and exclaims, “Vision Pro isn’t just great. It’s the single greatest piece of tech I’ve ever used.” After his day out in the city, loving the attention that looking like a robot brought him, he sits in his famous lab, sunglasses on, and breathlessly exclaims that this is the future.
Apple has made our lives better in many ways, but augmented reality is a bridge too far. We spend enough time in front of our screens, and I don’t think we need another one.