“The era of spatial computing is here.”
With that ominous declaration, on that fateful Monday morning in June, Apple revealed its latest plan to consume the time and minds of everyone: the Vision Pro.
Apple’s vision for Vision Pro is to define a new era, like the iPhone defined the current one. As we consider the wake of iPhone’s consequences (e.g., distraction, addiction, mental illness, narcissism, etc.), we must decide whether to trust Apple’s era-defining powers.
Because those powers are insanely profitable for Apple, but not so great for the rest of us.
And even if you think it looks like you’re strapping a sleek version of WALL-E’s eyes to your face, many people will see Vision Pro’s $3,499 price as more than worth two high-end iPhones.
Through Apple’s nine-minute propaganda film (hereafter the “propa-film”) — like something an evil tech billionaire in some dystopian movie would produce — we’re supposed to accept this headgear as a normal, everyday part of life. Beautiful, smart, young people wear it joyfully, as an integral part of work, family, entertainment, meditation (!), and ultimately self-realization.
But what is Apple really promising in Vision Pro?
First, the tech nerd in me is impressed by the futuristic-sci-fi-gadget factor. Even ten years ago, who would have thought you could strap so much computing power to your head and get all those incredible features? Control everything you see with your eyes, voice, and gestures? They’ve finally made it possible for us to play with the floating screens we’ve drooled over in Minority Report and Iron Man.
But the human in me looks back at history, hears the prophetic Marshall McLuhan, and recognizes the devil in the deceptive details.
Let’s ask McLuhan to help us see through four False Promises of the Vision Pro.
In 1964, McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” And no medium has been more mediating than Vision Pro. You don’t see through it, you know. Everything you see is projected through incredibly high-resolution displays with “64 pixels in the place of a single iPhone pixel.” An Apple-mediated view of reality.
The propa-film claims, “You see your world, and everything in it” and “It’s like magic.”
“Your world?” False. Once you put their eyes over yours, you’re seeing their world, projected in their way. You’re surrendering your perception of the world to the most powerful corporation in the world.
Everything you see and much of what you hear will be processed by Apple before you sense it. You will be trained to overlay apps and special effects on top your loved ones, your environment, and the world.
With Apple’s track record for creating intentionally addictive products, and with the comfortable design intended to for us to wear Vision Pro all the time, what happens when our brains are trained to prefer Apple’s mediated world to the real one?
Your house isn’t nice enough? The people in it not attractive enough? Real life too painful? Just put on your Apple-colored glasses, and everything will look great.
What would Marshall McLuhan say about Apple’s false vision? Plenty, but especially this from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (all McLuhan quotes here are from the Kindle Edition of this book):
We have reached a similar point of data gathering when each stick of chewing gum we reach for is acutely noted by some computer that translates our least gesture into a new probability curve or some parameter of social science. Our private and corporate lives have become information processes just because we have put our central nervous systems outside us in electric technology. (p. 57, emphasis mine)
How in 1964 could McLuhan have anticipated that everything we see and reach for will be noticed, cataloged, and used against us by something like Vision Pro? But more importantly, he saw through Apple’s lie that we see our world. We are putting “our central nervous system outside us” through this device. We’re extending our senses into an interface that will change us in ways we can’t even imagine. But if history is a reliable guide, seeing through Apple’s false vision is going to be more addictive — and more harmful — than ever.
Another false promise from Apple’s propa-film claims, “Foundational to Vision Pro is that you’re not isolated from other people.” Because we’re going to get used to seeing people walking around with Vision Pro on their faces with their eyes projected on the front displays or through their avatar in Facetime, they claim that we’re still going to be connected with each other.
But you know how connected you feel with someone who’s on their phone? What about when you’re with someone who is looking at you through cameras, and who could drop anything else on the internet over their view of you? Or use an app that changes your appearance in their eyes? Making you look like someone they’d rather see?
Vision Pro isolates us by the mere fact of its presence since everything we see has this device in the middle. It’s a technological barrier that divides us more than ever.
If the world is processed in real time by a device on our faces, everything we see becomes “virtual.” We’re in The Matrix. And what’s more Matrix-like than the new Facetime features they’re so proud of? From their propa-film:
Because you wear Apple Vision Pro and your eyes are covered, we engineered a system that uses advance machine learning to represent you realistically when you’re in FaceTime.
Your persona dynamically represents your face and hand movements … so when you’re chatting, people see your eyes, hands, and true expressions.
The propa-film shows people happily talking in virtual picture frames with their machine-generated “personas” which don’t show them wearing Vision Pro. They say, “people see your eyes, hands, and true expressions,” but that’s a false promise because your face, eyes, and expressions are manufactured — not “yours” at all.
In The Matrix, humans are kept in vats and hooked up to machines like batteries, but their “personas” are projected into the virtual world and can look and act however the software decides. That’s Vision Pro — a manufactured world of false connection, where we all get used to interacting with machine-generated views of each other.
Again, what happens when we take our AppleGoggles off and see through our unmediated eyes? Will we prefer The Matrix? Will our real faces, eyes, and expressions not be good enough anymore?
And what about that super-creepy scene in Apple’s propa-film where the dad is watching his daughters play while wearing Vision Pro? The narrator says that because of the amazing cameras and recordings, you can, “relive a memory as if you’re right back in the exact moment.”
There is some truth to this otherwise false promise. Yes, you can relive that memory — because you were wearing Vision Pro while you were recording it! Your memory is mediated by Vision Pro, so future views of the recordings will feel just like it felt when you were wearing Vision Pro at the time.
But do we want our memories mediated by Vision Pro? Do we only want to remember their false view of the world, and the false connection with our loved ones?
McLuhan’s most famous statement especially applies here:
“The medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. (p. 9, emphasis mine)
How blind will we be to the effect of a “medium” like Vision Pro when we literally see the whole world through their eyes? Regardless of the “content” (what we see through Vision Pro), the “scale and form of human association,” or the way we connect with each other, is completely changed. It’s not an authentic human connection.
In fact, Vision Pro’s mediated connection is worse than a poor substitute. It claims to be better, while harming our real-world relationships. The illusion of connection so shapes our desires that we may lose our taste for the real thing.
The idea that we can, and should, be in control of everything we see and hear is not a new idea in technology advertising, but it reaches a new high (or low) in Vision Pro. Apple’s propa-film says things like:
- You can make the screen as big as you want.
- You can create the perfect workspace no matter where you are.
- You control just how immersed you want to be.
You’re in control, especially of how “immersed” you want to be. Immersed is appropriate: how under water do you want to go? (A synonym of “immersed” is “baptized” — we’ll talk about that chilling idea in the next section.)
With all technologies, and especially modern screens, immersion goes in only one direction: deeper into their way of seeing and behaving. They provide the options through their interfaces. We are the users. Our “control” is bounded by the options they offer.
And whoever chooses the options is in control.
Vision Pro, like iPhone, drives the user into more engagement with itself. Apple leverages the work of top behavioral psychologists and neuroscientists to manipulate us into using their products more, and in all the ways they intend for us to use them.
Every addict in denial says, “I can quit whenever I want.” Maybe when they first started the addictive behavior, they could have — but not when they are in the grips of the addiction.
No addict is in control of themselves. Whatever their “drug” is — screen or otherwise — controls them. Wouldn’t Apple love Vision Pro to be our drug of choice?
Because once we start to prefer their False Vision of the world and are content with the False Connection they provide with the people and world around us, we will lose all control of ourselves.
McLuhan showed how rather than control our technology, we submit to it:
Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. (p. 63)
It’s hard to remember that McLuhan wrote this almost 60 years ago. We’re already wearing our brains and nerves outside our “hide” by our constant use of screens. How much more when we strap Vision Pro’s brain to our own?
Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.” Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said, “I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose.” We have leased these “places to stand” to private corporations. (p.75)
Have we not already “leased” our eyes, ears, nerves, and ability to think for ourselves by consuming digital media for an average of 8+ hours a day? How much more if we give Apple a literal place to stand on our brains through Vision Pro?
Regardless of any claims to the contrary, we will not be in control of Vision Pro. It will control us.
As we saw above, Vision Pro wants us to be “immersed.” But should we be baptized into Apple’s techno-religion, catechized by the practices they’ve etched in holy writ and put into all our pockets? (Or are we already there?)
Either way, Vision Pro dunks us even deeper.
Several statements in Apple’s propa-film have a distinctly spiritual tone. In one scene, a woman is shown meditating while colorful 3D objects float around her, while the narrator says:
Experiences on Vision Pro can also expand in 3 dimensions, filling the entirety of your space. Like in the Mindfulness app, where you can create a moment of calm.
Mindfulness. A moment of calm. Are they claiming to give us “the peace that passes understanding?”
Or what about an out-of-body experience? They say, “beautiful environments let you extend beyond the dimensions of your room.”
It’s all about creating a feeling of spirituality, one manufactured in Apple’s Matrix. Our senses feel extended outside of ourselves by the way our senses are transformed by the device.
But what if Apple’s manufactured spirituality has nothing to do with the real thing? What if connecting with our Maker has nothing to do with special effects or out-of-body experiences? And if we do choose to be immersed (baptized) by Apple’s priestly headgear, what might happen to our ability to have authentic spiritual experiences?
McLuhan pulled from the Psalmist himself to explain how we are transformed by being extended through our technologies. Read this while thinking of Vision Pro:
As an extension and expediter of the sense life, any medium at once affects the entire field of the senses, as the Psalmist explained long ago in the 115th Psalm:
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands;
They have mouths, but they speak not;
Eyes they have, but they see not;
They have ears, but they hear not;
Noses have they, but they smell not;
They have hands, but they handle not;
Feet have they, but they walk not;
Neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them shall be like unto them;
Yea, every one that trusteth in them.
The Psalmist insists that the beholding of idols, or the use of technology, conforms men to them. “They that make them shall be like unto them.”
To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it.
It is this continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness in relation to these images of ourselves.
That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. (pp. 49-50)
We become like our technologies by extending ourselves into them. We construct them, then we become like them. We’re conformed by them, to them.
Even if you’re not a religious person, do you see the spiritual implications? And if you are faithful to a religion, do you want to be baptized into a different one? Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all strongly condemn idol worship. Have we not made idols of our tech? And in so doing, what are we becoming?
Even if you just consider the time involved, we are serving our devices. We spend a lot of time and money on them. Many people spend more time on social media, video games, and streaming video than they do in any other activity, including work or sleep. Certainly much more time than in prayer or other spiritual disciplines. Is that not worship?
Seeing for Ourselves
Many people close to me were captivated by the Vision Pro when it was announced. They imagined how cool it would be to try it. “I want one” was a common refrain.
How easy it is to be deceived by false promises when new tech is so dazzling. McLuhan uses the word “hypnotized” throughout his book. Like we’re under a spell, we often miss how every new technology changes us in fundamental ways by altering the way we see and interact with each other and the world.
Was there an election that gave Apple era-defining power over the planet? Apparently so; we voted with our dollars. That’s how they became the most powerful corporation in the world.
Apple (and Google, Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, Activision, Tencent, Bytedance, etc.) have conquered us like the warlords of old, while promising us that we’re in control, we’re connecting, and even our spiritual lives will be better under their reign. But we know their promises are false.
Apple won’t be defining the next era for me — I’ll pass on Vision Pro. And I’ll continue to become more intentional with all the other technologies in my life, so that I can have true vision, true connection, true control, true spirituality, and ultimately, become all I was made to be.
I hope you’ll do the same.