Considering space goggles at Slim’s

I’m sitting at a table for one at my favorite bar, Slim’s. I’m sipping coffee, waiting for my breakfast, while an old man in a red hat and a matching hoodie walks up and says he’s starving then asks the bartender if they have any food here. It’s the kind of bad joke that only old men can get away with. It’s different from a dad joke, it’s a grandpa joke. It requires confidence and experience. The number on my table is 99–the best test score. It shows you have mastered the material but didn’t try all that hard. Oh you got a 100? Nice job, nerd.

I’m reading a collection of essays by Haruki Murakami titled “Novelist as a Vocation”. The particular essay I’m reading is about originality. Murakami discusses the nature of originality and whether his work could be considered original without the lens of deep history. The essay is relevant because I’m still reeling thinking about Apple’s recent announcement of the Vision Pro. I can’t focus on my reading.

I remember watching the announcement for the original iPhone back in 2007. I watched the presentation over the Internet at my dumb, dead-end corporate job and feeling like I was glimpsing the future.

I have regrets about that job. The work was cyclical with periods of feast and famine. At the time of the original iPhone announcement it was a dark period of famine. I survived the most recent round of layoffs but there was nothing to do. I sat at my desk and surfed the internet. I remember feeling angry most of the time. I would go out for lunch and drink a couple of beers and eat a giant cheeseburger. I was abusing myself because I was miserable. I eventually left that job for a better job, left the next job for an even better job, and then that job for a better job too. But I look back on that time as a wasted opportunity. I was getting paid to keep a desk warm. I could have done anything. I could have brought my laptop to the office and taught myself iPhone app development. But I didn’t. I just ate cheeseburgers.

I’m reminded about all of this because my scalp is tingling again as I glimpse the future.

I recently wrote about my deep skepticism of VR and the “metaverse” as a concept. After Apple’s announcement, I do feel like I need to eat my hat, or maybe some crow. I stand by most of what I wrote. VR has mostly been a novelty for gamers and enthusiasts. I’m sure those VR games are fun but I don’t see them as revolutionary or really even new.

Facebook, née Meta, didn’t really accomplish anything new either. They were busy trying to convince people to pay rent in a shared, lousy videogame environment. They wanted to be virtual landlords. They didn’t seem to be invested in solving the fundamental problems of VR and AR. Their attempts look like barely customized off-the-shelf gaming PC components crammed into a clunky headset. If this is the state of the art, I reasoned, it would be a decade before VR would work well enough to be useful beyond amusement. I didn’t consider that Apple might have been quietly, secretly, working for the previous decade to solve those fundamental issues.

So here I am, still not really believing what I saw in the presentation. That can’t be real, can it? It can’t work that well can it? Based upon in-person reviews I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to, it’s real and it’s amazing.

Apple’s term for what the Vision Pro does is spatial computing. That’s a great term. It leaves behind the fiddly distinctions of VR, AR, and XR. What are those? Who cares.

Spatial computing is general purpose. It’s not for games. But it’s not not for games. Maybe it’s for work. Maybe it’s entertainment. Maybe it’s a laptop without the lap or the top. It’s that open-ended potential – like a computer – that has me excited.

The visuals in Apple’s presentation might have been ripped from my mind while I slept. The way that images appear and envelop the user is so familiar to me.

When I remember something, I see it right in front of me, right above my line of sight. The image or idea floats in the air as if streaming from my forehead. My mind’s eye projects the thought into space and I see it and the room beyond it all at once. When I remember a movie I don’t remember the theater, or my chair, or the edges of the screen. I remember the scene as if I inhabited it (this is why I don’t need 3d movies).

If Apple’s presentation is accurate, then they have reproduced my imagination’s hardware with higher fidelity and sound.

Some aspects of the presentation did seem pretty bleak. There was a video of a man alone in a darkened room, watching old home movies while wearing his space goggles–big divorced dad energy. I get what they were trying to show, but it came across as incredibly sad. Generally the idea of disappearing into an introverted digital world seems a bit scary and dystopian. But then again, we did just spend 3 years isolated from one another. Maybe I’m not ready to be alone again.

After watching the presentation, I was unsettled, skeptical, and unsure. Partly because of the bleakness I observed and partly because I didn’t really believe Apple had another unicorn in the stable after the iPhone was released. After reading and hearing people recount their hands-on demos I started to come around. Now I’m dying to try it. I want to spread my work around the house, hanging different projects in the air in different places. I want to put Slack in a closet where I can hear it, but see it. I want to make 3D paintings in the air that folks can walk through.

When the original iPhone launched I was an enthusiastic early adopter, but I didn’t become a creator for that device. I was far less experienced as a programmer and I wasn’t confident that I could learn. I became an expert in making things for the web instead, but I still feel like that was a missed opportunity. I feel like theVision Pro is opportunity knocking twice.

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