I now live in a world where ski goggles will help me plan out my day and FaceTime my grandma. Despite being one of the worst-kept secrets since your favorite campsite, Apple’s Vision Pro AR/VR headset is all the hot goss across the internet today.
And while Meta led the charge into VR headsets years ago, Apple possesses an undeniable clout and commands faith and devotion in equal measure around the world. So, if Apple is investing in wearable, vision-modifying tech, you can expect these headsets will likely become as commonplace as the once-revolutionary iPhone.
Do I care? Not really. I can entertain a certain curiosity about the next evolution of the integration between humans and technology. But I’m not excited to try it out. And given the “Black Mirror” memes spreading around GearJunkie’s Slack channels, that same sentiment more or less holds true for my colleagues.
But when all the nay-saying settles and the Doomsday-harbinging quiets, another realization emerges: The outdoors are more special and important than ever.
Apple Vision Pro: Best-Case Scenario
If you didn’t tune into the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) yesterday, you missed a handful of hardware and software reveals for the years to come. Among them are new MacBooks (lighter, faster), new Apple Watch operating systems (hiking and biking features!), and my personal favorite, a bunch of new stickers for iMessage (react with your MeMoji anywhere).
But the event culminated with the eagerly anticipated Vision Pro headset — basically a translucent iPad with a headband that presses it against your face (I am grossly simplifying). Apple’s overarching message for all of this was the tech’s ability to supplement — not supplant — your daily, real-world experiences.
If Apple’s theory holds, this combined tech will empower users to be more productive while being less tethered to an office or a desk. And most importantly, it will bring people closer to one another and allow them to share more experiences — indoors and out — and spur ideas and adventures.
Hold for applause.
Headsets, Headsets Everywhere, and Not a Thought to Think
Keeping in the spirit of the WWDC format, let me switch it up for something different. The way I heard Apple’s announcements was a bit more nuanced.
Sure, Apple WatchOS 10 looks like it will bring some outstanding functions for some outdoor activities. Its new biking features profess to sync with on-bike Bluetooth sensors like power meters and computers. And the watch’s hiking activity now will include waypoints that direct wearers to their last confirmed coverage spot or SOS connection point.
But, by and large, these announcements sounded to me like another step away from the fundamental joy of spending time outside: disconnection. If Apple’s grand, beneficent plans pan out, instead of walking down the block distractedly staring at my phone’s screen, we’ll all pass one another on the sidewalk with our goofy headsets, ostensibly looking ahead, but really reading a floating email off to the left or talking to a person that isn’t there.
We will be, it seems, less and less present. Less and less attuned to the people and things around us. And instead, our collective attention will be more splintered, and our investment in any activity diluted by greater tasks and distractions that follow us everywhere.
So, What’s the Good News?
I realize I’m coming off as the Simon Cowell of Apple’s big day. But, I actually think there’s some good news lurking just out of the Vision Pro’s view. You can’t have dark without light, and you can’t have a bunch of be-goggled weirdos, flailing around in the three-dimensional space trying to control a two-dimensional screen, without a heightened appreciation for our wild spaces.
It’s simple economics, really. Supply drives demand. The more Apple’s implacable doo-dads infiltrate our daily lives, the more value those untouched places derive. There’s nothing like a sudden tidal wave of cyborgs marching down the street to make you think, “Gee, I should go camping.”
Though it might seem counterintuitive, National Park visitation has continued a steady march upward alongside the rise of always-on devices, peaking in 2016 with the National Park Service (NPS) centennial. As expected, visitation took a huge hit in the wake of the pandemic — down to a 40-year low — but even still, since the advent of Meta, Pokemon Go, the Apple Watch, and all the other latest tech, National Park attendance has surged back by 80 million visitors in just 2 years.
That far exceeds any other 2-year growth number, and it portends a sustained and growing interest in the Great Outdoors, despite an ever-expanding wealth of tech-driven amusements.
Taking it a step further, the rise of AR/VR headsets, bolstered by the shocking proliferation of AI, could also spur our lawmakers and their constituencies to covet our share outdoor hideaways. In fact, rare glimpses of bipartisan alignment have broken through in legislators’ attempt to corral — and, in fact, understand — disruptive tech forces like ChatGPT. The now household search engine alternative has Republicans and Democrats alike concerned and joining forces to plot the course ahead.
It may seem a stretch, but these goggles might actually do more to safeguard our outdoor spaces than the collective hemming and hawing of our political left and right.
Maybe, just maybe, Apple’s Goliath push to make us ever more connected will give us one more reason to pull the plug.