opinion | Do not wear safety goggles. Your vision is bleak.

“I will not live in the capsule,” reads a mantra on right-wing Twitter. “I’m not going to eat the bugs.” It’s an anathema to the various corporate and governmental forces who supposedly want us all to forsake private property, red meat, and other American freedoms and instead strive for a more sustainable future where we eat centipedes and live in tiny modular living spaces, all under the benevolent gaze of Greta Thunberg and the World Economic Forum.

In my opinion, the rejection of pods and beetles rather exaggerates the power of degrowthers and one-world panschandrums: enthusiasm for bug diets and have-nothing-and-be-happy mantras are found in certain environmentalists and Europeans. In socialist circles, however, it is more often a matter of mood or a set of topics for discussion at a conference than an operational agenda.

But there is a truly powerful force that seeks a more encapsulated, to-the-point human future. It’s the engineers of Silicon Valley, backed by billions of ambitions in the digital age, who seem to stop at nothing until humans live in their glasses.

The latest example of that ambition is the Apple Vision Pro, which launched this week to much fanfare and advertising both elegant and spooky, promising an immersive visual experience in a $3,499 headset. It is in direct competition with Facebook and represented Meta’s long-standing attempts to make its headset-mediated metaverse a reality. And both projects are successors to Google Glass, which was set to be the next big digital thing a decade ago but died a slow death due to weak sales and public mockery of the “glasshole” look.

That mockery was good, it was necessary, it was humanistic and hopeful and essential. And our health as a society and as a species depends on maintaining it, no matter how elegant the goggles may be.

There are two possible futures for the virtual reality headset. On the one hand, it remains an expensive niche product, used in specific ways by hardcore gamers, remote workers looking for an edge, and digital engineers and artists looking for total immersion in their work. In the other case, the headset is gradually supplanting the smartphone as the normal means of interacting with virtual reality in public and semi-public settings: subways are crowded with headset wearers, spouses sit on the couch with his-and-hers headsets at night, in the Nursing Home Common spaces are bustling with seniors immersed in VR-mediated memories, teenagers hanging around in basements with headsets on, or (more likely) just virtually “hanging out” in the safety of their own bedrooms, appearing as avatars in someone else’s goggles.

Apparently, Apple, Meta, and Google are all invested in the second future. The big bucks in Silicon Valley come from controlling crucial platforms and paying other companies for the privilege of getting their programs or apps on them, and if enough people migrate to the metaverse, the winner of the headset wars will be Infinity King Money as well as infinite virtual space. So the clear goal of this competition is a future where the Vision Pro, or the next meta headset or other competitor, captures an iPhone-level market and not just a boutique clientele.

That’s probably why Apple designed its headset to show the user’s eyes to those around them – so you can imagine you’re still socially active while you’re Googling. That’s why, in response to Apple’s launch, Mark Zuckerberg told the meta staff that he wanted their headsets to stay cheaper and their users to be “active and doing things” while they’re goggling, not just on the couch sit. Competitors clearly want people to integrate their headsets into everyday life, just as we have already done with our laptops, tablets and phones.

Unfortunately, this rational commercial goal is at odds with the prosperity of humanity. When Google Glass came out, one could already guess where the augmented or virtual reality experience would take humanity—towards deeper isolation, depressive solipsism, and masturbatory anomie. Now we have a lot more evidence that the less-immersive virtual reality created by smartphones and social media is toxic in large doses — particularly for children and young people, but to some extent for the rest of us as well.

Of course, you can imagine that the more immersive world of headset life is actually healthier than the semi-real world of screens, swipes, and posts. Or you can take a singularitarian stance and argue that all future human progress will take place in virtual universes. So let’s start the jump now. It can be said that the digital revolution has not missed the promised utopia; The revolution is simply not over yet.

Here, just put those goggles on…

The best defense against this flattery is still the societal disdain that Google Glass displayed, perhaps mixed with a certain weariness towards face coverings that eventually turned all but the most committed Covidians against wearing masks. “Thou shalt not hide the human face” is not an absolute requirement, but it should be a general expectation, and the scenes in the Vision Pro introductory video of the laughing father watching his children play through his glasses to get them ready for a rewind show to be able to film better later they should never lose their antisocial and dystopian mood.

This is not a rejection of technical progress. It is a rejection of the social backwardness and dehumanization that occurs when we let technology rule us, not the other way around.

No matter how we respond, headsets will not go away, and a general societal stigma against their use as everyday devices will not prevent them from benefiting specific people in specific circumstances.

So let a few discover these advantages. But for many, with the disappearance of the human face in a deluded imagination, it’s important to nurture the sentiments that have kept the headset market limited and appreciate the warning they give us.

This week in Anti-Decadence

“The fear of job losses due to mechanization, automation, computerization or AI has been a recurring panic for hundreds of years, since the introduction of machines like the power loom. Although every new major technology throughout history has led to more higher-wage jobs, each wave of this panic is accompanied by claims that “everything is different this time” – this is the time it will finally happen, this is the technology that will finally do it will give the hammer blow to human labor. And yet it never happens.


“But this time it’s different, you think. This time, with AI, we have the technology that can replace ALL human labor.

“But … think about what it would mean if literally all human labor was replaced by machines.

“It would mean an acceleration in economic productivity growth that would be absolutely stratospheric and far beyond any historical precedent. The prices of existing goods and services would drop to almost zero across the board. Consumer welfare would skyrocket. The purchasing power of consumers would increase by leaps and bounds. The new demand in the economy would explode. Entrepreneurs would create a dizzying array of new industries, products and services, employing as many humans and AI as possible to meet the new demand.

“Suppose AI replaces this work again? The cycle would repeat itself, boosting consumer well-being, economic growth, and employment and wage growth even further. It would be a straight spiral up to a material utopia that neither Adam Smith nor Karl Marx ever dared to dream of.”

— Marc Andreessen, “Why AI Will Save the World” (June 6)