8 min read

Apple’s Next Revolution

Apple’s Next Revolution

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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By now, you might have wondered: what the hell is that thing? I’m speaking of Apple’s new Vision Pro. The ski-mask looking contraption that’s supposed to…what does it do, anyways?

I don’t write about tech much. I’m not a big fan of it, to be honest, and that’s why. The piece of technology I spend the most time with is my 1979 Oberheim OB-X. It’s a synthesizer. Just a few hundred were made. Mine, as lore has it, once belonged to Freddie Mercury. It’s about as temperamental, angst-ridden…and powerful. Suffice it to say, I’m the opposite of an “early adopter.” I barely adopt…at all.

Some technologies are different though, and before us, I think appears one. What do I mean? I’m going to put it philosophically, in just a second, after I put pragmatically. 

I used to run the Media Lab for one of the world’s biggest corporations. We spent a lot of time thinking, playing, understanding. As I’m going to explain, media’s different. Media’s power. But I’ll come to all that. 

The Super Bowl’s coming up, in a few days. Imagine that you’re watching it—is that even the right word?—from the 50 yard line. Dimensionally, realistically. The pigskin whooshes over your head. The running backs sprint. Wham—down goes the quarterback, inches from your…you can practically feel the juddering shock. The crowd roars, and there you are, in the middle of it all.

At half-time, Taylor Swift’s going to perform. Maybe even endorse Joe Biden. Instead of watching it from a flat screen—or even a seat—there you are, backstage, a scant few feet away. Everything’s hyper-real. The lights, the music, the performers, the backup singers. It feels like you’re…


What’s Apple doing? These are the kinds of experiences that are going to be possible through its new technology. Not maybe just yet—every technology needs time to mature. But in a scant handful of years. And they’re going to change everything. Just the same way that the iPhone did. Steve Jobs used to talk about changing the world, famously. Surfing the web on your phone? I was one of the first people to have an iPhone in my neck of the woods. Corporate strings were pulled. I need one, I pleaded. Today, there we all are, billions of us, addicted to our smartphones. I’ll come back to that too, but first, changing everything.

“Spatial Video was nothing short of incredible. I watched a brief video of a child blow out the birthday candles surrounded by their family and no one was more surprised than me when a tear rolled down my cheek as I watched the event on the Vision Pro. The detail was exceptional to the point where I felt like I was right there in the room where it had been recorded.”

What’s Apple changing? The way that they put it, and the industry puts it, is that this about “spatial computing.” That’s not…quite right. It doesn’t explain it well, at all. This is about spatial media. What do I mean by that? Look straight ahead. If you’re inside, imagine being outside, and looking straight ahead. Now imagine that everything you can see suddenly becomes…media.

Forget the device, because it’s just the delivery mechanism. The stuff is what’s really revolutionary—a new kind of media. “Immersive,” dimensional, like you’re…there. To the point reality and…the other thing…media…begin to blur.

That’s a revolution. This revolution, the stuff of sci-fi, almost—think back to Philip K Dick’s Minority Report, or Star Trek’s Holodeck—has long been imagined. Today, the tech industry calls, it, sometimes, “mixed reality,” or “augmented reality.” Even that doesn’t explain it very well. Spatial media, I think, does a much better job. Everything you can see becomes…media.

We don’t use the word media enough anymore. Our contemporary term for it is “content”—which is kind of like the difference between true love and a one-night stand. Content’s disposable, cheap, usually a little gross, the kind of stuff that we might associate with Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson or who have you. Media’s…different. What is media, anyways? What happens when everything in your visible environment is suddenly…media

How are we to think about this revolution? I said I’d put it philosophically. This is the transformation of space into a medium. Not for physical stuff—air, electricity, soundwaves. But for digital stuff. Now, space can be anything. You can be sitting there, in your bedroom, living room, patio, and suddenly you’re…on top of Mount Everest. At the bottom of the Marianas Trench. At the Super Bowl, on the 50 yard line.

The capitalist in all of us is already practically shouting: how much is all that worth?

But even all this is just the beginning. What’s Apple really inventing here? A cheesy headset? Most people focus on that, but that’s missing the point almost entirely. That’s just a delivery device. What Apple’s inventing now? Is this new medium itself.

I mean that formally and technically. It’s creating new video and audio formats—“Spatial Audio” and “Immersive Video.” The latter’s a “180-degree 8K recording format that includes the former. These are what are going to change everything, because they are new ways of capturing, storing, and representing reality, which is what “media” is, or at least begins with.

Here’s a snippet from a review. Instead of photos, you can now capture memories in spatial video, immersive video, whatever you want to call it. And feel like you’re there again. “I was left almost speechless when I viewed a 3D spatial video of my three dogs coming towards the camera. It’s so immersive you may get a bit emotional.”

Think of your most cherished memory. The one that you can barely bring to mind without weeping, maybe. My grandma’s last birthday is one of mine. We knew it would be the last. I’d arranged a party. Her friends came over. They all got dolled up. It was one of her lucid days. They chatted like the years had never gone by, and they were young women with the world and time before them again. I held her hand, and steeled myself not to cry. Two months later, she was gone. If I had a spatial video of that day? I’m not sure I could watch it without breaking down.

What is media? Media is power. People don’t quite grasp that, but they should. Trump is media, and that’s why he’s amassed so much power, wielding modern media with a kind of eerie proficiency. Often, that power accrues to the wrong hands: we recently witnessed Zuck apologizing to the world, after Congress savaged him for addicting kids to the algorithm.

I once called all that “the dopamine economy.” I was righter than you or I knew. As it turned out, Big Tech began to explicitly build strategies around targeting kids with dopamine hits. Shudder. 

But what happens when we can spend our lives, and time, in immersive, spatial experiences? Will we ever…want to leave? After the dopamine economy comes the serotonin economy. Let me explain.

What else is media? It’s unlike…almost everything else. We economists speak of “downward sloping demand curves.” The “downward” means there’s diminishing returns, basically. Your first half of a cheeseburger makes you feel full, the second half, good, but another one, bloated, and a third one, sick. Almost everything in the economy is like this. Except media.

We can’t get enough of media. Our consumption of it has gone from maybe a few minutes, a century ago, to much of the day, today. We’re glued to it at work, where it is much of our work, now. Then we come home, and we live in multi-screen. There’s the TV on, while you’re surfing on your laptop, while you’re checking your phone. Media isn’t prey, it appears, to diminishing returns. The demand curve slopes upward. We can’t get enough.

Why is that? Probably because…I don’t mean to get Buddhist on you…but life. Life is woe. Strife. Struggle and suffering. Media offers not just escape, or a salve, but things much more worthwhile and crucial and important. Guidance, in the form of myths and stories. Knowledge, from history and truth. Meaning, from connection and relationship. We surround ourselves with media because we’re bewildered, frail, mortal things, who are ourselves in medias res—dropped into “the middle of the story” of being, what Heidegger called “thrownness” into life. We don’t know where we came from, why we’re here, or where we’re going. Media is our existential crutch.

We can’t get enough. Will we ever want to leave? Just as today, kids are addicted to social media for the dopamine hit, tomorrow, immersive, spatial media will probably addict people to a serotonin high. I feel better here, in this place, at the top of the mountain, on the shore, inside the Great Library of Alexandria as it once was—wherever—than I do in the human world, so full of stupidity, ugliness, vice, terror. If I leave, my serotonin levels crater. Yes, I know, you can’t really get “addicted” to serotonin physiologically, but of course, here, we’re speaking of a kind of existential addiction.

This, I think, is that big. When I warned of the dopamine economy almost a decade ago, I could see the writing on the wall. Today, I see a serotonin economy emerging, made of immersive media, in which existence is easier. Less troubled. Especially as the world continues its swift journey to hell, every macro indicator there now blinking red.

That’s not to say that I think all this is a bad thing. Not at all. Imagine the possibilities, for a moment. There you are, inside the movie. What does that do for…acting? Directing? Now performance is something that happens, perhaps, at another level of detail and intricacy altogether. There you are, inside the music. Now you can appreciate the musicianship all over again, and maybe today’s dead, bland stuff comes alive again. And so on and so on. Tim Cook said that even Apple doesn’t know where this leads, and he’s right to say that.

I think that a revolution is going to happen here. Of course, it’ll meet with steep barriers. Culturally—who wants to to wear a dumb headset? Commercially—already, quaking in their boots, Netflix and YouTube have refused to make apps. Socially—as we learn from the mistakes of the dopamine economy, this is sure to watched more closely, and perhaps regulated better too. The barriers, though, are no match for the promise. Eventually, this sort of device will be a “pair of sunglasses,” as tech types say, but again, even that misses the point, which is the reinvention of media itself, in perhaps the most revolutionary way since…

Think about how many revolutions media’s undergone. The phonograph. The reel of tape. The first clumsy cameras—the shockwave that raced around the world. The motion picture. The digital camera. The book. The alphabet. At each stage, what’s happened? Our ability to capture reality, and then present it, has increased, in terms of resolution, depth, clarity. The advance isn’t always linear, and things are given up—me, the Luddite? I prefer watching movies in black and white from a master like Antonioni—but that’s about art. Media’s advances come with gains in the ability to present reality back to us.

What happens as we approach the limit, though? When our ability to capture reality is…pretty close to reality? That’s what’s beginning to happen now. Books—you need to imagine. Movies—flat. Vinyl sounds better because it portrays the feeling, hits you in the gut—but you’re still not there. What happens when you are? Inside the moment, like it’s real, and you can barely tell that it’s not?

That’s Apple’s next revolution. Don’t think of me as a believer, or a nonbeliever. I think it’s going to be far more radical than we, even Apple, yet really think. Somewhere, I’d bet, the ghost of Steve is looking down, and smiling, waving a pirate flag—because this, I’d bet, is going to change the world, all over again.

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