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Parenting on the Bleeding Edge
Old man shakes fist at headset
Please do not be alarmed; remain calm. Do not attempt to adjust your headset.
By now, you’ve either seen Apple’s Vision Pro or have been intentionally avoiding it.
I watched the live announcement. What can I say, I love technology. I was an early adopter before those words became part of the common vernacular; I was driving the peak of inflated expectations before those suits at Gartner codified the hype cycle. I was there—as I realise I’m losing my edge once again—buying the original overpriced and under-featured iPhone, and lining up at midnight for the Nintendo 64. I worked in big tech back when it seemed to impress folks at parties instead of driving them to ask “So, why don’t you guys pay enough tax?”
My bona fides are legit. But I dunno about this one. I’m stumped. Apple Vision Pro. Vision indeed. Quite a picture of the future they’re painting for us. I can almost understand the workplace use case, with multiple screens of improbable sizes. Who hasn’t wished for an oasis of productivity, a place to focus on work when focus and work are required? But outside the office, what are they trying to pitch? What are they saying about the future of the home, and the future of the family?
The iPhone is the single innovation that has pushed the world furthest, fastest, over the last two decades. If, instead of lining up for the first iPhone, I had been waiting at the bottom of a hospital bed for the delivery of my first child, she’d be turning 16 this year. It’s hard to imagine a world without these glowing rectangles in our lives—you’re probably reading on one right now—so Apple have a track record of changing how the world behaves. When was the last time you saw a piece of concert footage that didn’t have dozens of phones in the air recording it? When was the last time you walked down the road and didn’t bump into someone loooking down at their phone?
These new paradigms of interaction transform how we navigate the world and how our children learn to do the same. We’ve all witnessed a small child tapping an iPhone with a spectacular clarity of purpose—they’ve never known life without one, and they know exactly what they need to do to get what they want. The Apple Watch is something I wear every day and has become part of the furniture of my digital world. Mine is turned to silent, all notifications off. It tells me the time, the weather, and when my next meeting is. That’s all I need. (It also locates my phone when I can’t find it, a feature I use with startling regularity.)
But how many of us have caught ourselves staring at our phones when we should have been looking at our kids? Bodhi is four; this week he told me “You weren’t watching, you were looking at your phone” when he was trying to show me—for the forty-first time—that he could throw his ball into the air and catch it. I’m as guilty as the next parent. I know I should use it less. And now they want us to wear a headset, and install another layer of obfuscation between ourselves and the human beings that we share our lives with?
No thanks. I’m good.
Apple promises the Vision Pro will allow you to “do the things you love in ways never before possible.” Sitting on the sofa watching a movie? Sure, I love that. But locked into your own world, with a huge headset attached? I’d rather watch it with my family, not hidden away from them. VR headset makers have been pushing that use case for a while, and I don’t know anyone buying it. Apple will do what Apple always does—it’ll be more expensive but easier to use; with better hardware and interaction design other companies will be copying for years. But what’s new here, and how will it be better for the folks using it?
The most painful part of the announcement was saved for the end. In an ad for the product, the keyboard from Supertramp’s “Dreamer” plays staccato in the background; a dad is jacked into mixed reality, working on a client presentation while making dinner for the kids.
Another part of the spot showcased a feature Apple promises will “make your memories come alive” and allow us “to be in the moment all over again.” What was it? It’s akin to a VR-enabled version of Quicktime, playing spatial videos in 3D, with the only catch that you need to have been wearing the headset to record it. I’ll say that again: YOU CAN ONLY WATCH THE VIDEO IF YOU WERE WEARING THE HEADSET WHEN THE ACTUAL EVENT HAPPENED. So, many years from now, you can relive your daughter’s 9th birthday, in fabulous spatial audio and video, about to blow out her candles on the cusp of tears, wondering why dad is wearing that ridiculous headset in front of all her friends.
I am not going to be wearing this. I know how ridiculous this will make you look and feel. I’ve played the mixed reality game before, getting my hands on a Google Glass prototype—after they announced it to the world, but before it went on general sale. I was allowed to take it home for a weekend and figure out what our team might do with it. I wanted to get the full experience, so wore it around the streets of Shoreditch one evening. To say it was the most Nathan Barleymoment of my life would be about right, but there are competitors. I don’t even need to tell you what a fucking idiot I looked—I was there, I felt it—but I wanted to experience the discomfort of wearing one of these headsets at ground zero of what the fuck is that guy wearing?
Kids with tech. Taking over. They won’t be long.
In 2016, the World Economic Forum delivered its The Future of Jobs report containing a staggering fact: 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet.
What might those jobs be? We don’t know. I might be doing one of them right now.But what about the jobs we do today that won’t exist by 2030? My daughter had some homework last month: research salamanders and write a six-slide Powerpoint (bleurgh) about these small amphibians and their limb-regeneration capabilities (I was paying attention). We’re months, if not weeks, away from being able to do that with a simple AI prompt. (If you’re happy to copy and paste some VBA code into Powerpoint, you can try it now.)
I didn’t ask AI to do her homework. I sat, helped her research, and gave her some tips on putting the presentation together—finally, a piece of homework she comes home with that’s second nature, and doesn’t require me to speak another language. “It’s six slides, so I think it’s going to take me … six hours?” she offered. Thankfully, it did not. But, just like we were once relentlessly quizzed on historical dates, capital cities and more memory tests that Google has made redundant, what new tools will transform how our kids navigate the future of work?
More than 43% of US professionals have admitted to using ChatGPT at work, with over two-thirds “forgetting” to tell their bosses about it. Generative AI is making monumental leaps forward in 2023 and has yet to meet a digital surface it hasn’t transformed. Don’t worry, AI was not used to write this essay, and anyone with first-hand experience trying to get an LLM to write creatively will understand how far the technology has to go. But life comes at you fast, and companies like Goldman Sachs estimate that as many as 18% of job roles worldwide could be “computerised”. That’s 300m redundancies for those taking notes.
Did I read that World Economic Forum report I linked up above? A year ago, I’d have had no choice.Today, using GPT-4 and the AskYourPDF plugin, I can give it a URL and have it extract the key points I need, sharing with you only after checking my sources, unlike the NY lawyer that got busted for citing legal precedents that didn’t exist. The Future of Jobs Report also predicted this would happen with “machine learning likely to substitute specific tasks previously carried out as part of jobs, freeing workers up to focus on new tasks and leading to rapidly changing core skill sets in these occupations.”
That aligns with my experiments. ChatGPT has become a tool that I’m using regularly for work. It’s always there, whenever I’m at my laptop, thanks to MacGPT. It’ll disappoint if I push it into doing anything creatively taxing. But if I treat it like a zealous research assistant or an intelligent junior team member, I’ll be pleasantly surprised by its capability.
This invention helps me get to the end of the day faster, so I can close the laptop, and sit down at the dinner table, headsetless. It’s tech that helps me get away from tech, an innovation that fits into my life, not demanding that I fit into it, donning the world’s most expensive ski goggles during the creation of my kids’ core memories. “Technology alone is not enough,” Steve Jobs said in 2011, looking painfully thin in what would be his last Apple keynote. Parenting on technology’s bleeding edge means moulding these gizmos to our own needs, and aiding us in our attempts to be the people, and parents, we want to be—not following the ayahuasca-inspired prophecies of industrial designers working out of all-white basements in Cupertino.
3 things to read this week
“Create a Private Social Space, Far From the Maddening Crowd” by J. D. Biersdorfer in The New York Times. How do we make technology and digital platforms work for us, and not the other way around? Here is a series of straightforward and grandparent-friendly ways to share pictures and memories without resorting to Facebook, Instagram, and any other photo-sharing platforms that are monetising your attention.
“School is not Enough” by Simon Sarris in Palladium. Sarris follows a parallel path to the essay above, wondering how well today’s schools can equip future students for jobs that don’t exist. He pulls in how the early teenage apprenticeships of Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs enabled them to leap into unknown places by prioritising real work experience, and wonders if children today have “useful childhoods. “We are not looking for a job but opportunities for mastery: learning and practice beyond the depth one would find along the common path, which demands no such thing.”
“An 8-year-old slid his handwritten book onto a library shelf. It now has a years-long waitlist” by Kellie B. Gormly in The Washington Post. Felt cute, might delete later. A daring Idaho child made his own book, and snuck it into the library’s collection. The library read it, enjoyed it, and decided to make it part of their permanent collection, putting it in with the graphic novels, and it’s become one of their most popular books. A welcome antidote to our technology-obsessed future.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last week I wanted to know what does your perfect Father’s Day look like?
“I would like to spend Father's Day wrapping up a long-weekend camping trip and seeing some beautiful corners of California with my kids and maybe fit in some giant sequoia gazing while we're at it.
In reality, I will likely spend a good chunk of it at home playing Tears of the Kingdom while my kids backseat-play and demand I main quest while I adamantly stick to my indefensible sidequest-only approach, and then we'll maybe make sandwiches together.” Andrew
“Part of me wants nothing more than to head to a nearby greasy spoon diner by myself, with nothing more than a cup of coffee, a plate of eggs, and a crumpled copy of the latest New Yorker to keep me company.
Then, another party of me immediately feels bad and wants to invite the whole family, so that’s what I typically do.
I’ll get some me-time one of these days, I swear.” Brooks
“As a huge golf nerd, a day laying on the couch watching (with the occasional nap, of course) the U.S. Open sounds quite nice.” Lyle
“Ideal: spending time by the pool with the family after an early morning solo run in the trails. Lots of near beer nearby.
This year: driving up to the Catskills to drop our youngest’s sleepaway camp supplies and then exploring the local towns.
Past: I once went to Bonnaroo on my own that coincided with Father’s Day. Ugly cried when Brandi Carlile dedicated The Mother to all the fathers out there.” Jeremy
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Branding by Selman Design. Illustration by Tony Johnson (one of his best yet, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying). Survey by Sprig. Email me if you read this from inside a VR headset. This week’s newsletter was powered by As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt 2, which still sounds as good today as it did 20 years ago. Vamos a Sónar!
Ironically, I lost my watch between writing this draft and publishing the essay. “Find My” says it is somewhere in the house, but I couldn’t hear the tone, and now the battery is dead. Maybe I’ll have found it again by the time you read this.
Before he made Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker pre-empted Silicon Valley with Nathan Barley, a show about working in the tech and media world in East London. It out-Viced Vice. It still holds up. One YouTube comment said, “They thought they were satirising their world. They were actually predicting ours.” If you’re in the UK you can watch it here.
Two “Losing My Edge” references in one essay? Achievement unlocked.
Whilst not reading a 10-page PDF is an option to some, for me, it is not. These rabbit holes are the cross I bear.