B21F6BB4-1C5E-4341-9402-72115F03EA26 07. June 2023

Apple Vision Pro: A psychological view - Stephan Grünewald interviewed by Ströer

On the evening of 05 June 2023, Apple released their long-awaited vision of mixed reality hardware, the Apple Vision Pro. Based on the study "Mensch im Fortschritt" (People in Progress), which Ströer conducted together with the rheingold Institut für tiefenpsychologische Markt- und Medienforschung (Institute for Depth Psychological Market and Media Research) from Cologne, Germany, in which the psychological hurdles and conditions regarding AR and VR applications were examined alongside 15 other technological applications, we would now like to understand which soul needs the Apple Vision Pro serves and which hurdles it may fail to overcome. For this purpose, we interviewed Stephan Grünewald, a renowned psychologist and co-founder of the rheingold Institute.  

Ströer: Hello Stephan, thank you very much for your time, we are looking forward to taking a psychological look with you at human needs in connection with the new Apple Vision Pro. What generally motivates people in Germany to adopt a technological or digital application? 

Stephan Grünewald: Hello Ilyas, hello Anke, thank you very much for the invitation. First of all, there is the basic problem in Germany that the euphoria we felt just four years ago in the era of "digital AppSolutism" has faded. The promises of the time, in which people were godlike because they were able to control and dominate the world with the "magic index finger" with a swipe, a wipe or at the touch of a button, have been superseded. Because we are now in a multiple crisis, the original desire for digital omnipotence has been grounded by the multiple "powerlessness experience." Now, people are more concerned with experiencing agency - sovereign controllability - and autonomy, and that, of course, is a high bar for pushing through new technologies. 

For technological innovation overall, we're experiencing a sense of oversaturation. People already have the impression in relation to their smartphone that they are only using 30% of the possible capacity. For the first time in human development, we have reached a point where what is technically possible exceeds the wildest desires. In the past, people dreamed of flying or conquering space, which is now possible, but even much more is possible. Now, all of a sudden, the wishes don't keep up. This is a new development, which we describe as a paradigm shift. Basically, I believe that successful leaps in technology are always oriented toward something that is already laid out in the spiritual realm. 

Ströer: You (rheingold), while conducting the joint study, found some (psychological) obstacles that prevent people from using AR and VR applications when looking at them psychologically. What are those? 

Stephan Grünewald: One important hurdle is that technology must offer people added value in their overstimulated everyday lives and at the same time give them a sense of relief by being sovereignly controllable. With augmented reality applications, people are always afraid of being exposed to an additional information film that increases the complexity they already have and leads to a "constant flicker", an informative overkill. This in turn leads to the feeling of being at the mercy of others. Augmented reality always works when it disentangles rather than confuses. When it explains reality to people, creates orientation or organizes the important and the unimportant. If this need is fulfilled and an application helps to reorder, align and weight the personal world, then this is a technology that is also used and accepted. 

With virtual reality, we've seen a very different problem, which I believe has already been dealt with in part by Apple Vision Pro. The promise of virtual reality is that I'm completely immersed in a world. For example, I'm in the middle of a stadium or a love romance, etc. The big fear here is that because this virtual world is so authentic, you lose yourself in it. This loss of self is compounded by another loss of self: because the world behind me - reality - is virtually sealed off by 3D Surrounding, it is no longer available to me. The real world can therefore literally stab me in the back, leading to a double loss of control: I lose myself in the infinite expanses and depths of the virtual world, and at the same time reality lurks behind me, which I can no longer see at all, let alone control. 

Ströer: We are in a state of "polycrisis". Does the current occurrence of multiple crises lead to an increasing need for distraction and isolation? For example, by immersing ourselves in virtual worlds? 

Stephan Grünewald: We are observing this tendency and are currently conducting a major "confidence study" on the subject. The world outside is increasingly being blocked out - it's too crisis-ridden and too threatening, and this leads to a process of displacement in people. They withdraw very strongly into the self-referentiality of their snail shell, cultivate their cocoon, so to speak, and build up their living oasis. The immersion in "dream worlds" can be a refuge. 

At the same time, there is the worry of ending up in an aesthetic bubble. This can convey a feeling of being uplifted, but it cuts the link to everyday life. I no longer receive news or other content. So on the one hand, there's a longing to go further underground and seal oneself off, but people still want to have a certain permeability. Everyday life with its challenges and moments must not be completely lost. 

Ströer: To address this directly: Apple builds features into the Vision Pro that can pay into the balance you described between going off the grid and being connected to everyday life. For example, people automatically appear in the field of vision of the person wearing the device, and the person is also supposedly shown transparently to the outside world. With the "Digital Crown" there is a small button with which the degree of immersion can be determined by the user. Are we talking more about gimmicks here or about Apple picking up on the points you mentioned in a clever way and paying attention to sovereign controllability? 

Stephan Grünewald: I think Apple has picked up on this ingeniously. Precisely because this spatial computer combines our own perspective with that of others. This is a way of preventing reality from stabbing us in the back or preventing us from noticing important things. There is a residual vigilance here. 

In addition, Apple has used the very features that have already been successfully applied to the radio: A rotary knob to turn the radio louder or softer. So we're getting into an interaction with technology that allows me to dim my mental derangement or daydream, intensify it, or diminish it - there's something about that. 

Ströer: Apple's first Spatial Computer is expected to hit the U.S. market next spring at a hefty price tag of $3,500. According to initial reports of testing the Apple Vision Pro, it offers an exceptionally good experience that far exceeds competing products (e.g., from Meta). Do you think the masses will still buy the product despite its high price? Or do you think that the price will rather curtail the whole thing and the early adopters, the tech-savvy among us, will jump on it first?

Stephan Grünewald: I think it's meant that way in two respects. On the one hand, the price naturally increases desirability: the wonder begins when you wonder about the price. And on the other hand, when the early adopters use it, they are the missionaries with broad impact. I think, as with all technologies, we need to learn to walk and see again. Here, the early adopters have a learning edge and can then have an educational or training impact on everyone else. It is therefore a clever strategy to distribute such a new product not with a watering can, but with a pipette.

Ströer: Are there other challenges that Apple has to face, since they are not taking the "classic" approach of AR and VR? Does spatial computing, create new hurdles, especially with regard to psychological issues or emotional needs? 

Stephan Grünewald: Computers are a broad-spectrum antibiotic for our "mood prophylaxis". We can pre-taste vacation dreams on the computer, work through our e-mails, drift off into the gaming world or chat with friends. All this leads to different mental states and tonalities, which have different premises. I think it will be quite important not only to be able to manage the degree of immersion, but also to determine how much space this constitution is allowed to take up. Because constitutions can also eat us up. It's like in oriental fairy tales: The genie out of the bottle, who is big and powerful, can become overpowering at some point. Then it's important to banish him back into the bottle or, figuratively speaking, to make him spatially smaller. It's a challenge with new technology to explore the possibilities of self-referentiality. 

Ströer: Technological achievements in the past have enabled us to manage more things, rather than fundamentally reduce things (email vs. letters). Can spatial computing lead to a burden in that the additional virtual space means we have to manage yet another reality? 

Stephan Grünewald: Yes, we see this problem at the moment as well. The additional supply will make various constitutions scarce. We will spend less time on the computer, which may then also become a discontinued model. But above all, it will reduce the amount of media time we have. The question is, do I go into the Netflix bubble or do I watch something with Vision Pro that is perhaps much more connected to me. It's a fundamental problem that the entertainment universe is getting bigger and bigger. When I was growing up, there were 2 programs and from 23:30 test picture ;) Today it's like the hydra: the one head you cut off gives birth to two new ones. The big challenge is to organize this media world. 

The guiding principle at the moment is the increasing self-reference and retro trend: do I dive into my own vacation movies again and recycle the treasure of my memories? That's a very interesting aspect, because the Vision Pro has cameras built into it that I can use to make my own 3D recordings, which I can then use to dive back into past moments. 

Ströer: Whereas it can be assumed that external content will still take some time until there are really entire films, Internet pages or other formats that are completely adapted to the 3D idea. Meanwhile, your own things that you already experience with the glasses will be available first. 

Stephan Grünewald: It is, so to speak, the sensual measurement of one's own snail house. It's another way of decorating my own 4 walls, if I can enhance private worlds in this way. 

Ströer: Thank you Stephan for your time and the psychological insights. We look forward to further developments, will watch them closely and will certainly talk again soon. See you soon! 

Stephan Grünewald: Thank you very much and see you soon.  


Image source: apple.com