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It’s easy to feel down about the state of the world, what with this looming global recession, the pandemic, those people who insist they ironically worship corn… and so on.
All of this is enough to make anyone curious about this meta-thing that Mark Zuckerberg keeps touting as the future of the Internet. This is the digital destination where Zuck expects us to spend more and more of our time — at work, but not in reality, or hanging out with avatar friends in non-real coffee shops.
He’s so convinced of that future that last year he renamed Facebook, the company he founded, to Meta, and is plowing billions of dollars into building the hardware that will get us there.
On Tuesday, Meta unveiled its latest attempt at that mission, the Meta Quest Pro headphones.
As my colleague Rachel Metz reports, this thing is smooth, powerful, and vastly improved from previous iterations. And still super impractical.
In short: It’s a cool gadget in search of an audience.
It can display text and fine details in VR, making even small type easily readable. It can track your eyes and facial features, giving you a sense of connection with other people in virtual spaces: If you furrow your eyebrows or puff up your cheeks in real life, so will your VR avatars. And it can be used as a mixed-reality headset, showing you a color view of the world around you while letting you interact with digital objects — whether you’re painting on an ersatz easel or laying out a faux mini-golf course.
But it costs $1,500 — nearly four times the company’s cheapest Quest 2 headphones. That might be fine for deep-pocketed professionals like architects and designers, or perhaps well-to-do VR devotees who are emotionally invested in the idea of the metaverse.
But for normies, that’s a lot of dough. Too much, you might say, in an economy reeling from high prices and potentially falling into recession. For that price, you could buy two Xbox Series X game consoles and still have money left over for brunch. You could buy a high-end iPhone and a flight to Denver. Heck, you could skip the gadgets, book a flight to Italy, and drink some very real, delicious wine food for a few days, all for the price of a single Quest Pro, which promises… I dunno, some nice graphics?
Time will tell: Customers can pre-order the headset starting today, and it will ship later this month.
As Rachel notes, the Quest Pro might not be the Tickle Me Elmo of the 2022 holiday season (Gen Zers, you can ask your parents about that). But its streamlined design is a milestone for Zuck and his Meta dream, which cost the company $2.8 billion in losses in the second quarter alone.
The lenses are thinner, the headset itself is less front-heavy than previous iterations, and it reportedly does a better job of blending real and virtual space around the user. Which sounds like a step in the right direction, if you’re someone who believes that the right direction is ultimately one where our lives eventually revolve even more than they do now around being digitally connected to one another.
Shares of Lyft fell 12% while Uber sank 10% after the Biden administration announced a new proposed labor rule that could reclassify gig workers — the bulk of those companies’ drivers — as employees. Such a change, which rideshare companies have fought in the past, could entitle millions of gig workers across industries to benefits like minimum wage and overtime.
A consistent theme of the 2020s so far is that nothing is as expected. Not our politics, not our perception of Covid-19 and, perhaps more than anything, you can throw away everything you thought you knew about the US job market.
Watch here: The pandemic’s upheaval in global supply chains prompted manufacturers at home to ramp up production as it became increasingly difficult (and time-consuming) to move goods around the world. Suddenly the most expensive domestic producer made a lot more sense than the cheapest overseas one.
The result is that US factories are suddenly humming, my colleagues Chris Isidore and Christine Romans report.
Last week, the September jobs report showed that US manufacturers added another 22,000 workers. And right now, the nearly 13 million people employed in American factories make up the industry’s largest workforce since the Great Recession that began in 2007.
It’s not all good news (because, honestly, what is these days?).
The problem now is finding enough skilled workers to keep up. And it’s not just the pay problem.
Wages are up an estimated 5% this year in manufacturing — that’s not keeping pace with inflation, but in line with the national average. Factory jobs also tend to pay more than other private sector jobs overall — about $65,000 a year, according to the Labor Department.
So what gives?
First, you can’t just let factories decline for years and then expect them to return to peak production at the flick of a switch.
“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “For every 100 jobs in the industry we only have 60 people looking. I think it’s going to take some time to fill that pipeline.”
Then there’s the problem of perception: Factory life conjures up images of an industry in decline, as it was for so long between 2007 and 2020. That’s a difficult reputation to reform.
“Often we look at images of construction and see sparks flying … and maybe it’s a little dirty, dark,” says Eric Esoda, CEO of a non-profit construction consulting firm. “But by and large our manufacturing jobs today are high-tech.”
Bottom line: The story of labor in America remains one where the telling of recent history doesn’t quite apply. In most downturns, we’ve seen manufacturing decline, giving it a bad rap as a disappearing job. Factories are not alone. And managers will have to find the right mix of pay (humble suggestion: raise it), benefits and growth opportunities if they want to attract any of the millions of people (especially women) who are leaving the workforce altogether.
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