Drone Away

Posted by on Sep 17, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on Drone Away

ImageJust when you thought things couldn’t get any stranger, that you wouldn’t have any more bleeping, buzzing, quasi-intelligent new developments to contend with, here come the drones.

Now, I see how drones could make sense to some conspiring (which, after all, just means “breath together”) mind or other. If a human being takes a risk by flying a combat mission, why not eliminate the human, empty the cockpit, and guide the missile to its target via remote control?

Why not indeed. And if that could be accomplished, as numerous combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, why stop there? Why not use unmanned drones to fight crime in the United States? Indeed, that has already been the case, according to a recent article in the New Yorker, which discusses how research into drones is unveiling a new generation of more effective devices. True to the trend toward miniaturization, researchers are now testing drones so small they mimic birds. In fact, the winged creatures themselves can’t always tell the difference: a flock of hummingbirds attacked a convincing-looking drone in its midst recently.

We are by now used to having our privacy encroached by an Internet that reaches into every cavity of our daily lives, and by the increasing presence of video cameras and other surveillance devices in our midst. Now the veil that separates my business from yours is likely to be pushed back further: people discussing military secrets or even suspected of doing so may be unaware that that thing rustling in the bushes is picking up their conversation.

Predictably, there was been serious pushback by the liberal and civic-minded among us, with petitions being circulated and warnings of dire police state scenarios unfolding in individual and collective brains. I have to admit I indulged in this, too, my mind scurrying to the somber terrain of Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, where every action of a pacified populace is monitored and controlled by a state-fabricated and -controlled Big Brother.

Then I realized I could relax. I remembered that I am in America, where everything gets lowered to the most common denominator that levels every noble and base human impulse in its efficient, sweaty path. Like it or not, now that the technology is entering the marketplace, it’s likely that unmanned drones will invade every aspect of our lives as thoroughly as the Internet has now, and to just as profound and ultimately pedestrian an effect. We will be even more assiduously recorded, measured, inspected, chattered about, and marketed to than we are today. Our most cherished moments will not be sacrosanct, but will be up for inspection by the highest bidder.

We can look forward to the day when trim, chipper drones flutter around us as we push our shopping carts down the aisle of our local grocery; the devices will videotape what cereal boxes our nine-year-old child was tall enough to reach and produce transcripts of the persuasive methods she used to get her harried parent to buy it. Neon-bright drones with shiny wheels will buzz by our patio table as we polish off the buffalo wings at our local barbeque joint, flashing banners that read, “Next time, try Kentucky Fried Chicken!” A young woman who blushingly confides news of her first pregnancy over coffee on her patio won’t know her conversation was recorded until an ad for Pampers shows up in her inbox. Avid suitors will send heart-shaped drones to propose to their beloveds. Artists will send armies of fancifully painted drones into gallery openings, creating mini-performance events complete with loopy acrobatics and random crashes into wealthy patrons’ cocktails. The counterculture will get hold of unmanned drones just as they got hold of LSD and the Internet, which were both, let us not ever forget, first put forth by the military. Forget Occupy Wall Street; this new movement will occupy every inch of the office towers soaring above Zuccotti Park. They will disrupt board meetings with fleets of grungy, mosquito- and pigeon-shaped drones calculated to cause the unfortunate inhabitants of the room maximum irritation and send their dry cleaning bills sky-high.

After a short period of flush experimentation, ownership and perpetuation of drones will settle into a pattern of status and taste-making. Designers will produce unusually-sized and -shaped drones that are  too clunky to serve any meaningful purpose, then sell them for twelve times the amount of a functional model. Soon certain image-conscious people won’t be caught dread employing drones of any other kind. Drone rental agencies will proliferate, as will those who troubleshoot its frequent technical problems. Lawsuits will be filed by those unfortunate enough to be standing under a malfunctioning drone. Country dwellers will be unable to rent any but the slowest and dullest of last year’s drones, and will hold public meetings to demand that better services be sent their way. Young squirts around the nation will break the hearts of their paramours by leaving them because they were seen using a brand of drone that was “so early twenty-first century.”

That is how it goes in these United States, where our brightest ideas, tenderest ventures, and most ominous-appearing innovations get chewed up by the great commercial maw we love most. We don’t have a thing to worry about.