The recent dumping of lake-effect snow in Buffalo, upwards of 5 feet, brought with it a major dumping of media coverage as well. CNN alone dispatched at least three of its big names to take shifts standing on the same street corner where plowed piles of snow were particularly impressive. While CNN made every effort to whip up a blizzard of superlatives describing the End Of Days weather in Buffalo, people in the background went about their business, coming and going with shopping bags, backpacks and snow shovels.
This isn’t to say CNN overplayed the event. They didn’t. Something big and unusual was happening in Buffalo and CNN covered it when other outlets didn’t. Or couldn’t. Buffalo turned out to be a prime example of New Media 101 -an example of just how much the public’s sources of information have changed. Along with the usual iPhone videos -uploaded to youtube as they happened- something else was changing the game: A drone.
A man in South Buffalo, one of the hardest hit areas, managed to get to his garage where he launched a camera-equipped ‘drone’ -a remotely controlled flying platform that hovered over the expanse of white and showed what ground-based technology -even CNN- couldn’t show.
Drones are usually associated with remote warfare, a hands free way of killing without being killed. Drone ‘pilots’ sit in military facilities sometimes thousands of miles from the action, watching on a computer screen what the drone sends back. Military drones reduce -if not remove altogether- the human element in the taking out of an enemy. And they do it with near-surgical precision.
When I mentioned the civilian use of a drone in Buffalo to my friend Bill -who is selling his house- he told me the agent he hired had a drone. And that drone was used to shoot an arial tour of the property soon to be seen on YouTube. Our friend Robert dropped by and said that he actually had a drone he had learned to fly around the neighbourhood. I live about a block away from Robert and I began thinking of the original drones -malevolent flying monkeys from The Wizard Of Oz. I began to see a rather dark side of drones, darker even than military use or flying monkeys. I began to imagine drones, like those monkeys, hovering silently outside the bedroom window at three in the morning.
Transport Canada isn’t exactly on top of this. All I can find is a few less-than-stern guidelines suggesting that flying your drone over pets or near airports probably isn’t such a good idea. Transport Canada seems almost as surprised at the advent of drone technology as I am. But less concerned.
Anybody can buy and fly a drone. To get the novice started, Canada Drones (www.canadadrones.com) is the enthusiast’s one-stop-shop for QuadCopters -so called for their four cornered configuration of battery powered vertical rotors, beneath which usually hangs a high-definition camera. The whole thing is about two-feet square and looks nothing like a flying monkey. A $1,000 investment buys a semi-pro machine, but entry level droning can be had for about $300.
What about the ground level social implications? Shouldn’t we spare a thought for all the Worker’s Compensation Board private detectives that a single drone will replace? What about undercover police officers mingling among G20 protesters when a drone 50-feet overhead can get all the high-resolution close-ups needed? Who knows -maybe drones can be equipped with voice recognition software too. And debate? What about the endtess debate over street-level CCTV cameras? All is now moot. Flying monkeys have seen to that.
But there’s a positive side too, the side that will be used to sell a complacent public on the necessity of drones operated by governments and police forces at all levels. You’ll know it’s a done deal when you hear the excuse ‘It’s just another tool in our tool box. It’s all about public safety.” Then, get ready for it, ‘Drones will only be used to track down and prosecute those who fail to poop-and-scoop.’ Hence we will be soft-soaped into believing drones will only be used to promote public hygiene. Or locating lost cats. But never as an authoritarian intrusion into our ever-waning privacy.
I’m starting to think flying monkeys weren’t so malevolent after all.