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You won’t find selfies on this Instagram account

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 3:26pm
Allegra Sparta, Editorial Intern

Drones are becoming almost as prevalent in the skies as they are in the news. From “Amazon Prime Air” to military drones in overseas conflict, it seems like these are devices that aren’t going away any time soon. For London-based artist and activist, James Bridle, this is a troubling fact.

One of Bridle’s most well-known endeavors is Dronestagram: an Instagram account that posts pictures of drone strike locations, often edited with sepia tones and other filters to create an ethereal and nostalgic effect. He says the purpose of this account is not to display “artsy” photos, but rather to raise awareness and make these drone strikes seem more real and closer to home.

Bridle posts images from Google Maps’ satellite view to the Instagram account, which is linked to Twitter and Tumblr feeds, as well, in order to maximize visibility. While there are many problems with drone use, particularly in the military, he chooses to focus on the accidental casualties and destruction left in their wake.

Along with images, Bridle includes a description of each drone strike location, complete with details of civilian casualties. His main goal is to raise awareness of the biggest problem with drones, whether they be commercial or military—the collateral damage. While it’s a lot less scary to watch the blender you ordered from Amazon careen into your neighbor’s roof than it is to see a missile hurtling through the sky, the underlying shortcoming is the same. A margin of error will always exist with the use of remotely-operated aircrafts.

Dronestagram is meant to prompt reflection as well as some fear. It’s not that it’s frightening to imagine a future straight out of a sci-fi movie, complete with robot rulers, once humans become unnecessary for warfare and life in general. That’s still just fiction, and not Bridle’s main concern.

The startling trend illustrated by drone use is the increasing distance that we put between each other. Worst-case scenario for a commercial drone is that a dissatisfied customer has to clean an Amazon Bot off his or her front lawn. For a military drone, you’re dealing with the potential destruction of a village and the loss of civilian lives.

These drones downplay the loss of human life and make it a lot less personal because it’s just so far away. A machine killing people seems more like an accident than murder, so we tend to downplay it. Dronestagram inserts the human element back into drone strikes. If we are able to see the actual homes of those affected by this type of warfare, it makes it all seem much more real. But is it enough to allow us to imagine ourselves overseas, no longer a comfortable distance away from this RC warfare?

To illustrate the message of Dronestagram further, Bridle and his team created a full-size outline of a MQ-9 Reaper drone on a street in Washington, D.C. so people are able to get a sense of the ominous visage of the aircraft and imagine it humming overhead. This fusion of art with an expanding technology allows a tangible and relatable way for people to understand the magnitude of this topic and, hopefully, continue to question it.

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