(Editor’s note: This originally appeared in print in our Holiday Gift Guide a few weeks ago.)
Get ready to start defending your airspace. This Christmas season, it’s estimated that 1 million drones will be given as gifts, the vast majority of which, I am predicting, will be from people with questionable judgment to people with questionable judgment. That means as soon as batteries can be shoved in the remote control aerial devices, neighborhoods across America will be buzzing, literally, with the sound of annoyance and evaporating privacy.
I’ll acknowledge that drones have value as scientific, industrial and (hey, it causes fewer civilian deaths than Vietnam-style carpet bombing) security devices. I’ll also acknowledge that the Federal Aviation Administration is working as hard as Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve on a regulation system for drones.
But 2016 is going to be a banner year for neighbors getting on other neighbors’ nerves with these things, and considering the fragile state of Americans’ love for their fellow Americans, the results could be disastrous. At least birds of prey have the common sense (in at least two YouTube videos I have seen) to attack the things on sight.
In this, the post-Snowden era of electronic surveillance, the concept of being able to just do something, anything, and not have it recorded in a government server somewhere is rapidly dying. But, if you don’t engage in the Internet (and don’t type words into like “jihad” or “smart meters harmful effects” or “don’t shop on Black Friday” into the Google) you might have a chance of staying off the NSA’s many scopes.
But try to imagine this, sometime early next year: You’re walking along a country lane or perhaps on a rail trail. It’s a crisp, sunny winter day, and you’re alone with your thoughts, enjoying nature’s beauty in a peaceful, quiet way, until … you hear an sharp buzz, growing louder as it becomes nearer and all of a sudden, your solitude is shattered by a drone, its camera (they all come with cameras, that’s the point) looking right at you. Who’s on the other end of it? Who knows? Maybe it’s a harmless hobbyist or filmmaker. Maybe it’s a kid who’s just figured out how to get a paintball gun on his drone and you’re the very first target of opportunity. Maybe it’s someone who just gets off on spying on people, and you’re today’s target.
Or this, sometime later this year: You love living in your secluded wooded home, where no one can see you as you indulge in a bit of nude cavorting in your yard (ticks be damned!) while, and I’m not saying you do this or I do this but we know people do do this, smoking a doobie while listening to, I don’t know, Hendrix on your boom box. The Hendrix is up so loud, and you’re so enjoying a moment of true freedom in an increasingly stifling world, that you take no notice of the drone hovering above you. That is, until a little while later you check your Facebook and see that someone posted a video entitled “NAKED DRUGGIE HIPPIE JUMPS AROUND YARD TO HENDRIX – AIN’T NO FOXXY LADY LOL” and there you are, for all the online world to see.
Or maybe this: You’re in a doctor’s office, in a large multistory medical edifice somewhere in, say, Lake Katrine, in some state of undress and in some manner of being examined — hell, maybe it’s even a prostate exam or a gyno checkup — and you idly look out the window … and see a drone looking right back at you! Oh wait, that’s already happened. (Sorry, Dave – didn’t think you deserved a felony rap for it, but it wasn’t great judgment on your part.)
And lest we forget (how could we possibly?), 2016 is a big election year, not just for president but for state legislature and Congress too. You know all those “ELECT ME!” things everybody gets in the mail, sometimes as many as five of the same things for the same person in the same day? The things that irk the heck out of you, but — and this is why they keep mailing them to you, by the way — you look at for at least several seconds before you throw them in the recycle bin? Well, just wait until campaign operatives get their hands on drones. They’ll clip printouts of their candidates’ Facebook memes to them and fly them right in front of your face, until you run back inside your house. Don’t forget to close the door behind you!
Hyperbole? Sure. (You want sane, sober assessments? Read the Lincoln Eagle.) But, as history tells us, when a new thing becomes available on a massive scale, there’s always an initial period where chaos reigns while people are figuring out how to use the thing in a responsible manner that won’t get them punched out or arrested. Maybe drones will transform commerce and usher in a new era of convenience and accessibility to consumers everywhere. Maybe the science-oriented uses of drones will make a better world for all of us. It’s too soon to tell.
But maybe, based upon the kind of talk we’ve been having around the newsroom of late, Christmas 2016 will be the Christmas of the Anti-Drone Device. Radio jammers? Tennis-ball cannons powered by compressed air? Backyard-scale surface-to-air missiles? Trained birds of prey? Necessity, after all, is the Mrs. Claus of invention.