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Our local chapter of the National Union of Friendly Americans (NUFA) has severely restricted the use of drones after it was revealed that one of the NUFA personal bartenders was using a small butterfly-like drone to mix and deliver drinks while he relaxed in his bunk.
When alerted to the unsettling development the Exalted Shack Master took a seat at the bar, ordered a friendly bourbon, carefully plucked the drink when it arrived, captured the small flying device, threw it to the floor and stamped the life out of it.
“We’ll have none of that,” he said.
The personal bartender was gently reprimanded and sent back to work, real work, not work by proxy or robotic means.
At this point the skies over Camp Shack and NUFA World Headquarters, far from the maddening crowd, are mostly free of intrusion and surveillance, the Google-Earth deflection system operating only when pedaled. It’s a glitch we’re working on.
We were first alerted to the threat of drone surveillance many years ago when on a canoe trip along the border waters of Minnesota and Ontario. There we were sitting out on Ottertrack Lake, away from the persistent hum of mosquitos when a hum of a different sort sounded overhead. Against the midday sun was a winged shape, hovering only feet above the canoe. With instinct we swatted it out of the sky with our paddles and it hit the water with a sputter. We paddled from the object as quickly as possible with a feeling that its lone eye was still watching us, like it was alive, even though it had been incapacitated and was slowly sinking.
We sat around the campfire that evening with the eerie understanding that man and machine had become one to find us out there in the wilderness. Granted, the drone was likely a very early prototype, a dumb one at that and slow to recognize the danger we presented when we brandished our canoe paddles, but it had enough smarts to find us. An operator in a cubicle far, far away had to have seen us threatening the machine.
It brought back a memory for me that foretold a troubling aspect of humanity, that we are willing to give up a part of ourselves to be able to extend our presence beyond our mere physical interactions. We can be in two places at the same time.
It had happened to me before. I was a child, maybe ten years old in 1964 and walking along a dusty road near my home. A helicopter likely spraying pesticides on a nearby field appeared, a whirlybird, a bubble with a propeller, and it swooped down at me. I looked up and saw no pilot. It was flying by itself, or appeared to be, and I started running, did the zig zag to escape and darted into the woods and watched the thing looking for me, a flying bubble with a mind of its own. Off it went like a big dragonfly and I have tried to live a life off the beaten path ever since.
The worlds of Arthur C. Clarke and George Orwell had come alive. Technology has a way of leapfrogging from crude instrument to sophisticated device within minutes, racing ahead of our moral capacity to consider the new life we’ve created and where it will lead us rather than where we will lead it. We are at that precipice. A sky full of drones is dawning on the horizon.
Big Data gobbles up all the information we so willingly supply as we float along the carefully monitored airspace of the internet. For someone who has always tried to live life a bit under the radar it’s startling to see so many people willing to extend themselves out into a world larger than the sum of all of its parts. This isn’t about sharing a recipe with a neighbor, it’s about sharing the four corners of your life with potentially every other human being on the planet. Is there someone out there who has “friended” all seven billion people on the planet? Well, all of them except me? Would that be a task fit for the Guinness Book of Records?
What we won’t share willingly through the internet the drones will gather by peeping into our windows and satellites will watch as we pee in the woods. That data may or may not be shared, depending on who is doing the gathering.
Our little children will be born into this strange new world and they will simply accept it the way it is, embrace it, become it, and be first in line when man and machine merge in that not too distant future.
Once again we have prayed at the altar of convenience and that convenience will come to rule us.