Privatizing Public Space – A Case Against Drones

Hardly a day passes without a drone (UAS – Unmanned Aerial System) story in the news – Near misses around airports and in crowded airspace frequented by helicopters and low flying airplanes. A collision between a UAS and a manned aircraft could, of course, be disastrous.

There is an untold side of the UAS phenomenon – the conflict between UAS “pilots” vying for their next hottest Instagram shot and ground dwellers who expect drone-free solitude in our world’s wild places. Only recently, with the explosion of mobile technology – mainly cellphones, UAS and digital photography, coupled with Social Media platforms that enable almost everyone to become a professional image creator, have we seen this rise in conflict.

Taking in the bigger picture, this is nothing new. A Technological Cold War has been taking place in Western Society for as long as we can remember. Nearly every invention that can be seen, heard, and smelled and favored by its user has at one time or another disturbed or annoyed one who is in disfavor of its use… and those who have a reasonable expectation of how “their” public space should be used. Just look up “Luddite” which is now a term used to denote someone who is anti-tech although it had a different meaning in the early 1800s.

The real conflict arises when someone decides to take ownership of a public space by privatizing it for their own benefit – usually a selfish endeavour. When it comes to our wild places, such as national parks, forests, protected areas, and seashores… man made noises are to be expected from time to time. These tend to emanate from things we all use… such as for transportation. But, when a recreational-use UAS is buzzing about, a persistent annoyance that has no purpose other than getting a photo – have things gone too far? I think so.

As with most things, there exists two sides – those who believe public space, as in the area around you and others, is free game for privatization. In other words, if I can go there, so can my devices and my beliefs in how to interact with those devices. Then there are those who believe public space should be used cautiously and with respect to others. An example of the latter would be a person taking a cellphone call (ringer off, of course) in a quiet cafe, and proceeding to a place out of earshot of the public in order to have a conversation. This also applies to drones, which are anything but unobtrusive. For one, their buzzing and whirring about is annoying and unlike anything you will hear in the wild. There have also been cases where birds of prey have attacked drones that came to close to their nests. To add, a drone instantly symbolizes a lack of privacy. How would you like it if you encountered a random person, skipping about a public area with their phone seemingly recording and/or photographing all in front of them, including you?

So, the next time you are out in a wild place and encounter a drone user who is privatizing public space for their instagram feed… it is up to you to set them straight. Especially, if you are disturbed by the drone because it is out of place in the wild or is harassing wildlife. We must all do our part. Standing by and allowing selfish people to take control of public space is a travesty… in all forms.

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