I took this photo a year ago, on my last day in Amagansett, New York – in a beautiful area called the Walking Dunes, right behind Route 27 on the way to Montauk, Long Island. It was around 7 p.m. when we reached the area – a place we knew and loved from previous trips. But this time, it was more than that – it was magic. I had never seen light like this in my entire life. It was amazing, almost like a hallucination. There were four of us, and we had just started to walk, following the light, when we heard a buzz. We looked around for an insect, saw nothing and continued to walk. It was only when we crested a majestic dune that we saw this man with his drone, intensely engaged with one another. The man, who later told us that he was photographer, did not immediately notice us: he was training his drone to fly high and low along the dunes in that perfect light, shooting with the camera it was carrying. We felt blessed. It was all so new – the light, the drone technology, the man… We just sat there and watched, in wonder: A drone, a device we’d associated with military attacks in Afghanistan, was joining us here on a beautiful evening, performing a task that was interesting and novel – if not entirely useful.
Only a year later, the world has changed. Drones have morphed from weapons, to fascinating novelties, to mechanical pests. This year, I did not go to the Walking Dunes. But I’m afraid that this marvelous place may have become some sort of drone airport. Consider this article in the New York Times about an unlucky lady who was enjoying a rare moment of peace, admiring 2000 year old Roman architecture, when the moment was ruined by the arrival of a drone. Then I read news of a drone invader at the U.S. Open, one of the world’s most important tennis tournaments. The drone flew into the stadium during the game and crashed – luckily in a place where no one was sitting.
I live in New York, a city where it is already hard to walk because people are usually looking at the screens of their smartphones instead of paying attention to their commute. Even on the subway. I am sure that moving around the city becomes more dangerous, with people looking at devices instead of paying attention while crossing the street or taking the subway. It is also quite stressful doing a slalom to avoid these human drones walking the sidewalks.
Now, in North Dakota, the government has authorized the police to use drones to help do their job. And these drones will carry non-lethal weapons like Tasers. With news of this barrage of new technology filling the air, I think I will stop here. I’ll go out and enjoy the ambience while there’s still air space left.