Drone’s eye view

I expect many readers will remember  that Apple rejected NYU grad student Josh Begley‘s Drones+ app last August.  It did so three times and for a multiplicity of confusing – and frankly shifty – reasons.  Apparently it was neither ‘useful’ nor ‘entertaining’; then it presented ‘excessively objectionable’ content (something to take up with the Pentagon and the CIA, surely?). As Danger Room explained, the app was bare bones stuff:

When a drone strike occurs, Drones+ catalogs it, and presents a map of the area where the strike took place, marked by a pushpin. You can click through to media reports of a given strike that the Bureau of Investigative Reporting compiles, as well as some basic facts about whom the media thinks the strike targeted.

All the more ironic, really, since the US military makes extensive use of smart phone technology – including its own (restricted) apps for the iPhone.  More on that here and here and here.

But for the past several weeks James Bridle – of New Aesthetic fame – has been posting satellite images of the distant places where drone strikes are recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to Instagram: and, as the image below shows, you can view these on your iPhone…

There are, of course, difficulties in pinpointing the locations of drone strikes– and James is evidently very well aware of them – but on his Dronestagram website he explains his desire to convert abstract targets into physical places in terms that resonate beautifully with the arguments I’m trying to develop in Deadly embrace:

The political and practical possibilities of drone strikes are the consequence of invisible, distancing technologies, and a technologically-disengaged media and society. Foreign wars and foreign bodies have always counted for less, but the technology that was supposed to bring us closer together is used to obscure and obfuscate. We use military technologies like GPS and Kinect for work and play; they continue to be used militarily to maim and kill, ever further away and ever less visibly.

Yet at the same time we are attempting to build a 1:1 map of the world through satellite and surveillance technologies, that does allow us to see these landscapes, should we choose to go there. These technologies are not just for “organising” information, they are also for revealing it, for telling us something new about the world around us, rendering it more clearly.

History, like space, is coproduced by us and our technologies: those technologies include satellite mapping, social photo sharing from handheld devices, and fleets of flying death robots. We should engage with them at every level. These are just images of foreign landscapes, still; yet we have got better at immediacy and intimacy online: perhaps we can be better at empathy too.

You can follow the images here and in much more detail via tumblr here.  More information here.

This comes at an opportune moment since I’ve been talking this week with Susan Schuppli and Eyal Weizman at Forensic Architecture about a collaborative, interactive project to bring together all the available data on drone strikes.