There are no embedded reporter fly-alongs during a drone strike–no live CNN cameras on the ground watching bombs light up the skyline. Due to their inherently secretive nature, the individual stories of drone bombings go largely untold. So in a society that can buy a delicious bucket of KFC without ever seeing a single chicken slaughtered, drones are yet another convenient automation of a dirty, bloody process.
Of course, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism publishes the locations of many drone strikes. And looking through this list, James Bridle became curious as to what these places actually look like. So he looked them up on Google Maps and republished the locations through his Instagram account, Dronestagram.
“Coordinates are just names, you can’t see them, they don’t mean anything without an appreciation of place–places where people live and work, where there are families and schools. We have built the tools for seeing these places … but most of us rarely [use them],” Bridle tells Co.Design. “The idea of the drone’s camera posting to Instagram puts it in the same place people go to look for images of their friends’ daily realities: It is a natural fit for scenes of a wider, more graphic reality.”
The images make their way to Tumblr and Twitter, too, broadcasting drone strikes with the same viral, retro-filtered efficiency of a puppy in an adorable Halloween costume. Just like really bad news can temporarily somber the jovial first-world problems of Twitter, so too can Dronestagram powerfully interject itself into popular culture, reminding us all that there are people out there having much worse days than us–and to some extent, it’s our doing.
But beyond spoiling your next set of late-night party photos, I asked Bridle what was his ultimate motivation behind the project? Was it pacifism? Was it just awareness?
“Can it be both? Can it also be an art project, a technology project, a research project, and a visualization?” he responds. “The point of these media and these technologies is that the old boundaries between the physical and the digital, between art, technology and politics, are breaking down, have collapsed time and space, in ways which we have yet to come to terms with.”
Like everything else in the world, Dronestagram becomes another bite in the inundation of information we gorge ourselves on each day. It doesn’t have an immediate, digestible logic with a clean, actionable conclusion. Instead, it leaves your guts in a wreck, waiting to strike again when you least expect it.