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Here comes the drone backlash

Mike Elgan | Aug. 25, 2015
Soon it will be politically incorrect to express enthusiasm for drones or fly them in public. Too bad. Drones are cool.

Close-up of drone in sky

Consumer drone technology is barely taking off, and already a harsh public backlash is growing.

Your typical garden variety consumer drone is lightweight, battery operated, has four propellers and is controlled by a smartphone. Most have cameras and beam back live video, which can be recorded for posterity. Some have high-quality HD cameras on them, and from that high vantage point can take stunning photos and videos.

Drones are fun. They're exciting. They're accessible. But increasingly, they're becoming unacceptable.

I'm sensing a growing backlash, a kind of social media pitchfork mob against drones and drone fans. It's only a matter of time, and not much time, before it will be politically incorrect to express any kind of enthusiasm for drones in polite company. I fear that many are about to embark on an "everybody knows drones are bad" mentality that will suppress the nascent industry and spoil this innovative and exhilarating technology.

Here's what's driving the coming backlash:

1. They're called drones

We used the D word for both massive, weaponized aircraft-carrier launched drones that drop bombs, and also for hobbyist quadcopters that fit in a backpack. The word "drone" is fun and easy to use, but for the fearful it makes them sound more dangerous than they are by association.

2. Most people don't have drones

Consumer drones are particularly vulnerable to social stigma because anyone could be affected -- threatened, violated, harassed, annoyed -- but most people won't actually participate. For the majority of people, drones are something "they" use that could affect "me."

Contrast drones to smartphones, the use of which is far more likely to annoy you and invade your privacy, but which is socially accepted because pretty much everybody's got one.

3. The media neo-luddite impulse

I'll tell you a little secret about the mass media, which you probably already intuited: They pander to the neo-luddites in their audiences. Watch the 6 o'clock news, and it will be filled with a feigned "oh, gosh, this new-fangled technology is really moving too fast" mentality, even as they use Perceptive Pixel displays and holograms to report the news.

Plus, anytime drones interfere with, say, firefighters, it's always going to be big news.

You can be sure that the mass media reporting will always fall on the side of being vexed and put off by quadcopters.

4. Pandering politicians

When politicians see a parade, they scramble to get in front and pretend to lead it. As the public turns against drones, there will be grandstanding hearings and calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to institute controls and bans.

Scaremongering wins elections.

5. Innumeracy


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