On the joys of playing and making: Drone Edition

I have to accept certain things about myself. I tend to think more theoretically, and/or more towards the future than many people. I’m not a deductive thinker. I am an inductive thinker. I’m really good at seeing different parts of complex things and how they work together to make “predictions”… that to me are just observations. All this to say, what my experiences in Higher Education have taught me is that I do not think like most people. As a co-learner and as a teacher, that means I have to come up with ways to make the things that are “obvious” to me visible to others. I have to also create openings for people to critique, expand, or disagree with those things I think are obvious. Because I do not know everything. In fact, I maintain that I know very little. I just exist in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity (great mindsets for learning and exploring imho). So, what’s a girl to do???

Playing and Making

I’ve always been drawn to playing and making. And I didn’t get why until I started my drone tests to see which one I would attempt to get for my class next semester… and which ones I would get for us at the Duke PhD Lab (all the grad students there are super into the idea of playing with drone, from the classics people to the digital humanities people). What I think I determined, which is one of those things that was probably obvious to everyone else, is that when we play or make, we immediate go to the more theoretical imaginary space. We make towards a potential thing, and playing is all about that which isn’t there but could be or is only symbolically.

I cashed in all my store credits and discounts to put together a little fleet of drones. I have a small rolling FPV that is just very intuitive and really fun to play around with. A mini-qudrocopter drone that films excessively grainy HD video onto a microsd card. It has the biggest learning curve to fly too. There is a very stable quadrocopter that is fun, has a small learning curve, but only takes photos from directly below where it is flying. And finally, I have a low-midrange bigger quadrocopter that takes really nice video (the first flight video is above). I’ve done my first few flights with a series of drones and my brain is whirring (I imagine that word came to mind because of the whirring of the propellers).

I think when I was originally planning on possibly teaching with drones I assumed, naturally, that the primary thing I’d be working with and against is surveillance culture. That is a part of it. The second part was about creating world perspectives. I was thinking about literature and film, and how one would go about writing what can be seen through a drown, or creating new aesthetic practices in film that go beyond the panning scenery. I was really excited when I saw this Ok Go video because it took advantage of the mobility and perspectives of drone filming:

(There’s an interactive version of the video here: http://iwontletyoudown.com/)

But, after playing with the drones, and their different interfaces, I’m thinking a lot about how we imagine the body with technology. Like a broken record, I am thinking about how useful McLuhan’s idea of technology as an extension, and ultimately, amputation of the body, is when we try to conceptualize what are relationship to technology is when it becomes the only thing we can see through… I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared for a piece of technology as I was when I saw on the screen that the bigger drone was going above the trees and it was a speck and I wasn’t sure if I could keep control.

I am having lots of thoughts about public space, and how we imagine technology being in these places. When I made it to the park where I did my test flight, there was a group playing competitive boomerang (yes I live in that type of place). When they saw me go to another part grass near the field with my flying thing, they moved where they were playing to a neighboring baseball field without saying a word to me, sort of handing it off. Additionally, as we pulled in to the community park, I reflected on drones being banned in National Parks. There was a story this weekend, too, about an emergency helicopter pilot who had to avoid a drone while flying. I’m also trying to figure out where I can go with my students so they can film with a drone without others feeling like there is an invasion of privacy, and, where this is no risk of them hurting someone by dropping technologic object with spinning blades, as they learn to fly. So, lots of things I didn’t think I’d be thinking about until the technology was in hand.

And, of course, I always wonder about the implications of having all of these technologies that are designed so specifically for a visual experience and not really much else. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just… curious.

I imagine as I play around a bit more, and as I play with more people with these things I’ll have lots of other thoughts, and they will too. I am just grateful to have another fun bridge to help break down some of the thought barriers into something other than language. And I’m happy to have more toys to play with. I’ve let my little ones play with all the drones (except for the big one… it was too windy) it’s been interesting to see how intuitive some are versus others.

1 thought on “On the joys of playing and making: Drone Edition

  1. Hi Jade,

    Just stumbled onto your blog while researching pedagogical applications of drones. This is really the spirit that I’d be interested in engaging them. I could see the drone as a conceptual and practical tool to have an interdisciplinary conversation about a lot of things. I’m only starting to gather my thoughts.

    Anyway, great post and blog! I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and looking at your projects.

    – Josh

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