Remember when the internet was bursting at the seams with splendorous timelapse videos showing off bustling metropolises and exotic corners of the globe? Well, there’s a new visual novelty act in town, and it hovers noisily above your head, peering down at earth with a fisheye lens.
Drone footage is rapidly sweeping every video service and viral sharing site. As camera-equipped quad-copters become cheaper and easier to operate, people are taking to the air in cities, wilderness, and especially places that are inaccessible to humans — where a sweeping overhead shot is a sure-fire way to captivate web audiences. How can you resist the visual rapture of floating like a bird over the brink of Niagara Falls or tracking a pod of dolphins just above the ocean’s surface?
Tropes like these are what the internet thrives on. New ways of visualising the world, aided by technology, and packaged with a pulsating soundtrack, can be a powerful drug for the cloudy-eyed masses. These videos are as easy to to execute as they are to consume. For a couple of thousand dollars, anybody can take to the sky and title themselves Drone Photographer. The popularity of these videos, like time-lapses before them, is compounded by the web media’s need to post easily clickable, shareable, content. And thus it spreads.
The folk nature of a trend like drone videos insulates it from much criticism. In an age when we are being constantly bombarded with advertising-laden images, it’s hard to find fault in what amounts to a bunch of self-starting enthusiasts playing with new toys. But drones pose unique questions of legality and ethics. The FAA is currently grappling with how to regulate this new phenomenon, and National Parks Service has banned drones from its premises. If heavy regulation comes to pass, the piloting of drones for leisure could diminish greatly. It might be worth savouring the current moment, when the skies are freely navigated by amateur pilots, all looking to get their own unique perspective for us to enjoy back here on Earth.
However, even if the trend continues unabated and ad nauseam, it will eventually be succeeded by a new wave of audio-visual sensations bred by a new device or capture method. Such is the cycle of visual culture on the internet. It can be repetitive, homogenous, and lacking all traces of originality — but I’ll be damned if I don’t stop staring. In full-screen mode, of course.