The other day, I attended a social event that combined music, food and mostly intelligent conversation. And then there was my friend Tom, who was manipulating a controller in order to fly what looked like a flying saucer, to the amusement of some of the guests during the intermission for the music. This object glided and hovered and climbed up and swooped down. And, of course, the object wasn’t attached to the controller the way that model planes used to be attached to a controller when I was growing up. But in those days, all one could do with the flying object was to take it around in circles. Today the electronic flying objects have so much more freedom in their movements. Even though they are still manipulated through a controller, they appear autonomous. And they entrance their viewers, as if they were unpredictable autonomous entities.
These toys are called nano drones, and they are smaller versions of the bigger drones that are used for military and commercial purposes. And in today’s modern technological world, they are sources of fascination for young and old alike (my friend Tom is in his sixties). And unlike the model planes of old, where the cord connecting the plane to the person flying it was visible, the nano drones appear to be autonomous. They are sophisticated seemingly autonomous complex behavioral entities that seduce people into sustained observation. They are a toy that has moved beyond the interactive toys like video games in certain ways. Perhaps the closest toy to them, on one level, is the wind-up toy, but wind-up toys have a very robotic angular movement and they stop moving after a relatively short time. So they don’t have nearly the hypnotic power of a nano drone.
And that hypnotic quality is not simply influential for the periods of time a person is watching all the wonderful fancy manoeuvers of the nano drone. It becomes a contributory factor in the whole range of frictionless mediated activities in which a person participates that make him passive and numb. For the operation of the nano drone, the manoeuvers are minimal, and therefore, the imprints that the operator makes on his field of experience are minimal as well, as are the imprints that he preserves. Perhaps the people who saw Tom that night will remember him as the first person to show them how a nano drone works, and he will engrave an imprint on their memories. But as more and more people start using the nano drone toys, all the different operators will start blurring together in the minds of the members of Tom’s original audience. The variability in the styles of different operators just isn’t that significant and that important. Operating a nano drone just doesn’t lend itself to becoming an individualized art or sport the way, let’s say, driving a dogsled with huskies does.
And yet activities like operating a nano drone are going to be a larger and larger portion of people’s time as seemingly autonomous complex behavioral entities proliferate and take over a greater and greater share of the marketplace for toys. At this point, it might prove illustrative to discuss the nano drones in relation to another kind of seemingly autonomous toy: model trains. Unlike the flying airplanes, model trains are similar to nano drones in that they move around without being connected to a cord to the people who are operating them and causing them to move around. But unlike nano drones, they move on a fixed route over and over again, a route that is defined by the railroad tracks. Model trains are dependent on another creation of humans – railroad tracks – to define their routes and to give them the means to move forward. By contrast, every time that a nano drone flies, the operator is defining unique constantly novel routes for it. This is at least partly the reason that a nano drone is so hypnotic. For many people, a model train can get boring, because it has one or possibly a few fixed routes (depending on the complexity of the display) that it can follow. But an operator of a nano drone has an infinite number of routes that it can follow with its seemingly autonomous flying patterns. It is this novelty that impels people to keep looking at a nano drone when it is in operation. And it is this novelty that distracts people and takes time away from the activities involved in a person making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, from the wealth of primary experience activities that are available to humans.
Finally, a comparison is in order between a nano drone and screen reality phenomena like television, video games and computers. In the minds of most people, there would be a certain psychological separation between screen reality activities and activities in the external world. On some level, people know that screen reality activities aren’t real to the extent that they lack mass, matter and substance in the external world, even though they provide a highly mediated seemingly autonomous experience. This blurs the lines between mediated experience and primary experience and ultimately between screen reality, with its more passive human involvement, and external world reality, which requires a more active human involvement. A nano drone toy draws people from a more active external world posture to the kind of hypnotic passive posture associated with screen reality experience.
A nano drone toy is one more phenomenon that ultimately numbs people and makes it more difficult for them to live a rich vibrant primary experience life. Its entrancing hypnotic quality is precisely what makes it an up and coming contributory factor in numbing our senses of self and our consciousness.
© 2018 Laurence Mesirow