Dronestagram is the latest project from renowned "new aesthetic" pioneer James Bridle, an Instagram feed which posts satellite images corresponding to US drone strikes in the Middle-East and Asia. Much like Josh Begley's Drones+, the Apple-banned smartphone app which sends alerts whenever drone strikes are reported, Bridle says Dronestagram is a way of "making these locations just a little bit more visible, a little closer. A little more real."
Famous for the blog which coined "the new aesthetic," a term which describes new ways of seeing reality that have come about as a result of ubiquitous computer networks, Bridle's Instagram feed finds and filters images of drone strike locations using satellite data from Google Maps, adding contextual information from a variety of news sources, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The number of casualties from such strikes has quadrupled under the Obama administration, but Bridle says the true power of drones is their role as a "distancing technology" which further abstracts a disengaged populace from acts of state-funded aggression.
Foreign wars and foreign bodies have always counted for less, but the technology that was supposed to bring us closer together is used to obscure and obfuscate. We use military technologies like GPS and Kinect for work and play; they continue to be used militarily to maim and kill, ever further away and ever less visibly.
"These technologies are not just for "organising" information, they are also for revealing it."
The ethics of highly-secretive US drone operations was one of many issues that remained uncontested in the recent Presidential election. But vocal opposition to the program has grown steadily, both from inside and outside the United States. Despite the Obama administration's assertions that drone strikes are "surgical" in nature, studies have found that the bombardments overwhelmingly result in civilian casualties — of all drone-related deaths, only an estimated 2 percent are revealed as legitimate, "high-level" targets. Last week the White House revealed that Iranian fighter jets opened fire on a US-owned Predator drone over the Gulf, Iranian officials claiming that it had violated Iranian airspace.
To Bridle, Instagram is just one of various technologies we can use to map the course of history. "These technologies are not just for “organising” information, they are also for revealing it, for telling us something new about the world around us, rendering it more clearly," he writes. "We should engage with them at every level. These are just images of foreign landscapes, still; yet we have got better at immediacy and intimacy online: perhaps we can be better at empathy too."