Imagine you’re taking in the awe-inspiring view from atop Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. Or you just walked past Paul McCartney and Warren Buffett outside an ice cream shop in Omaha. Or you happened to be anywhere in Makati City, Philippines. Suddenly, you realize everybody around you is pulling out their smartphones, turning the screens towards their faces, and rattling off a dozen duck-faced snapshots.
That’s today’s annoying reality. The future is likely to be much worse.
Get ready for the “dronie,” or the neologism produced by the amalgamation of drone and selfie. Drones are just beginning to become more common, so dronies aren’t a phenomenon just yet. (As of this writing, there’s just 17,358 #dronie posts on Instagram, compared to 271,391,737 #selfie shots.) But someday soon, you may find yourself on vacation at the Grand Canyon, when a quadcopter whirs past, beating the air like a basketball-sized dragonfly as it circles taking high-resolution photos.
For now, dronies are more an art form than anything else. This past weekend, the New York City Drone Film Festival celebrated the world’s most impressive dronies for the second year running. The winner, “The Shark Dronie,” was a one-minute video of a solitary scuba diver awash in sharks, sitting on the ocean floor while an underwater drone zipped up and into the sky, recording all along the way.
The Shark Dronie wasn’t impressive for its gutsiness alone. It also used a drone to capture a scene that would’ve been impossible to photograph by any other means. Forget the flying part—blasting from the ocean floor to the surface that quickly could kill a photographer.
Coincidentally, in their song “The Bends,” Radiohead asks, “Where do we go from here?” The answer is mainstream. Drones like the DJI Phantom 4, a camera-mounted quadcopter with an idiot-proof user interface, are easier than ever for newbies to fly. The drone’s $1,400 price tag may not exactly make it mass market, but its Apple Store shelf placement puts it within reach. And keep in mind that technology costs, like drones themselves, always come down.
What will really make the drone take flight is a cultural moment. When Ellen Degeneres dances around her talk show with a Lily drone in tow or when a 3D Robotics Solo blows the soap suds around a Kardashian bubble bath, that’s when they’ll explode into public consciousness. Untethered by a human arm and able to shoot at the most flattering angles, these airborne camera operators have the ability to snap better selfies than any smartphone around. All it will take is one unbelievable photo (probably the result of a product placement), and they’ll start flying off the shelves.
And while dronies may sound ridiculous—paired with celebrity culture, they will be the ultimate form of digital decadence—they can serve a purpose worth lionizing. For proof, just watch the NYCDFF’s audience choice award-winning entry, “Dronie Proposal.” In it, a man proposes marriage to his girlfriend on a beach, and once she says yes, the drone zooms off to reveal they are alone in a gorgeous coastal landscape.
With images like that, the dronie might even rise above the selfie and save digital photography from our own narcissism. Imagine a hard drive full of memories where you appear as a fully-figured person. Your left shoulder no longer takes up one-third of the frame, and you’re not obsessed with angling your head so you only have one chin. Everyone is in the scene, and no one is behind the viewfinder. The memory is as we remember it. On second thought, the future doesn’t look so bad.