A Day in the Life of a Drone Operator

Big Think: What’s it like to command a drone in Iraq from the US?

P.W. Singer: These commanders of these drone squadrons described that it’s actually more difficult than commanding a traditional man squadron because of the distancing, but also there’s the challenge of being at war but also being physically at home.  You know, one of them described to me that you would go in, you drive your Toyota Corolla into work, you get into the trailer, and you basically start carrying out a mission, and for 12 hours you’re taking out targets, you’re hitting enemy combatants.  And then, at the end of the day, you leave the trailer and you enter back into America and you get back in your Toyota Corolla and you drive home.  And 20 minutes later, you’re talking to your kid about their homework at the dinner table. 

And the result is that the psychological disconnects have proven very challenging and you actually have higher PTSD rates among the drone pilots than you do among many units that are serving in places like Iraq.  And so, the officers in charge are trying to figure out all sorts of different ways, you know, how did they drive that home, how did they watch out for their men and women who are fighting from afar.  They’re doing things like, for example, they have to wear flight suits, even though they’re not in the plane, they wear the suit as if they are.  All sorts of outside communication is banned while you’re on mission.  You may be sitting 20 miles away from your wife, but no cellphone calls, for example.  And so they’re constantly saying, you know what, you may be physically in Nevada, but we’re in Iraq, keep that in mind and lives are at stake here.

The author explains the psychology of a drone operator in Nevada who spends his nights at home with his family and his days eliminating enemy targets in Iraq.

Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
Keep reading Show less

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)
popular

There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

Keep reading Show less

Lateral thinking: The reason you’ve heard of Nintendo and Marvel

Here's why generalists triumph over specialists in the new era of innovation.

Videos
  • Since the explosion of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, generalist inventors have been making larger and more important contributions than specialists.
  • One theory is that the rise of rapid communication technologies allowed the information created by specialists to be rapidly disseminated, meaning generalists can combine information across disciplines to invent something new.
  • Here, David Epstein explains how Nintendo's Game Boy was a case of "lateral thinking with withered technology." He also relays the findings of a fascinating study that found the common factor of success among comic book authors.
Keep reading Show less