Yesterday the New York Times published what is likely to become a landmark piece of rhetoric that may come to define the future of discourse about warfare, especially the use of drones. The article purported to provide background on an incident in February, 2010, in which 23 Afghan civilians were killed in an attack by U.S. helicopters. It turns out that -- just their bad luck -- the Army was suffering from "information overload" that day.
The article goes on, in what can only be dubbed "dronespeak," to explain away all the deadly consequences of the U.S. drone program in terms of information theory and neurobiology:
. . . in the "swirl of data" . . . it's "like a cubicle worker who loses track of an important e-mail under the mounting pile" . . .
. . . screens in jets are packed with too much data and "some pilots call them 'drool buckets' because, they say, they can get lost staring into them" . . . and "data center teams monitor an avalanche of images on screens" . . .
. . . "it's a multiasking generation" . . . but, on second thought, "multitasking might actually have negative effects" . . .
. . . blame it on "theta" . . . a kind of electrical activity in the brain that spikes sharply under stress and data overload . . .
. . . solving the problem is just a matter of "human factors" and "applied cognition" . . . "mindfulness-based mind fitness training" . . .
. . . with the help, of course, of "iPhone apps" . . . "instant messaging systems" . . . and, of course, for relief, "video games" . . .
The article concludes on a triumphalist note; our "cubicle warriors," it seems, will prevail! How can they not, as they experience the apotheosis of our 20th century inventiveness and ingenuity: " 'Death TV' - live video streams from drones above Afghanistan showing Taliban movements, suspected insurgent safehouses and American combat units headed into battle"? "I'll have a phone in one ear, talking to a pilot on the headset in the other ear, typing in chat at the same time and watching the screens . . . . It's intense."
The article's headline was "In New Military, Data Overload Can Be Deadly," and one might be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that the deadly consequences alluded to are ones being suffered by us and not by unsuspecting civilians on the ground half a world away. George Orwell taught us about Newspeak in 1984. Alas, Newspeak had nothing on "dronespeak."