If you’ve been having trouble reaching your West Coast cohorts this week, it could be because they’re burning.
No, we’re not referring to the California wildfires (and our good thoughts go to the firefighters and residents). “Burning” means attending Burning Man, a sort of post-modern, Road Warrior-esque Woodstock, except without the mud. Now in its 28th year, it’s held in Nevada’s Black Rock desert (“playa,” in BurnSpeak), and increasingly, techies are attending it as a way to get away from it all.
Techies don’t always reveal where they’re going, lest Burning Man’s sex-and-drugs hedonistic rep haunt them later. People aren’t supposed to talk about their day jobs during the event. And there’s a what-happens-on-the-playa-stays-on-the-playa vibe to it. The spectacular nature of the event makes it difficult to describe.
Nevertheless, with 61,000 tickets sold this year, people are increasingly “out” about being burners, and are using the event for networking, getting jobs, and making venture capital deals, using their shared experience of 40-degree nights, 100-degree days, and blinding dust storms as a bonding exercise.
“[A]lmost imperceptibly over the last few years, it has become a place where CEOs, venture capitalists and startuppers can network (while wearing, at most, swimsuits),” writes Nellie Bowles in the San Francisco Chronicle. “While neither money, branding nor barter are allowed, suddenly companies are getting funded, co-founders are meeting, and people are getting jobs right on the playa. Among the 68,000 costumed and dust-covered attendees are some unexpected names. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg goes. So do Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page [who reportedly hired Eric Schmidt as Google CEO because he was a burner]. And Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.”
Unfortunately, according to some burners, while the techies are trying to get away from it all, they’re also trying to bring it all with them as well — including cellphones, broadband Internet, and Segways. “Anarchists parking Priuses next to ramshackle tents and tarps are now sharing the sand with wealthy techies arriving, via private jets, at luxury desert camps fully staffed with cooks, masseuses and assistants,” Bowles writes.
In fact, some companies are even treating Burning Man as a sort of corporate retreat, writes Gregory Ferenstein of Fast Company. One group of CEO attendees, who pay $10,000 each for the privilege of hanging out at Burning Man with all the creature comforts, “develop a newfound appreciation for the creatives on their teams,” through efforts such as the “weirdo internship,” or spending time with the most outrageous person they can find, to break their own stereotypes, he writes.
However, some say that the influx of techies is distorting the original intention of Burning Man, which started in 1986 on a beach in San Francisco as an arts festival and is still considered to have an arts component, where everyone is a participant and there are no spectators. “The tenets of Burning Man are community, participation, self-expression, and self-reliance. It is anti-capitalism: At ‘La Playa’ you can only barter; no cash allowed,” writes Justine Sharrock of BuzzFeed. “Dedicated Burners spend all year building their elaborate costumes, art cars, and structures, ranging from simple yurts to gigantic pirate ships.”
But in the same way that Silicon Valley outsources programming talent, techies are reportedly outsourcing their art, using temporary worker sites such as Craigslist and TaskRabbit to develop Burning Man art for them, like Renaissance patrons. And the same people who are importing their camps are funding the arts installations as well, leading current Burning Man management to embrace the new arrivals.
Be that as it may — and there will doubtless be months’ worth of post-event processing, as there have been for the past several years, trying to tweak the event and tickets (currently $380) to accommodate all the people who want to attend — the sidewalks and streets of San Francisco’s South Beach are empty tonight, not to be filled up again until after Labor Day weekend.
Getting the playa dust out of their vehicles may take longer.
Simplicity 2.0 is where we examine the intricate and transitory world of technology—through a Laserfiche lens. By keeping an eye on larger trends, we aim to make software that’s relevant to modern day workers, rather than build technology for technology’s sake.
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