Burning Man, Google, and Digital Culture?


Burning Man is a week long festival experience where information technologists and others gather and essentially form a pop-up community in the middle of the Alkali desert. Founder Larry Harvey started Burning Man in 2004, and it has been ever expanding since then. The festival is centered around art and technology, and interestingly communal living. There are Ten Principles of Burning Man that are “…a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed…”.

What does this have to do with digital culture? That was my question, too. After looking through the website, I found a few of these founding principles to have a logical and inherent connection to digital culture, other principles were more difficult to connect. Here’s a break-down of the most interesting:

(radical) Inclusion: digital culture, and digital communities can be seen as focused around the ideas of participation and inclusion. Members of a digital community or online virtual reality must include others, as this is what creates it. Burning man, as well, focuses on inclusion because unlike other festivals, almost all of the content is made by the participants.

(radical) Self-expression: The philosophy of self expression at Burning Man states that “no one other than the collaborating group can determine its content” In digital culture, this holds true on some occasions, but not all. some content can be generated by the user, but censored or manipulated by the platform; in other cases, all content is user generated and is the truest sense of self-expression.

Participation: this one is inherent in the digital culture sense – if there were no participants, there would be no market. Digital culture and, more so, new medias, must have participation – just like Burning Man. At a structural level, if no one went to burning man then it would not exist. Their philosophy on radical participation, however, pushes the envelope too far to like to digital culture.

Immediacy: New medias have successfully made everything we do faster; at this rate, we expect immediacy. we expect answers when and how we want them, and as a culture we are losing our ability to specialize knowledge and are just skimming the surface. At Burning Man, immediacy is seen as a cornerstone of their culture. “immediacy experiences is recognition of…the reality of those around us, participation in society….”

(In an article by Fred Turner, Sage Publications, the cross over between Burning Man and Silicon Valley is discussed. Above is just my interpretation of a few points. For his entire article (definitely worth reading) please look here.)

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