Burning Man Meets Google: Collaborative Workspaces

In Turner’s “Burning Man at Google: A cultural infrastructure for new media production,” a new kind of collective workspace is proposed. This new workplace can be seen in any workspace from a place like Burning Man to a place like Google. It exists in workspaces dedicated to new media production. This workspace needs three things: a commons, subsidy, and compensation. A commons is a shared space where people are visible to each other so that they are capable of working together. This space allows people are able to gather and collaborate. Subsidy is the materials, resources, and support that people need in order to create. These are the building blocks for the development of ideas. Compensation in this workplace does not come in the form of money. The compensation comes in the form of valuable information sharing, building of reputation, artistic pleasure, and personal connections (Turner 76-77).

At Burning Man, Black Rock City itself becomes the commons where peers can collaborate on their creations. Subsidy comes from the supportive and collaborative culture. Compensation mainly comes from the building of reputation and year-long (possibly life-long) connections with co-collaborators (Turner 80-84). At Google, there are material and electronic commons. These commons consist of databases filled with ideas, open email lists, and collaborative physical workspaces at company headquarters. Subsidy comes from the openness and visibility of all this information across the company. Compensation comes mainly in the form of reputation building (Turner 78-80).

Burning Man is a space that pops up once a year and has become a space where people can collaborate with few or many people in the creation of “small technological projects for artistic purposes” (Turner 81). Networks of collaboration are formed where anyone from an engineer to an artist to create something. This celebration gives people extreme freedom of expression. Google is a permanent and very important company that seeks to encourage its employees to be creative and collaborative everyday they go into work. Google expects every engineer to spend approximately twenty percent of the hours they work to be spent on projects that they personally choose. They are free to make their own choices of projects for this time even if the project is not directly contributing to Google. This allows their employees to enjoy some of the time (if they don’t enjoy the rest of it) they work. This freedom of expression motivates employees and allows them to be more creative in their overall work that they do for Google (Turner 78-80). With these freedoms of creativity who wouldn’t want to attend Burning Man or be employed by Google?

I am hoping that other companies take after Google in the near future. Giving the employees the freedom to create anything they are interested in certainly gives them motivation to work hard for the company and stay with the company. Most companies have workers spending 100 percent of their time on company projects, giving them no time for their own individual expressions of creativity. Google has even had some breakthroughs for the company with this collaboration model such as Google News, which was thought of during someone’s twenty percent personal time. This creative outlet can, in fact, help the company in the long run, even if it’s just in the form of employee satisfaction and loyalty (Turner 78-80).

 

Turner, Fred. “Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production.” New Media & Society. 11.73 (2009): 73-94.

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