There's a hush in the air...

There's a hush in the air...

Summary: People in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are getting ready for Burning Man - the annual harvest festival -- a celebration of abundance and innovation.


There's been a perceptible hush in the air around San Francisco as people get busy finalizing their Burning Man preparations. You can see cars and vans being packed, bikes being strapped and roof racks piled high.

Burning Man is very much a San Francisco/Silicon Valley festival. It's a type of Dionysian harvest festival where people bring together tremendous creativity and industry and where there's no commercial payoff at all. There's no commerce and there's no advertising and no sponsorships.

Out of a dusty ancient lake bed where nothing can grow, a city of 50,000 people rises, with buildings and structures several stories tall.

A week later it all goes away, back to the bitter alkali dust that is everyone's souvenir of Burning Man because you keep finding it in every nook and cranny.

Burning Man always seems so unique and so fragile, it always seems that it might fall apart, but it hasn't yet.

A core culture...

Burning Man has been around long enough, since 1986, that it is now core to the experience of the culture of the Bay Area. That's why you should plan to go one day.

But a trip to Burning Man is not about throwing a weekend bag into the back of the car. You have to pack everything in and out. There is only ice and coffee that you can buy in the centre camp. You have to bring everything and take everything back out with you.

Also, the environment is hostile. This is where they should test the mars rover because the extremes of temperature, rain, sand storms, freezing wind -- are harsh. This is not a pleasant experience and it's not for the weekend spa goer. Which is why Burning Man attracts a particular type of person.

Playa art...

The best part of Burning Man is the art in the playa -- a truly vast canvas where people create incredible art. Some of it is giant sculptures such as the one above, "Bliss" a 40 foot tall sculpture of a dancing woman built by artist Marco Cochrane, you can see it on Treasure Island.

It's a good example of the huge ambitions of the artists that come together at Burning Man.

It teaches...

The event is important because it teaches a lot of things: town planning, survival in extreme environments, cooperation with others, how to work in teams, how to be productive, and how to be generous. There is no commerce of any type at Burning Man, the art and other projects rarely have any names attached to them.

The entire experience is unmediated, there is no expectation of any kind, it's a meritocracy of in it's truest sense -- there is no history. Each year Burning Man is reborn again, from the same dust but into a totally new world.

Commerce free... mind free

The commerce-free experience is great because it frees up a lot of your mind that you didn't realize was affected. For example, there are dozens of radio stations, several daily newspapers but there's no advertising. Even brand names on the sides of rental vans are blacked out. There is nothing that is "sponsored by Intel" or any visible brands at all. As far as you can see.

It was painful leaving Black Rock City and moving beyond the range of the Burning Man radio stations and having to switch to commercial radio, even PBS. It was so hard having to listen to all those commercials.

Even reading a magazine with adverts was difficult for many days. I realized how much I'm flooded with commercial messages, repeatedly, constantly. It felt very good to be away from all that commerce chatter because it freed up some of my internal dialogue.

That's a great benefit of Burning Man: living for a week in a place where there is no commerce at all. A commerce-free experience -- where else can you get that? Nowhere. Everywhere you go in the world, even remote territories, someone is trying to sell you something -- but not at Burning Man. That's a priceless experience.

All the work that people do to build Black Rock City is donated, there is no commercial intent. To see an entire city functioning, productive, and so innovative -- without any commercial payoff or intent is truly extraordinary. What type of blueprint could it provide for our cities today? [IBM with its Smart Cities program should study Black Rock City.]

Plus, Burning Man can be a great place for networking. Eric Schmidt got his job at Google because he hung out with Larry and Sergey there one year.

Topics: IBM, Google, Intel, IT Employment

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  • Message has been deleted.

    • RE: There's a hush in the air...

      That was GOOD! <a href="">imitation Watches</a>
  • Wait

    So, you write an article extolling the virtues of a commerce-free economy, only to end on the note that BM is a great networking opportunity where you can come out of it like Eric Schmidt? That basically negates everything you've argued until that point. Albeit, this is a tech blog, so it is relevant to make that connection- I understand this. Your tone and phrasing of that last sentence elevated that point's importance, making it seem like such a personal gain is a main reason of going, rather than just an interesting bullet point.

    I would also pick a smaller bone with saying Burning Man is commerce-less. There is an economy, but in the form of trade ("gifting" being the cool, non-corporate-maaaan way of putting it).

    Overall, I wasn't too impressed by this article. I will say though, your viewpoint is consistent with the upper-middle class, baby boomer view of this event and I don't mean that as an insult. I rarely respond to articles on the internet, but felt compelled to pick these bones here. You win some points for being provocative enough to induce that.
    • He only reported the facts

      One must take from it what they wish. Remember, once the festival is over, many will be returning to the world of commerce.

      Having no job can make that quite difficult.
      Tim Cook
  • RE: There's a hush in the air...

    I wold like to go there to this festival! I always dream to go on Silicon Valley!
    Mike from <a href="">Usi Sticla</a>
  • Commerce-less lifestyle not sustainable

    The author writes about this place that would be nice to live in long-term because of the lack of commerce. However, he overlooks the fact that all the stuff needed to survive this commune is acquired someplace else where commerce exists. There is a big difference between a vacation place where you bring your own supplies and a settlement where you bring short-term supplies to keep you going while you establish infrastructure and trade of some sort.