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.
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.
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.