The Burning Man festival has always been associated with geeks and technology — or for the last decade at least. But it’s with some ambivalence that I read Brady Forest’s post last week “Burning Man Gets an API.” Brady says:
The annual tech-art festival in the Nevada desert, starts on Sunday. Normally the attendees leave their phones and laptop behind, but this year that may not be the case. As I ride from Seattle to Black Rock City, NV I am getting SMS from friends on the playa. In anticipation of wifi and possible data connections Foursquare has rolled out Black Rock City as a city (@sfslim is already the Mayor of The Man). If AT&T’s service doesn’t work then attendees may be able to take advantage of OpenBTS’s local SMS project. Most of the attendees aren’t there, but the tech is already making its presence known.
On one level: “cool” . . .
But Burning Man (which I’ve been to only once a few years ago) is also about getting away from the mundane — pretty far away (as you know if you’ve been). While having SMS connectivity is potentially very helpful to people trying to meet or find each other on “the playa” (as the denizens call the expanse of desert there) the creeping integration of familiar tools and Internet technology into the experience threatens to take away some of the “otherworldliness” of the event.
I think it’s fine to distribute information via the Internet from Burning Man in the “off season,” but posting Facebook updates or tweeting from the playa — “whoa, cool car”; “just saw another naked middle-aged guy” — seems to trivialize it in my mind. Technology dominates our lives and there should be places where it doesn’t encroach or have center stage.
For those who haven’t been to Burning Man but are curious — go. It’s one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had and very hard to describe in the abstract.