The Positivity In Popularity

A guest post from reader Shifty Fox.

1507464_f520Good ol’ Black Rock City. Home sweet home, am I right? I stand in awe at how much it has grown over the years. These days it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of this magical and idyllic temporary city in the desert. A dusty Shangri-La of sorts, in which tens of thousands of people flock to each year and tens of thousands more attempt to but can’t as a result of a population limit which in effect creates a ticket supply and demand. The good word is out and it seems like everybody wants to see what this place is all about. Now, there have always been opinions of the event becoming too popular even well over a decade or two ago. But ever since 2011 when the event first sold out, these opinions seem much more prevalent. Could it be true? Has Burning Man become too popular an event, or a victim of its own success that is simply too big for its britches? We have all read the articles and heard the opinions about how it isn’t what it used to be, and how “it was better back in the day…” Though personally I generally find it hard to agree with these viewpoints because I feel they are somewhat narrow-minded opinions that only stem from the individuals perspicacity and lack of insight, in relation to the popularity of Burning Man.

557227_10201150757269734_1559314795_nAnd fair enough. If we look at the effect that popularity has on a lot of things, it doesn’t always lead to the most desirable end results. There are small intimate venues that gain popularity and over time become the next hot bar or club spot. Small bands and DJs that start out in a garage or a bedroom make it big and are often considered sellouts once they attain fame. And there are the music festivals that started out as fairly small events and go on to become annual massive music festivals with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, complete with corporate sponsorship and all. The state of popularity as it pertains to events such as Burning Man and other similar festivals is often shaded with negativity. There is this feeling that when so many people become privy to something great, it takes away from the unique and magical qualities that made it so special to begin with. Though a part of me can’t help but think that this feeling is somewhat selfish in its existence. After all, if something is so wonderful and positive, shouldn’t it be shared for all to enjoy? Not hoarded by a few?

Image: Trey Ratcliff/StuckInCustoms

Now what I mean when I say selfish is that I feel people often don’t look past their own disgruntled feelings of dissatisfaction over minor issues that really only directly affect the individual and their ability to have a good time. For example, the thought that because of the progressive popularity of the event, there are increasingly too many virgin Burners attending annually. Or the issue of ticket supply and demand, which is directly related to the events popularity. Often fueled by ego, an individual can become irritated because they didn’t get a ticket and someone who they feel is less deserving, actually did get one. Or the thought that with the events popularity comes what is believe to be the wrong kind of crowd. Those that are said to spectate and not participate; ‘the bro, the weekend warrior, the wealthy 1%er, or other types of people that some individuals believe should not be in attendance. But all of these things are selfishly only an issue to the individual because they believe it interferes with their standards of the burn experience as they see it fit for them. They are possibly not seeing the bigger picture and how popularity affects more than just them and their good time. And I believe these feelings and opinions do not accurately reflect the very real and positive effects that come from the popularity of the Burning Man event. Perhaps it is difficult for some to see past their own comforts and desires.

believeI am convinced there is a bigger picture to it all. I believe Burning Man to be an exception to the idea that popularity allows for negative results to culminate, and subsequently end an entity’s golden era. I believe there are direct and indirect ways that the popularity of Burning Man is positively changing individual’s hearts and minds, as well as affecting families and communities around the world for the better. I truly believe there is positivity in popularity.

Over the years Burning Man has given way to a number of great organizations that are doing wonderful things locally as well as worldwide. The seemingly endless streams of inspiration, creativity, and motivation that emanates from these wonderful organizations, cannot be denied as a positive force. Some of the more prominent organizations that are a direct consequence of the Burning Man event include:

brs_header 4
Black Rock Solar – The mission of BRS is stated as “promoting environmental stewardship, economic development and energy independence by providing not-for-profit entities, tribes and under-served communities with access to clean energy, education, and job training.” This is done often by donating hours of labor, solar products, and professional installation of solar products to these under-served communities.

Burners Without Borders – The objectives of BWB are to “promote activities around the globe that support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches to disaster relief and grassroots initiatives that make a positive impact.” The Philippines, Haiti, and the United States are few of the places they have offered disaster relief for various unfortunate catastrophes such as fires, hurricanes, and floods.

Black Rock Arts Foundation – The folks at BRAF have made it their mission “to support and promote community, interactive art and civic participation.” This is done through a process of presenting grants to a number of artists and arts programs. BRAF works with various communities all over the globe to produce creative and often unusual works of public art that serve to conjure the inspiration in people, and create a sense of community.

The Regional Network – This is the most prominent byproduct immediately stemming from the popularity of Burning Man. The event has inspired others to organize and create events with a similar ethos to the Burning Man event. Currently there are roughly 130 regional families spread across 6 continents in 31 countries around the world that are officially affiliated with the Burning Man Organization. There are also an untold number of non-affiliated groups and events as well.

These organizations are byproducts directly related to the popularity of the Burning Man event, which is a melting pot for like-minded people, that gives them the ability to network and become inspired to create these types of organizations, families, and events. These are only four listed examples but there is a plethora of other small groups and organizations that have come into existence all around the globe as a result of the growth of the Burning Man event, community, and culture. These are undoubtedly examples of positivity in popularity.


Open Playa

Aside from all the positive effects emanating from organizations and regional groups, we also have the individuals themselves and the profound and life changing experiences that are often had while attending Burning Man. The capacity for positive energy that the individual radiates back out into the default world long after they have returned home is something that should never be allowed to reach a maximum limit. I refuse to think we need less people sharing in a culture that produces such untold amounts of utter positivity.

Image: Unknown/DustToAshes

Image: Dust To Ashes

There is an infinite list of constructive things to be gained by the individual while marinating in this playa pool of positivity; whether it is a sense of family and community, the feelings of impassioned closeness with others, emotional purging and sense of spirituality, the use of social skills in an unconventional world, the networking, the friends, the fun that never ends, the projects, the laughs, the cries… the self-discovery sunset and tequila sunrise. It is virtually an endless source of positive energy, ideas, and knowledge. And it is largely (if not completely) due to the growth and popularity of Burning Man, that all of these things have the ability to thrive there and continue to inspire others who visit our dusty home, to appreciate, motivate, create, and then take these values home with them, so that they can be injected into the veins of life, and the individual can and go on to inspire others to do the very same thing.

For most of us who have attended it is easy to understand the harmonious and magical way in which Burning Man touches many peoples lives, and how it continues to directly effect most of us on a daily basis. But it may be more difficult to imagine the even higher untold numbers, possibly in the millions, of people that are indirectly affected by the Burning Man community in roundabout ways, without ever having known it. I was once one of those people.

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

About 17 years ago I was a completely lost and irresponsible kid who really had very little direction and even less drive. Always feeling like a lone black sheep I carried around a lot of weight and stress with me from various things in my life. From family issues, to the deaths of loved ones, and throw in a handful of other destructive devices, they were very confusing times indeed. On top of that I was still trying to find out what my worth was to the world. Over time I had tried various things to alleviate this weight but as a young adult back then, I really had no idea what I was doing. Who really does anyhow? Things were pretty obscure and uncertain at the time. But it was by chance, (or fate?) that I would soon make friends with a few Burneresque types in a small town up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Through my friendships with these great people I would eventually go on to participate in the creation of small events and get-togethers that carried a similar Burning Man ethos and vibe. I had yet to attend Burning Man at the time, and wouldn’t for some years. The clueless kid that I was, I had no idea that at the time my life was already beginning to be affected by the Burning Man community in this second handed sort of way, years before I had ever attended the actual event.


Image: Dust To Ashes

Image: Dust To Ashes


La Contessa

I eventually moved to the land that originally gave life to the Burning Man event, the beautiful and unique city of San Francisco. I fully immersed myself in the Burner culture and community. I finally attended Burning Man, as well as other events and began volunteering for little projects here and there. I tried to educate myself as much as I could on the history of this fascinating experiment of a not so conventional community in the desert. I had been turned on to this seemingly endless world of ideas and creativity. I found a number of people whose life stories were similar to mine, people who had imagination and ingenuity, and radiated positivity. I fell in love with it all. And over the years as I continue to bask in these pools of positivity and meet new and interesting people, I can’t help but see all the wonderful things that have been created by Burners. It makes me curious about all the great things that have yet to come in to existence by the many potential Burners of the future.


Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

So now here I am, having done this dance in the dust year after year for over a third of my life. I have undoubtedly evolved mentally and grown as a human being, for the better. I feel eternally grateful for the things I have learned in that desert, and the experiences I have had. I have a stronger bond with my family and have forged close relationships with a number of great people that I may have never met otherwise. All of these people that I relate to have seen the changes and the effects the event has had on me, and in that, they have felt the effects themselves. In the desert I have learned to let go of the things that stop me from living my life and I have taken those lessons and reflected them back out to the rest of the world. I shudder to think of the road I may have traveled had this community not diverted the direction of my life and pushed me down a different path. I can honestly say that Burning Man has changed me as a person. It has transformed my interactions with people, and has forever broadened my horizons and the outlook that I have of this magnificent world on a daily basis.

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

In a way it can be said that Burning Man inadvertently affects every single person in the default world that we Burners come in contact with, without them ever even knowing it. The same way it did to me when I was younger. Before I had ever stepped foot on that desert floor. Now I pose the question, if Burning Man can have such a strong and profound effect on me, and I am just one person, how many others has it affected in this way? And even more importantly, how many others have the potential to be affected by it in the future? Only time will tell. As the event grows in popularity, so does the community. And subsequently the culture, the networks, the families, the art, the love, and most importantly the human individual all grow with it.

So now, every time I hear someone say that Burning Man is too popular or too big for its own good, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside and think to myself, “if you only knew…”


Image: Michael Holden

Image: Michael Holden

Gifting To Create a World of Plenty

mass mosaic mission

It’s nice to be able to write a positive story about goodness. Free goodness coming to this community and the world, thanks to the generosity and innovation of Burners.

One of the great things about Burning Man is if you need something, the community will often rally to provide. Not everyone can afford a Private Concierge to arrange their camp, designer costumes, or a $1000 scalper ticket. Some Burners are left to be radically self-reliant. Others are happy to help whoever they can.

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

When I first went to Burning Man in 1998, I rushed back to Australia and told my friend Snorky all about it. “Sounds great man”, he said. “Can’t wait to go one day”. That day finally came in 2010. Burner Snorky hit the ground running, he was ready for Burning Man before he was born! The only difference being a virgin made, compared to the next year, was more people wanting to give him stuff.

His Burning Man experience inspired him to use his other experience: his background of being an Internet guru from the “Dot Com days” to create Mass Mosaic: a free service where anyone with wants can connect with anyone who has something to share. Maybe you can trade, maybe you can gift, maybe you can barter or sell. They are trying to remove scarcity from the sharing economy, and replace it with abundance.

Burning Man has always been an experiment in civilization without economy. The so-called “Gift economy” combines giving people things they didn’t know they wanted, and generously helping out Burners in need.

Mass Mosaic have now created Burners Exchange (any type of exchange) and Burners Gifting (gifting only), special mosaics just for Burners. It’s totally free. It helps Burners who Have something to offer, connect with those who Want something. Transactions can be gifts, trades, or for money.

Snorky describes it like this:

snorky time capsuleBurning Man teaches us that everybody is abundant in something and when that is brought to the playa, we see that really anything is possible. Mass Mosaic brings that energy beyond the playa. When everybody lists what they want and have and how they are open to exchange it, then the abundance of what is often peoples hidden value is brought to the forefront. Mass Mosaic has created a special group for Burners to exchange within. Burners aren’t limited to exchanging within that group though, they can create their own groups and exchange with anybody on the site too.

Abundance for all – sounds good to me. Try it now.

Mass Mosaic’s co-founder Snorky says:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all are constantly exchanging with the world. From breathing air to getting gas for our cars, exchange is needed to sustain. The natural world can help us understand the fundamentals of this exchange. In nature, exact right amount of resources are exchanged for survival without the friction of money or social structures. At Burning Man, not having many of our modern comforts (i.e. being in nature) allows us to live very closely to the natural principles of exchange, and move with their ebb and flow.  It unlocks an animalistic and tribal attunement in the process.

Burning Man reminds us, through the gift economy and the collective ethos, that exchange is about much more than making money. This unlocks a new dimension of potential that expresses itself as abundance, happiness, and cultural flourishing.

Part of the way that Burning Man helps us exchange is by removing the “zero-sum” dynamic, whereby the person with the resource charges the maximum possible and the person in need parts with as much money as they can bear. This essentially cancels out what otherwise could be a synergistic experience.

Mass Mosaic uses the same principles in nature and like Burning Man facilitates exchange with the environment in a more advantageous way for all parties. But Messed Mosaic goes further by allowing every type of exchange that’s possible in any tribe. The website allows gifting, borrowing, sharing, trading, renting, buying, selling, collaborating, reusing and open exchange. The holistic result is that everyone has far more opportunity to live abundantly.

Mass Mosaic models how exchange has happened with humanity since the beginning of time. There wasn’t always money! These means came to serve in need and have become overused in the process.

Burning Man teaches us about the village economy but in the context of a modern society. In the village, your relationships were the most important part of your survival – not your financial resources!

Another lesson from Mass Mosaic and Burning Man is that ownership is decreasing in importance. It’s the realization that all we are really after is the benefits of owning something, not the ownership itself! When you have the benefits without the maintenance, expenses, and other responsibilities that come with ownership, you are able to live more flexibly and economically.

Perhaps all we are seeking to learn is that we are complete. We are seeking to learn that the world loves us and supports us. We are seeking to learn that our communities well-being is inexplicably tied to our own. Perhaps we are seeking to learn that we are all one, expressing our individuality like an infinite mosaic of color that make up one big picture.

The structure of community is deeply connected to how easily that community sustains and thrives. It’s time we proactively design and define this structure so it is not dictated by the existing biased systems that rely dominantly on capitalism as a means to live healthy and happy lives. Both Burning Man and Mass Mosaic do this in a way that is proving relevant on larger and larger scales. 

To further this experiment, Mass Mosaic has created different groups and hubs for Burning Man on their website with the hopes that it helps the Burner Community live abundantly on and off the playa using its principles. Check it out at [link]

Co-founder Rob Jameson says the system is modelled on “tensegrity“, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller

Tensegrity is a complementary pair of forces. One is continuous pulling in and the other discontinuous, pushing.

This can be seen all around us in the physical world. From wheel rims to bridges, there are examples of tensegrity structures all around us, often as strongest structures and systems we build. Another example of tensegrity structure is a geodesic dome. The struts connect in a series of triangles so that the discontinuous pushing and continuous pulling makes the dome get stronger as more weight is added.

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

…It is a shame that the mainstream society believes that in order to be productive, the requirement is to work 40 hours per week. The entire point of technology is to leverage its capability so that we can thrive together more easily. This does not mean that machines should replace us, but rather that a job that used to take someone 1000 hours to do, now takes someone one hour to manage and the machine can do the rest automatically. This is the nature of progress, and our lives should have less restriction because of it. 

…We are beginning to see tensegrity models gain traction in society. Burning Man is a great example, which relies dominantly on the gift economy to exchange in a pop-up civilization. The gift economy is a simple type of tensegrity economy. It’s clear from the Burning Man events, which arise from nothing in the middle of the desert, that this model can produce tremendous cultural and social value.

Burning Man is the beginning of the shift, and eventually will be far surpassed by models that are more deeply connected to the principle of tensegrity, rather than a specific embodiment of it (like gifting economy).

New York-based Mass Mosaic recently won a place in Startfast, an East coast startup incubator and accelerator similar to San Francisco’s famous YCombinator. The idea behind their software is a world of plenty and abundance. Try out their Beta version and tell us what you think. I can see this idea being very useful to Burners.

Their CTO has some good words to say on workplace diversity and Radical Inclusion at SC:

0714-lw-alison-gianotto_628798I am not an expert on women in technology. I am an expert on technology. However I can say that for many of us, simply being female in technology often forces you to champion the cause. I have been asked to speak about women in technology at technical conferences (versus talking about technology at technical conferences) because the assumption is that being female, I would want to present on that issue.

When I evaluate potential jobs, I consider what impact that may have on the perception of women in technology, and when I get up to speak at conferences, I always have the nagging feeling that my performance on stage may directly impact people’s perception of all women in tech since they don’t see enough of us up there to have a broader view.

Whether I truly felt confident or not, I presented myself as very self-assured in almost every situation, which is different than many women, who are taught from an early age that being too confident, too self-assured, is unladylike. This self-assuredness leads to labels like “bossy,” and another one that starts with a “b” that SC Magazine won’t print. The same characteristics encouraged in young men are often considered problematic in young women. Maybe this played a part in my experiences. Maybe not. I know confident women that still had a much harder time than I did.

Technology is competitive, and I’ve seen this industry chew up and spit out men who lacked this perceived level of confidence, too. I don’t think that’s the whole story, but it may play a part, and it’s important to realize that being perceived as “tough” or “thick-skinned” often isn’t enough, nor should it be required. Would you rather have the most self-assured employee or the most talented? 

It’s time to realize that diversity in technology matters because the most arrogant person in the room isn’t always the most talented, and overlooking those people who don’t fit our arbitrary notions of what “real” techies look like severely limits our talent pool. When done right, technology is intensely creative, and diverse communities thrive because of, not in spite of, the variety of experiences we all bring and the passions that drive us. 

Limiting our choice of candidates is what truly weakens us. This isn’t about holding hands and singing campfire songs, and it’s not about filling quotas. This is about growing up and recognizing that when you want to hire people smarter than you, sometimes they’re not going to look or act like you

Read more at SC magazine.

amanda palmer future of music

Amanda Palmer is one of the Dresden Dolls

Recently, Mass Mosaic teamed up with Amanda Fucking Palmer, who wanted to promote her book The Art of Asking. She was looking for an easy way that people who had read the book could pass it on to others who wanted to read it, but couldn’t afford it. Mass Mosaic fit this need so well, but also opened an unexpected new market: people who bought the book for complete strangers, just because they wanted it. Within a couple of hours, Amazon completely sold out of Amanda’s book, as people all started Gifting it all over the world.

amanda palmer

Mass Mosaic has described the explosion of Gifting The Art Of Asking in this heart-warming blog post.

I helped out and gave some Kindle editions of the book to people in different countries who wanted it. One of them blogged about it here.

It feels good to give. Mass Mosaic is an invention that promotes kindness and helping others – isn’t this what it’s all about?

Try Burners Exchange or Burners Gifting for yourself, or use Mass Mosaic to give someone a book or a Christmas miracle. To add to the mosaics, you have to sign up with Mass Mosaic, login and click the Join Mosaic button.


BMOrg Speaks to Address Community Concerns

Will Chase, BMOrg’s Minister of Propaganda, has made a statement in response to the community’s concerns about Commodification Camps. He wants us to know that he’s listening. And he told his bosses the right folks about our concerns.


Will Chase, Burning Man's Minister of Propaganda

Will Chase, Burning Man’s Minister of Propaganda

Hey everybody, THANK YOU for these comments. I really do appreciate it. My intention for this post was to bring some facts into the discussion that I’d seen some people missing, and to see and hear what people were thinking and feeling. And you made your thoughts very clear, and we’re listening.

Like I said, part of my job is to keep my finger on the pulse of the community, and this conversation is part of that. I needed to hear exactly this input. This is great information and perspective to bring into our discussions about this issue, and they’re being read by everybody involved. So again, thank you.

I absolutely take your point about conflating the issue of virgins with turnkey camps … that wasn’t my intention, but since they often come up in the same conversation (XYZ people are screwing up Burning Man! We should keep them out!), I thought it made sense to combine them here. In retrospect, I should’ve broken the two topics out into different posts. My bad.

The big takeaway I’ve gotten here (and shared with the right folks at BMHQ) is that you’re a) not happy, and b) wanting to hear solid facts, answers and transparency with regard to Burning Man’s policies around turnkey camps. And I can tell you that’s in the works — we’re processing a number of moving parts here.

Lastly, I stand by what I wrote here. I believe deeply in the 10 Principles (I have kinda made it my life’s work), and I don’t want (and refuse) to see them eroded. And that includes Radical Inclusion. This stuff isn’t easy, but I believe we can work together as a community to solve this problem.

Thanks again. Pulse taken.

What about the one question the community really wants answered:




Yet again, they pretend this question doesn’t even exist. Apparently, we only want solid facts and transparency about Burning Man’s turnkey camps policy. Ummm, no. How about you start calling them Commodification Camps – that would be a step in the right direction. It would make it seem like you are not only “listening”, but actually hearing. We already know the policy: it’s to place Commodification Camps on K Street, scalp them all the tickets they want for $650, and if they’re not participating, chide them in the hope that they’ll do better next time. And, pretend it’s not even a problem, since there’s a broad spectrum of Turkey camps, and at the same time there were only 25 Turkey camps…and only a very small number of those were “doing it wrong”.

Only yesterday, they told us:

We’ve received more than 400 post-event emails and hundreds of comments through the Feedback form

Was the content of these hundreds of emails and comments really so different from the 100-odd comments they’ve got on their blog in the last couple of days? Is this really all unexpected news to the guy whose job is to have his finger on the pulse of the community’s concerns? He didn’t know, but we told him, and he told the right folks, and they’re listening, so now they know?

More likely, they realized their feeble attempts to misdirect our attention away from the story, re-define the problem as a “spectrum” and “hardly noticeable”, and put their typical corporate PR spin on it weren’t working.

Solid facts, answers to the community’s questions, and transparency shouldn’t be something that only comes out of this “non-profit” when the community is assembled at their gates ready to riot, with pitchforks and flaming torches. Forget the Tin Principles, honesty, openness and integrity should be the fundamental essence of everything they do. Not just because that’s a “nice to have”: as a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, they’re actually required by law to operate with a high standard of ethics. As well as the law, it’s on Article and Page 6-9 of their Bylaws.

Burning Man ended nearly 2 months ago. Their “community feedback” process ended more than 2 weeks ago. Sure, 400 emails is a lot, but one person can read that many in a day. And if they’re all saying the same thing, the message isn’t that hard to distill and report up the chain of command to the masters.

Once again, transparency from BMOrg is…”coming soon”.

If you’re against Commodification Camps, you might want to check out this petition. So far in our poll, it is literally the 1% that support them. A third agree with me that they should be allowed if they have a public participation area, and a majority two thirds say No.