Sauce for Goose and Gander

Erika Rand - John Perry Barlow and Friend

Image: Erika Rand


Burning Man founder Larry Harvey has been over in London for the Bilderberg Le Web Conference. Here’s an interview from TechCrunch with Larry and Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Perry Barlow – the man who coined the term “meatspace“, which here at Burners.Me we much prefer to “Defaultia“. Larry looks very much the rock star here, Barlow on the other hand actually IS a rock star.

These two titans of the Bay have some interesting perspectives on the similarities between Burning Man, “le web”, Aborigines, the art world and the Silicon Valley startup culture:

As Barlow points out in the video, early computer culture and the Psychedelia movement grew up alongside each other. There was a “revolutionary zeal in the notion of intellectual empowerment” in Psychedelia which found common cause in tech culture.

During the discussion Harvey points out that Burning Man builds an ephemeral city once a year and bans commercial transactions. Instead, they have pioneered a gift economy which matches much of the “gifting” economics online startups today.

JP Barlow believes we’re returning to a gift economy that actually existed long ago, in former human societies. The ‘scarcity’ economic model which drives much of business today has problems in a new age of potentially limitless space online.

Indeed, points out Barlow, we keep getting encouraged to create scarcity. “I have an artist friend who’s agent invited him to fake his own death to increase the value of his art!” he jokes.

But the collaborative art created at Burning Man is not commercial in the same way, and at the same time it mirrors the world of collaboration online today.

The radical self expression at Burning Man also has parallels in the way Silicon Valley approaches startup culture. Entrepreneurs throw themselves at a problem without knowing if they will succeed, and indeed it’s likely they will fail.

In the same way, the art created at Burning Man can work or it can fail. As Harvey says: “If the unknown isn’t present then art withers”. It’s a phrase that would sound familiar to many entrepreneurs dealing daily with the unknown, but felling all the more driven to create something.

They challenge us to promote social interaction, and boldly embrace the unknown collaborative technological future we hurtle towards…

larry and friends

Image: unknown

Both men feel the march of technology itself is not a concern, it’s – in a word – how we “deal with fear”.

“Any powerful technology has sauce for the goose and the gander… It’s just an extension of humanity,” says Barlow. “You can [also] increase your ability to see inside that which is trying to look inside you.”

Harvey believes the often bad reactions to technologies like Google Glass and fears about a future surveillance society are mainly down to irrational, primordial fears.

“We’re caught between fight and flight. I guess we have to go forward,” he says.

Larry claims “no one at our event has ever signed their art”…for reals? I’m gonna be scouring the playa for artist signatures this year.

As well as Tech Crunch, Larry Harvey made the most of his presence at Le Web with interviews at Tech City Insider and Bloomberg (TV and radio) – preparing for the forthcoming Burning Man IPO, perhaps? They were fascinated about how the relationship between Google and Burning Man evolved, Larry skillfully steers the discussion around to drawing the links to Silicon Valley, the Wild West, and a blank slate. “If you scratch an engineer, you’ll find a closet artist” – err, no thanks Larry, I’m not scratching any crusty engineers and I don’t wanna know what’s in their closets!

Most interesting that Bloomberg drew the links between the secretive Bilderberg Group meeting going on nearby, all the tech luminaries also in town ostensibly for Le Web, and our festival based on the idea of “radical inclusion” – ranked #3 amongst the principles in our recent poll, with “radical self-reliance” actually being #1. “No-one ever turned a scene into a city”, says Larry. A nice way to look at it – a not dissimilar perspective to my own “no-one ever turned a rave into a city”.

Erika Rand - La Contessa and Thunderdome in a Dust Storm, Burning Man, 2005

Image: Erika Rand

Erika Rand - Deconstructing Headspace, Burning Man, 2005.jpg

Kecak, or Balinese Monkey Chant, Burning Man, 2005

Image: Erika Rand