Burning Man is Going Online
To many of those who co-create it every year, Burning Man isn’t just the best party in the world, it’s the best place in the world. For the sole purpose of the experience of doing so, seventy thousand people engage in the pleasurable inconvenience of conjuring an ephemeral city in a desert, and collectively then live almost every aspect of human existence differently therein: home, friendship, food, architecture, time, connection are all re-invented and re-experienced every year at Burning Man. As gatherings go, Burning Man is the most all-encompassing, philosophical, and real.
This year of course, the Burn has moved online, something that presents a legitimate opportunity for skepticism to anyone who has been to the ‘real’ thing.
Indeed, the idea of an online version seems at first blush wholly far-fetched given how the regular embodied experience would seem to be almost the logical opposite of online social experience as we know it: it is after all the distance from interruption, the freedom from surveillance, the transcendence from the wretched seniority of seeming over being on social media, the sense of a pause in the everyday run of things that permits the participants of Burning Man to open up and live in full-bore openness to each other, in freedom from the banalities that dominate their everyday consciousnesses.
It demands simply an act of collective imagination
But Burning Man is and always has been an act of collective imagination. And imagination is a human attribute that doesn’t evaporate when we interact with computers. To certain of us, then, the online burn presents an opportunity to re-express the magic of Burning Man in a new medium, not to mention a wonderful opportunity to connect and experience joy in these dubious times.
BM org have seen this too, and with the luck of already having themed the 2020 Burn as the Multiverse, invited a handful of teams each to create a ‘universe’ in this ‘multiverse’.
The Sparkleverse Recipe to Bring the Burn Online
We at Sparkleverse are one such team. Having experimented with 9 online parties at scale during the lockdown within the CoReality Collective (the learnings from the first of which can be found here), we have a particular philosophy and perspective on the possibilities of experiential profundity that a mixture of active participation and the right kind of technology can accomplish. We believe the online Burn can be just as real as the physically colocated version. And we’re keen to facilitate anyone else who is ready to believe similarly in participating in and enjoying this years’ Burning Man.
To share our thinking, and perhaps to inspire participation, this is a sketch of our design thinking and approach for the online Burn. There are twelve core features we have implemented and which stand ready to go.
1. Simple, accessible web technology
Unlike the rest of life, Burning Man apsires to radical inclusion. Anyone and everyone is welcome. When on the Playa, nobody cares who you are in ‘default reality’. As an aside, this has a quite unexpected experiential status (freedom from status and prejudice, that only goes to reveal how regrettably potent and all-encompassingAnd while there are certain geographical, financial and logistical inconveniences associated with attending that mean that at the actual burn West-coast affluent Americans are rather too generously represented, the spirit of the place could hardly be more welcoming.
This is one of the aspects of the Burn, So in designing the Sparkleverse, we aimed for maximal accessibility (ubiquitous web-based technology) and the simplest possible ways to create in the space.
2. Potent tools for space creation
The astonishing and distinguishing feature of Black Rock City is that it is built each year by its participants from scratch in the salt-pan of a harsh and featureless desert. (The same is true of the real world, if only with a more historic time-scale). As one wanders around BM, it is this subtext- that everything you see, despite its ambition and magnificence, is built without supervision by the very participants among whom you are roving,- that lends every moment of lived existence therein a certain joyful inclusiveness: “we built this”. Rather than being a mere spectator, one has
It is this radical participation, entirely decentralised, entirely welcoming to all and every flavour of creative impulse, that is internal both to the magnificence of what results, and it to its felt significance. Because anyone who can build may do so, the results is the unihibited creative expression of the widest possible diversity of consciousnss, given the participants.
So we have created tools that allow anyone to open up a space.
3. An explorable Playa level
The Playa in physical Burning Man is an immense space seven miles wide, with a horseshoe of camps accounting for the city suburbs, and the wide open desert Playa the equivalent of the nearby countryside or park space. This fearsome desert space is the receptacle for all the fun that then takes place, once populated with all the art, camps, etc etc.
For online burn, we wanted to retain the iconic horse-shoe and overall layout, while adding a Sparkling diamond trashfence- a fence that encases the whole., which acts both as a border and as a trap for any wind-strewn matter-out-of-place (moop).
There will be two methods of navigating this Playa. The bird’s eye view mode, which will allow people to hover over it, clicking into whichever experiences they please. And True-Burner- mode, where you will be placed with video avatar and ambient audio on the Playa and pootle around at locomotory or bicycle speed – more of which later.
Because you live in the desert for a week at Burning Man, where and how you camp plays a key role in the constitution of your experience. Camp at the burn is mostly where you sleep, where you eat, where you build, where you host, and where you experience the most engaged community. It is the power of collaboration in camps that gives rise to some of the most delicious shared experiences, and camps are often the kernel of real-world communities who come back year after year.
For our digital camps, we allow people to add a second-layer map ‘beneath’ the Playa, which people can click through to from the Playa. On this second level map, Camp creators can then arrange a set of images that each lead when clicked upon to a . You can see how many people are within each of the rooms in a camp, and enter any of them by clicking.
People will be able to sleep in digital tents in their camps, and more generally camp will be a place to which digital burners retreat to chill with their friends before another sortie into the indeterminate adventures available on the broader Playa.
5. Art pieces
Alongside (and indeed within) camps on the Playa, Art pieces and performance venues are part of the necessary ornaments of the Playa.
When you encounter an art piece, you can click through to a special space featuring an embedded iFrame of any web experience, accompanied with video chat so you can talk with your fellow burners as you admire the art- the source of many a fine encounter at the actual burn. There will also be information about the art and a message board to leave thoughts and admiration.
6. Performance spaces
So much of one’s experience at Burning Man is in encountering spaces constituted by their human presence: not just something. to view, but a social world to interact with. Unlike the contemporary web, these experiences are *hosted*- actively shaped live by the behaviour of their creators and participants.
Performance spaces in the Sparkleverse are mediated by Zoom rooms. Don’t worry, this most banal of business tools can be made to sing with the right technique (see the Sparkleversity, whose function is described below.) They will include anything and everything, from comedians, DJs, philosophical discussions, interactive mermaid shows, workshops in yoga/ mindfulness/star-gazing/origami and any of the other myriad things that imagination will bring forth.
7. Pleasurably inconvenient entry
One way of understanding Burning Man is as a sequence of experiences that gradually distance the participant from the preoccupations of their everyday life. Loss of contact with default reality is accomplished as much by the journey to, as the contents within, the burn. In this, the road trip out from, say, San Francisco or Mexico City, is a key part of the experience.
There will be two ways to onboard into the digital Playa. The first is excessively convenient: you just go in. Heroic mode, by contrast, will replicate to some small extent the experience of a roadtrip to the burn. You’ll be put in a car for an hour (we were talked out of 8 hours because it’s ‘not feasible’) with three other burners. You will then be in a time-locked capsule where the only thing to do is watch the cactuses going by and the diminishing count-down timer, and chat to the fellow occupants of your virtual vehicle.
Besides the company you keep it will be boring of course, but it won’t be boring of course because you will be gleefully making new friends, building anticipation and feeling the claws of everyday life gradually slipping away from your consciousness as the great wide-open reaches of its potentiality begin to open up.
8. Digital camping
During onboarding, everyone will have to make a choice about their specific bedding arrangements. A choice of RV, Hexayurt, Kodiak tent or standard tent: for all their creativity, burners have their preferred ways of living.
Your tent will then find a space in camp or on Playa. It will have space for up to four occupants. It will be lockable, so as to create space for intimate sharing and goodness. We recommend people sleep inside their tents with computer on- so they can be woken by friends who’ve come to find them to advise them of some exciting happening the missing of which sleep can be no excuse.
9. Serendipity on the Playa
While we will reluctantly permit a “bird’s eye view” mode in travelling the Playa, this has the limitation of lacking limitation. In the physically co-located Burn, when you encounter someone on the outer edges of the Playa, they haven’t just clicked to get there. You both won the right to a sense of joy at the mere fact of interacting with each other because by necessity you committed an hour of their life to cycling or wandering out there.
So heroic mode will see you constrained to human speed on the Playa, with a little video avatar, and ambient audio. What you give up in convenience you’ll more than make up for in the joys of encounter. Often it is during this journeying interspace that the most magic encounters happen.
10. Live schedule, with pot luck button
When I went to Burning Man for the second time, I was surprised and disappointed to realise that a schedule existed, which seemed to contrary to the spirit of anarchic discovery. Yet my prejudice has since mellowed: some burners embrace the schedule, informing themselves of magic happenings and zipping around the Playa to intercept them. So we provide easy access to a “what’s on now” and schedule to allow this technique to find effective expression.
While there is a schedule for burning man, the decentralised immensity of creativity often means that there is also call for a “pot luck” button, where you’re simply thrown into the next experience without any awareness of what it is. (See also ‘Dust storms’ below for another example of designed vulnerability to what happens next).
11. Digital costumes
It is a matter of great intrigue in human affairs, the power of the costume. The act of dressing up has tremendous effect on consciousness. Dressing up can reframe how we think, feel, act and perceive. Unlike a 3-D avatar, it also holds space for our face and eyes, for who we are. It is this mixture that makes augmented video, not 3-D avatars, the path to ‘virtual reality’.
And so goes that at parties, dressing up is an act of generosity both to self and to other. To the self, it garners freedom: it allows us greater motility in exploring fresh facets of our potentiality. When others see us in costume, they are likewise freed up from the preconscious prejudices and habits that suck the potential from most everyday interactions. So costume is a vastly important piece of. This is best done by physically dressing up, but even then there is an important role to be played by digital costume.
This is where Snap filters come in (and to a more banal extent, zoom backgrounds). We have SNAP to thank for arguably the most joyful approach to technology in the contemporary tech-o-sphere. I for one thought that when they IPO-ed claiming to be “camera company” that we were being treated to vacuous salesmanship, but I was wrong: snap filters are the source of digital costumes of the very best quality. And with Snap Studio 3, we are.
So we’ll be creating lotsof costumes for this digital world, and we encourage you to do so too. There’ll also be digital costume making workshops in the digital realm.
12. Mixed reality spaces
A little analysis reveals that the fundament of conscious experience- the human body- is just as real in the event of an online Burn as it would be at a Burn on the Playa. It’s just that the bodies are spatially separated (even if they remain temporally unified).
Nonetheless, leveraging the immediate physical world is an important aspect of the Sparkleverse product at its best. So we are encouraging performers and artists to have their co-participants leverage their immediate environments a bit like physical costumes to help amplify their sense of immersion.
At CoReality parties we have had great success with mixed reality hot tubs for example, where everyone runs and enters their baths while placing their device on a well positioned nearby chair so they can have the sensory experience of sharing a hot tub at a distance.
These kinds of experience will be numerous in the Sparklever.se.
13. The Sparkleversity
Burning man is created by its participants, and since this is the first time it has been attempted online, there is call for a resource of shared materials to educate, inspire and animate the sense of capability and participation of those who fancy taking part.
So you can find the Sparkleversity here.
14. Heroic stats and achievements
For the most part, Burners have the impression that they are heroes. This impression is accurate. The mere fact of survival on the Playa, a desert lacking any native resources for survival such as water and with brutal temperatures (both hot and not at all), excites people to embrace quite unusual levels of physical exertion. One experiences hunger, thirst and tiredness in new and powerful ways that collectively animate the body, in turn leading to an amplified capacity for pleasure and perception.
For the post part, this element of proceedings will require mixed reality participation (cutting off water supply in your flat, participating for long periods of time, eating only when back in camp), but we help this along on the product side by letting participants know when they’ve done noteworthy things such as each milestone of 12 hours spent on Playa. Serious burners will do the whole 192 hours.
By making these achievements public on their profile, alongside the list of all camps visited, the infectious heroism of others may inspire all burners to new heights of participation (as well as providing a new vector of discovery).
15. Burning Man Information Radio
To those who Burn each year, Burning Man Information Radio provides a joyful accompaniment to the adventures around the Playa. Listening to this very diverse and amusing station gives a sense of presence and community across the immense distant reaches of the Black Rock party universe, amounting to a form of ambient emotional perception, which one often pipes into the brain while manoeuvring around the hot sands.
So we’ll be providing access to this marvellous radio station from our top-bar where the whimsy and magic of what’s going on not just in the Sparkleverse but across the Multiverse can provide a sustaining accompaniment.
16. Dust storms
In much of human life, we have the illusion of mastery. But in fact, our being and our consciousness are the emergent property of our interaction with the environment: we are vulnerable to the world, it pipes into us and constitutes us.
At Burning Man, an important feature of the overall experience is the occasional and unheralded dust storms that obliterate all visibility and hound the skin with a rough sandy pasting. When such “white outs” strike, the burner scrambles desperately for the nearest hiding place. This is a great source of positive ‘noise’ in one’s path through the Playa, as the scramble to the nearest place and the sense of being safely enshrouded often gives rise to rich and unexpected moments of connection.
Thus, at random, a digital sand storm will power across the Playa rendering useless all navigational devices / schedules etc. You will have one option and one option only: to head to the nearest space and hang out there for the duration of the sand storm. A wonderful chance to meet interesting people.
There is no money at burning man, and the power of this absence is difficult fully to appreciate until experienced. It takes a day or three fully to adapt to interactions with other people entirely unmediated by commercial interests. One just receives and gives, without expectation that one such act should beckon another.
In the Sparkleverse, it will be possible to send digital gifts to other burners via their profiles.
18. Portals to other universes
From a first person point of view, Burning Man is staggeringly scale-agnostic. That is, as you manifest your personal journey your consciousness will be occupied entirely at one point by the smallest thing -a tiny gift for example- and the next point by the largest – an immense art car, or the the burning of a vast 100m high Man. And the one is equal to the other.
In this way, the experiential tapestry of the whole is fractal: you pass through one experience into the next and it always feels like a continuous progress forward regardless of what it is that currently colonises your mind.
The Sparkleverse is only one of several universes that together make up the multiverse. And we want to encourage people to flow as freely as possible through the tapestry of the mulitverse. For this reason, prominently on our Playa there will be portals. to other universes through which one can pass back and forth in unfolding the grand extravagance of digital inventiveness being manifested across this seminal happening.
19. The burning of the man
It would be remiss to reveal how we have imagined the centrepiece, the epic coming together that acts as the conjoining mnemonic and experoential landmark of each burn, a . of the whole. But imagine it we have, and we can’t wait for you to experience it first hand.
How to get involved
Build week is just beginning at this moment (August 23rd, 2020). There is plenty of time to get involved. We welcome you to add whatever you wish to add to the Sparkleverse. This will with luck be a seminal online happening, bringing together people from around the world in an act of co-participation and joy that can energise. To go ahead and create something, go here. To educate yourself about how to go about doing that, you can sign up for a webinar here.
The Burn itself is August 30th-September 6th. You can get tickets here. They are donation-based, and on sale now.
If you have any questions, please check out our FAQ or be in touch here.