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Burning Man: a sand-blasted, off-grid utopia

September 21, 2017

Burning Man: a sand-blasted, off-grid utopia

There’s one great irony of Burning Man. Though organised and attended by many tech enthusiasts from Silicon Valley and the SF Bay Area, the eight-day festival has no internet access. Or even a phone tower within signal reach. “There is no connection to the outside world,” said Morgan Sowden, CTO of Octopus Group, who attended Burning Man for his third time this year. “You are expected to be completely self-sufficient. There is nothing you can buy there.” A utopia for e-commerce, it is not.

But Burning Man does share at least one commonality with Silicon Valley. The festival, first held in 1986, has become a mecca for geeks to explore unique ways to apply creative new technologies. Such exploration takes the form of “art cars” and massive kinetic sculptures. This year’s festival included an enormous climbable tree with 25,000 LED leaves, creating the world’s largest interactive light canvas.

Morgan found his eight-day respite from the internet a chance to “thoroughly disconnect and open up to new experiences and forge new friendships.” It was also a chance to further develop his DJ skills, playing original mixes. “It’s something I seriously enjoyed and will continue doing.”

Jon Ashton, a software engineer at Labs, finds Burning Man to be inspirational. “There’s a lot of creativity and I find that the BM principles, like radical inclusion, gifting, radical self-expression are followed by everyone.” 2017 was Jon’s fifth year attending the event. “It still amazes me how much time, money and effort goes in to 60,000-plus people spending a hot and dusty week in the desert.”

Morgan grants Burning Man is not for everyone. “The environment is harsh. Our tent was flattened in a sandstorm. It was very hot one day, unbearably so. You have to take everything yourself, including water for the whole eight days…But if you don’t mind that kind of environment, and you have an open mind, then you should definitely go.”