Immediacy, Smart Phones, and the Death of Magic

There is a company that is now renting an internet hub device to ensure that you have broadband cell and internet service while at Burning Man.

I find this deeply upsetting.

Sure, there are many reasons why people “need” internet while on playa.

And yet, somehow, Burning Man managed to be awesome long before phones worked in the Black Rock Desert.

I’m not going to tell anyone how to Burn. (Okay, that is a lie. I frequently advise on best practices and the importance of the Principles.)   But if you feel the Siren’s song of digital connectivity pulling at you, I strongly encourage you to tie yourself to the mast. Make sure you establish a procedure and have discipline around any phone, internet (or camera) use.

Why? Smart phones and cameras put Immediacy at risk.  And the Immediacy Principle is the main ingredient in the recipe for Playa Magic.

In this video, I dig deep into the power of Immediacy, the danger of connectivity, and give some suggestions on how to best be present while on playa.

Plus, bonus talk about how “sex “is a good model for thinking about Immediacy and thoughts on photography consent.

You can also listen to the 24 min. broadcast on itunesSticher, or MP3
Full transcript here.

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

29 Comments on “Immediacy, Smart Phones, and the Death of Magic

  • Sunscreen says:

    off topic, but sunscreeeeeen! Your neck is looking way too pink for the leader of Hug Nation. I just had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my neck so I am waaaaay sensitive about this issue.

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    • I appreciate the concern. Alas, I have a permanent skin condition that makes my neck and chest red year round: “Poikiloderma of Civatte” is a chronic, non-cancerous (benign) skin condition in fair-skinned adults, which is probably caused by long-term sun exposure. Poikiloderma of Civatte shows a specific pattern of color change in the skin due to sun damage to the neck and sometimes the center of the chest.”

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      • Michele LeBelle says:

        John, My husband Just Jeff has the same condition! Every time on the playa, women riding by on their bikes literally yell at him to put sunscreen on! Usually, I kindly remind them that he is normally red like this, and not to worry. He wears sunscreen every day several times a day on the playa.

        It’s kind of a joke between us now, because he’s a hairless redskin. Not native American redskin, but nonetheless, his red skin is not painful and turns to brown tan overnight. Viking Blood!

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  • A-Xuza says:

    Looking into this 4G Service that’s being offered. All they are doing is reselling Commnet Cellular at a marked up price. With the “booster” device they “may” receive a better signal, but the’re connectivity will still be piss poor. lot’s of fine print as well. basically Snake oil Selling tactics. nothing to really worry about except a bunch of pissed off Unicorns that paid to tweet and snap and will be left on the playa running around in circles holding their phones in the air. ;-)

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  • Honey Bee says:

    You always manage to say so well what is dancing around in my head.

    As I leave the tarmac each August, my cell phone gets bagged and locked in the glove compartment. Period. Everyone who knows me, knows that this is how it is.

    I use an old cell phone that has no ability to connect to anything other than a solar charger to take photos – which I often forget to do, being so caught up in what is actually going on.

    Phones on Playa? Nah, I’ve got WAY better things to do!

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  • Kelp says:

    So right if one cares about being fully alive. Fly fishing on a remote stream – the last thing you should want is a cell connection to share. Distraction from the Immediate. Better get home and write about it as desired, with what ever images attached. I would vote for leaving cell phones and cameras at the entrance gate as long as BM had facilities for outside communication in emergencies.

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  • Jeff Maloney says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Disconnect the digital devices for a week. Reconnect with your new and old friends on playa. Have great conversations without interruptions. I also notice that all cell camera etiquette has left the playa. Sad.

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  • Jacques says:

    I’m kinda getting tired of burning man snubbing their nose at everything. Whatever happened to embracing change? You can’t stop technology, my advice is to learn to live in symbiosis with it, instead of all this whining.

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  • naked gourmet Robert Verdecias says:

    Thank you yes i agree that cell phones need to be turn off, turn on the beauty of Black Rock City.
    No where lift to meet people eye to eye, the art, the music, the nature of our city
    Over the years i have met some really beautiful people.
    Yes i take photos Yet i live in every moment of BM
    Be in the moment be ready to feel spirits within you that have not been touch. Please turn off your cell phone love a special place. Bring love to the playa, bring respect for others, Be ready to get hugs.

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  • Janet Perhac McNabb says:

    Beautifully expressed Halcyon! I couldn’t agree more. I would love to see you do a Dharma talk at Spirit Rock.
    Peace and Love,

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  • Juno says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I see more and more cell phones out-and-about in BRC every year and it’s a real bummer. Thank you, Halcyon!

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  • Geomom says:

    Aaaahhhh!!!! The blessed week of off. Maybe we can convince the phone people by osmosis.

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  • Tony says:

    Disconnecting from the internet for 7+ days might be fine for people who are employees, but some of us are entrepreneurs running online businesses and need to be able to check into our online sales, stats and our team. Not everyone can clock out and not worry about their livelihood for an extended amount of time. I think it’s great that there are options like for internet on the playa for those who legitimately need it.

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    • Slam says:

      “…entrepreneurs running online businesses and need to be able to check into our online sales, stats and our team.” OR you could take 7 days off. If not, maybe it’s not the place for you. What did you do before there was connectivity out there? Or maybe that was before your time. Not trying to be bitchy, just realistic. If you MUST work while in BRC, maybe not do it where it harshes other people’s mellow. Our camp policy is no cell phones or computers, if you must use one, please find a non-invasive space. Like Reno. Just a suggestion.

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    • Slam says:

      My apologies for the “maybe it’s not the place for you,” but I have a different take on the Radical Inclusion” bit of the Principles. I’m sorry if you are unable to unplug for 7 days, that sucks. Is there any way to “reduce the harm” so to speak? No one on the team at home that can do most of that for you? I dunno, the more I see the electronics come out the more I’m saddened and a little resentful by the growing lack of the Immediacy and being in the moment.

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  • Rio says:

    The company and poster (poser) selling special wifi service is no different than plug n play camps. Shut em down.

    If you are really so self important as to need connectivity, buy a sat phone.

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  • John Bianchi (ScrewDrop) says:

    Greetings, Halcyon. In this talk, you mentioned “…a place of stillness so that my mind starts to wander to a solution…” For a most profound example of this, please watch the documentary “The Last Shaman” on Netflix.
    An EXTREMELY broken and desperate young man goes to Peru in the last-ditch hope that an ayahuasca experience will end his desire to commit suicide and escape his numb/painful life. His perseverance is astounding as he survives two SHAMan and finds a third – a truly holy man.
    Ultimately, his breakthrough is not brought about by ayahuasca with this shaman, but by being isolated in a hut for three months with no one but himself for company (!!!), followed by being buried with only his nose above the dirt for seven hours (!!!!!!!). It is “a place of stillness” taken to the extreme.
    It’s an incredibly moving film. And I believe it is an astounding proof for the case you have so wonderfully expressed here.
    Thank you as always.

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    I matter near and dear to my heart. Thanks for writing this Halcyon!

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  • bystander says:

    A couple of thoughts. I have been fortunate enough to attend physical training in the use of an artificial limb. The gym involved has a strict rule: NO pictures of other participants. The reason has never been articulated, but I am assuming the rule expresses a desire to allow everyone some privacy while healing. So Burning Man isn’t the only venue that worries about this. In the internet age, when photos can be shared all over the world in an instant, we all need to re-evaluate our need for privacy, which has gotten short shrift.

    Second, as to people who need to be connected to the internet all week, or at all, for reasons of business: you don’t have partners? you don’t have employees? you don’t have colleagues who will cover for you in exchange for covering for them on vacation?

    There are very many places even inside California (to say nothing of the rest of the world) which have no internet or cell phone (or, often, any sort of phone) access. So you can never go to such places? Many of them are very beautiful. Here’s hoping you can rethink this, sooner rather than later, for your own sake.

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  • Rocket says:

    This video clearly articulates some issues of cell phone use, camera’s and device connection. I wholeheartedly agree and turn my device off when I arrive on the playa.

    For me, it’s a challenge to not feel jaded and bitter about what I feel is wrong with (or disagree with) as Burning Man evolves (or de evolves).

    I consider Burning Man and the playa to be a sacred space. It’s a place where there’s permission, expression and vulnerability. When people are taking photos or pecking at their phone or device, I feel it’s a violation of the space. My work is to somehow accept humanity as it happens, educate those who don’t know, and live by example. But, I feel it’s like trying to sweep back the waves of the ocean.

    This will be my last burn EVER (3.0)
    See you out there.

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  • Lady Taillight says:

    I love this post, John!! I use a real camera for photos, and leave the cell phone in the car. I also liked the article before last year’s burn about #nospoilers (that posting pictures of art on social media during the burn effectively ruined the magic of seeing that art for the first time in real life for burners arriving later in the week) and I totally agree the magic of the playa is in the interaction with other people– not the whole rest of the world who can’t be there. Xo!

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  • The Kitten Abides says:

    My first Burn was in 2007 (the Good Old Zero Connectivity Days), and luckily once the Burn starts my phone turns into a brick – as my service doesn’t have many towers out BRC way. I use it as a camera only, with no posting ability until after the Burn (it’s just far easier to carry than a regular camera).

    So I’m down with unplugging, but I will say that some connectivity can be deeply helpful – such as last year when my 83 year-old Mother-In-Law was flooded out of her house in SE Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

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  • Dennis S. says:

    I’m going to share and add my two cents. I have participated in Burning Man 4 times (2004, 2005, 2012, 2014). From what I remember in 2004 is that only Medical Personnel or Rangers had Satellite phones to the outside world for emergency purposes. And they were necessary. I recall medical emergencies that required an ambulance to transport you off-site to helicopters that were able to take you to Washoe Medical Center in Reno. In 2005 as we were leaving, we were just beginning to hear about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Jump to 2012. I remember climbing up the Bal-Mart structure/scaffolding and being able to get a cell phone signal and calling family to let them know we made it safely. By 2014, I could use my cell phone to make and receive calls throughout the playa. I refrained because I felt it was taking away from my experience at Burning Man.

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  • Ben Bethel says:

    I’m not quite sure of the ‘magic’ of Burning Man, and don’t want to lower myself to the tone of this article. Remember, the Burn is whatever you make it. For me, it was a lot of preparation, money, and time to get somewhere that had amazing, incredible people – many of whom are now spectators and lost wandering souls rather than true participants in the spectacle of the Burn. People already have their phones, their cameras, and there is an over-abundance of grinding noise from generators and deafening sound from multiple music camps (with good music soul-lifting music being pretty difficult to come across). I liken it to a car-show for the alt-set, and yes, there is much, much more. I think that the Burn sits in one corner of a triangle for me – on one corner is the Esalen Institute, a place to focus intensively on community and self with just 10-20 people for a week at a time… on the other corner is the Electric Forest Festival in Michigan, probably the best planned out, the most magical, the most wonderful, the most enjoyable one in the world – perfect weather, great scene/set/design, wonderful exploration, amazing attitudes, water, trees, bathrooms, and excellent food and incredible music… it’s as close to perfect as possible. Then on the other corner is Burning Man… lots of preparation, money, travel time, etc., etc. and for me not as much of a return on energy invested… and I’m a former survivalist backpacker who’s spent months in the Grand Canyon. So, back to the phones… people already have them out to take pictures… people can choose to have them on or not have them on. People are obviously – well, many people – are in a state where they couldn’t read the text on a phone if they tried, they’d just see Klingon. When I was there three years ago, I had signal come in and out, but most of the time it was 1x… today, as was possible 15 years ago, you can get an RV style dish and just have HughesNet or ViaSat – today it’s fast and reliable. Keep in mind that people also have TVs in RVs, and if they want to watch TV, they do. They can bring music with them, and video too, on their phone. It’s not like people are being FORCED to use the technology… they CHOOSE to. When I’m at Esalen and Electric Forest, I choose to not communicate as much as possible… the only thing that sucks about that is that the work piles on. For me, if Burning Man was a bit more convenient, I’d be there and participate more than ever… but due to the inconvenience (for me only – I guess I’m the only one?) I won’t go back unless it’s plug-and-play. Here are my reasons… again, it just took so much time ahead of and after the Burn for preparation and break-down… I felt that I used so many materials/things/items that I was being wasteful and inconsiderate of the world around us… and I spent almost $20K on a week, as I paid for 2 other people and wanted to make it a great experience. I was totally prepared, we rented an old motorhome with no TV, very basic, and we even left the event still having water and fuel and food. Also, being from Phoenix might be the one thing that sets me apart from many others… when I travel I want to be in a different environment, the Playa was as if I’d just driven somewhere south, or west, of Phoenix. It took us about 60 hours to get there due to one break-down and getting into the Burn took 14 of those hours. Getting out took about 12 hours, and due to a fatality on the road the drive back to Phoenix was another 45 hours or so. It was pretty rough. So, those who hate on plug-and-play, here’s what I have to say: if you didn’t bake, make, create, and fabricate everything that you brought to the burn, you’re still somehow plug-and-play in a way. For some, they have a lot to contribute to the energy of the event, to the magic of the event, to the spectacle… and just being able to show up and start *participating* is an amazing thing. If I could be the person out there handing out thousands of smiles and hugs and great conversations instead of not being there, or being there but being worn out from the journey there, then the event could be missing out on a lot of people like this. Make the event the journey… not the trip there and back. At any rate, enjoy the burn…. don’t hate on something like a phone or communications… it can be beneficial, just like a great attitude can be beneficial. If you see someone on a phone, engage them quickly and give them an outpouring of love… they’ll re-focus on the here and now, I promise.

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  • Gabriel Suez says:

    We are a middle age couple from Argentina going for the first time ,and we found your thougts very wise..
    thank you foe the insigths


    Gabriel And LIly (VIRGINS)…

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