They built us a Thunderdome in BRCvr.
We built one for one of the other Universes — and it was beautiful — but I spent most of my time in BRCvr and am so, so thankful that the BRCvr crew built it. Still, it took me a few days to get there.
The first few years in the desert are a whirl of inspiration, overwhelming possibility, creation. Then, as for so many people who have attended Burning Man for a while, the event becomes more about spending quality time with chosen family, with a backdrop of building, production, performance, art, and ever more controlled chaos.
BRCvr managed to bring both. The multiple experiences on offer ranged from static elements to go look at to immersive (even in 2D on my Mac) gloriously visual and auditory experiences like Samskara. Fuck Your Burn was a hilarious landing spot, and Nostromo was discoverability on 11. The last night of the event, my best friend and I had a snowball fight in Disorient’s Speakeasy. As with the event, the best part was running into friends and having those extemporaneous, no-small-talk conversations that are what keeps us so connected to people we “only see once a year”. As with the event, a quick choice to go check out a cool piece of art would morph into a 3-hour trip with an ever-changing complement of characters that featured multiple friends and new acquaintances.
We all knew the ways in which an all-virtual wouldn’t match up. I won’t belabor them — 2020 is a stupid year and not being able to physically go to our desert privilege party, while emotionally devastating, is not the tip of the iceberg of the worst thing to happen this year.
I had no idea the ways in which the Multiverse would surpass the Black Rock City Burning Man experience. I’ll sum it up, though:
We’ve misconstrued the 10th principle.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
For as long as there have been cell phones on playa, there have been people what hate them. “Be present. Be here.” I use mine sometimes, mostly for photos, occasionally for an update. I never had a strong position on it (though photobombing insta models is a favorite pastime). But the Multiverse is forcing a different conversation, one with which we must familiarize ourselves if Burning Man is to survive the pandemic, to survive evolution and succession planning to the next generation(s).
Want to go to where your friends are? Port there.Want to send a message to someone instead of talking over loud music? Type it.Want to immediately connect with someone you just met? [click]
This connective technology we’ve been fighting has provided us with immediacy and human connection in a way that analog-only Burning Man can’t by itself achieve.
“But, Marissa, that only works in virtual reality. When we’re back in the desert, it’ll be back to normal again.”
Sorry, folks. If you think normal will ever again mean what it meant seven months ago, you haven’t been paying attention. But, if we roll with it instead of trying to recreate something that’s stagnant, maybe we can evolve with it, too. Also, it is pronounced ‘Mah-REE-sah’. Only one “s”. Long “i”.
“If we grant more cell phone access, people are just going to be on their phones all the time.”
Some will. And some people use Burning Man as the backdrop to their desert photo shoot, and some pay $50,000 to have a catered experience, and this event, if we do it right, will continue to be less and less welcoming to them not by shaming those folks (ok, a little shaming), but by elevating and supporting those doing it right.
One of my favorite parts of the last week was going to Burning Man during breaks from work. Bringing my best friend to virtual BRC when she’s never attended the event. Being tour-guided about by Wally while we talked about lives, our families. A conversation we’d have had on Thunderdome’s front porch became a conversation in the clouds above the Temple.
With the development of an application that works like Be My Eyes for folks not in the desert, we can connect people attending the event at Black Rock City with people attending the event virtually. You want cell phone connectivity at Black Rock City? Ok, fine — but install this app. Then, when you’re wandering deep playa looking for that party, someone logged into virtual Burning Man from Greece can join you. Climbing on top of the Thunderdome? Don’t drop your phone — you’ve got someone from Paraguay up there with you (plus it sucks when things land on our heads). Have a mutant vehicle? Sure, and now you’ve got additional passengers. In this way, we evolve the concept of immediacy. We broaden what it means to be “at Burning Man” by encompassing and leveraging this year’s experience. We bring elements of the experience of Burning Man to people who would, for myriad reasons, not otherwise experience it. Samskara has already blurred the line between the BRC and virtual experiences — other experiences will follow suit. In addition to portals to programmed experiences, portals lead to live experiences. A virtual map of BRC becomes thousands of moving, living, breathing options, as varied as the community itself.
Rather than relegating connective technology to the role of “distraction from,” let’s elevate it to “enhancement to.” Let’s invite the whole world — tickets can’t sell out. Let’s blow the fucking roof off.
Header image courtesy of BRCvr