Not a Cell Phone in Sight. Just Burners Living in the Moment.

As you finish checking all the things off of your packing list and you turn that final corner toward Black Rock City 2023, take a moment to ask yourself: Are you really coming to Burning Man to live stream and post yourself all over the internet?

We’ve all seen the endless deluge of photos and videos from BRC, and perhaps that’s what is drawing you to the dusty metropolis — you may want your own slice of what you see folks on Instagram or TikTok are experiencing. Once you get out there though, you’ll quickly notice there’s a lot more going on than live streaming yourself dancing on an art car. It’s someone’s idea of fun, sure, but there are a million other unreproducible ways to experience yourself at the Burn that are wild and completely, utterly unique.

“The Altared TV Revisited” by Unintelligent Design Society, 2018 (Photo by Susan Becker)

And it begins with putting your phone away. You can do it. Just turn it off and leave it wherever you slept last night. Good. Now get on your bike, put a huge smile on your face and take a ride wherever your heart sends you.

You may be so enchanted by your adventures you’ll stop scouting for the perfect photo op. Good work. Wait a minute, what’s that tiny camp offering anyway? Freshly baked cookies? And arm wrestling? Say hello. Drop in and explore. Next thing you know, you’re meandering into someone’s tiny art gallery and listening to stand-up comedy accompanied by your new best friend. They invite you back to their camp, which is in fact a castle filled with teddy bears, and what the heck happened? You’re singing show tunes and serving pancakes to the hungry masses at sunrise. Gosh, you’re really in it now.

Ebi Atawodi in Legendary Temple of Transformation at Legendary Playground of the Gods Camp (Photo by Mark Hammon)
What day is it? (Photo by James Wynd)

It happened because you decided to inhabit your experience rather than document it. Burning Man is not a photo op. It’s YOU sharing your wondrous self and imagination with the 80,000 people who are already here, diving into the Immediacy and serendipity of the moment. 

Don’t take our word for it. Watch this delightful video by Alex K. Colby and Alicia Sully that encourages us all to use technology thoughtfully — in BRC and everywhere else.

Ok. Phones are not all bad. Here in Black Rock City, there are a few ways that using a phone can enhance your experience. Burners have created free, nonprofit apps you can download ahead of time and use offline to navigate and find fun things to do. These apps — which include: Time to Burn, a guide to camps, events, music and more; iBurn, an unofficial offline map, compass, and guide; and Unofficial BRC Map, where camps and artists can drop their locations — were developed to serve Burners in a way that enhances the Immediacy of their experiences. 

(Photo by Mark Mennie)

Of course, your phone is a great device to snap fun pics and videos of you and your friends too. Go ahead and document your experience, provided you’re sharing within your own circles and not using any imagery for commercial purposes. BUT good lord, there is no need to create live streams, Instagram stories, or TikToks of your Burning Man experience in real time from the playa. Blech. You’re cooler than that. Live in the moment and fill up your cup with wildly fun and interesting experiences that are yours and yours alone. They’ll make for great stories afterwards, and they’ll be yours to tell.

We promise you, as humans who have done this Burning Man thing a few times ourselves, that YOU need to take charge of your experience. The first step involves embracing the moment, and engaging with the humans and adventures immediately around you. There’s plenty of time to scroll, and click, and TikTok, when you’re back home living your life. (Unless of course you get pulled into building that ridiculous project for Burning Man 2024 with all your new best friends who you met on playa when you were living in the moment.)

(Cover photo by Bill Klemens)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

23 Comments on “Not a Cell Phone in Sight. Just Burners Living in the Moment.

  • Shenanigans says:

    Ironically great photos for an article (nominally) discouraging you from taking photos

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  • Too Much says:

    Hahahahaha. It would be so nice if people would actually do this and the truth is most of the new people coming to Burning Man are doing so exclusively to fish for social media likes. The new burner plans their phone use pre event and arrives with find my friends apps loaded on their phones. Cell phone use has become as regular and prevalent in Black Rock City as it is in any other major city. Cell phones in BRC are just another marker of how far this event has drifted from its meaning and from the principles. There is a better chance of the BMorg banning eBikes than there is of cellphones going away and BM will never be able to ban or e-bikes.

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    • Dan says:

      BMorg can easily ban e-bikes and they should ! The people on e-bikes in BRC are FAR far FaR more annoying than phones are, and yet we have a complete article (with photos) about phones … and nothing about the thousands and thousands of e-bikes buzzing (literally) around last year. What happened to self reliance? … like having to actually pedal a bike ???

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      • William Van Brunt says:

        The e-bike issues have sailed turning back..By not banning them last year, in Mud Year 2023, thousands of them…everywhere !!!!! I wonder if The Gate kept track! On ManBurn night, I waited at the PortoPotties for my group to do their business and counted 113 of them in about 5 minutes. Normal bikes: 23. Forget about “how it used to be, but if curious about it, sit down with a 10 years + burner and ask for tales of what it was and why they went and what goal did the hope to obtain. No one would say “to improve my social standing” or “equip myself with a means to get from one location to another.”

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    • Ardi says:

      True. As often, best to get in on early days…

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  • Danielle Wheeler says:

    On a bartending shift in 2017, a fellow Burner came up to me and asked if I wanted to take a photo with his camera. “Yes!” I was then handed the tiniest camera I could imagine. No film, just a button. I looked out onto the expanse of the Esplanade and ‘click.’ He explained how you don’t need him to remember a photo you took. He was right. I remember it clearly, even today.

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  • Holier Than Thou says:

    Speaking as an elitist, the elitism just reeks from this “article.”

    I’ve been on my phone on playa since I had to crash a camp for some Wi-Fi. I’m 99% sure instagram wasn’t around back then, and TikTok definitely wasn’t. So why’d I need on my phone and the internet?

    Some of us get the pleasure of “unlimited PTO,” but the expectation is still very much “check in daily.”

    So, for over a decade, I’ve had to choose work, or going to playa and being on my phone on the internet for 5-60 minutes a day.

    I’ll continue to choose to go and be on my phone.

    And anyone who whines at me will get a very polite, but also intentionally condescending talking to, similar to this “article.”

    Radically Include me, Gift me some time to myself, Radically Self-Rely on yourself while I’m doing the same, accept my dual-mode Radical Self Expression, go Participate while I can’t for a brief spell, and enjoy your Immediacy because I can’t right then.

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  • Delighted Curmudgeon says:

    And then the author mentions ALL the apps that are available (of course because they are “Burner created” and “non-profit” they’re cool) and basically promotes them by saying they “enhance immediacy”.
    If this 14er were ever to go again I would “gift” the “community” a free app called Shark Jumper”™ ©. (I’m working out the details on how the app will only be accessible when the smartphone is connected simultaneously between an e-bike and an RV generator.)

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  • Cannel says:

    I don’t really want to interact with weirdos, tho. I just want to take selfies with them so I look edgy on my socials. Not even joking.

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  • Seven says:

    Dream on. More than half the people who showed up for our annual meet & greet in 2022 were there because they’d heard our camp had wi-fi. They weren’t there to meet, mingle, experience the moment.

    Face it, Burning Man isn’t impacting the Default World. It’s turning into a tiny version of it and that will just continue.

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    • Guy says:

      Agree. Completely. Now look at what members of the tiny Default have in common. Age. Burning man has been around just long enough for the founding generation to get supplanted by the younger ruinous generation. And like everything else the newbs ruin, they ruin it with their third hand (clew phone) and their omnipresent alter-ego: the one the perpetuate on social media using their third hand. Technology will snuff out Burning Man as self-reliance yields to self-absorption.

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  • Desert Hippie says:

    This blog post isn’t less elitist or in-group oriented than the rest of Burningman. When I first heard of Burningman in 1996, it was definitely a “cool kids” kind of thing.

    There’s so much waste and rampant consumerism on display as part of the “gifting” culture. People act as though the “gifting” culture means they get everything for free — mooching incessantly in lieu of preparation.

    I will continue going to the desert outside the event as I prefer my playa without all the trappings of “default world” that are highlighted in sharp relief at burningman: social hierarchies, norms, conformity and massive snobbery / judgement.

    Thanks for the laugh – the comments are 100%

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  • B Cumbers says:

    While I understand the naive intent of this article, it also filled with privilege.

    Many of us use our cell phones as medical devices in order to manage health conditions and to stay alive. It is no different than using any other device, such as a mobility chair.

    It is irresponsible and downright disrespectful for this official org channel to promote the shaming of anyone who “pulls out their phone” on the playa, because none of you know if this is the situation or not. What’s next? Mocking those with disabilities because they ruin your experience?

    Radical inclusion, my ass….

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    • marcus aurelius says:

      This was a thoughtful piece encouraging burners to let go of default world habits and embrace the spontaneity of an event that has participation and immediacy at the heart of it.

      instead, you’ve construed this as denying people access to medical equipment rather than reducing conspicuous mobile phone usage. That’s dishonest and unnecessary in my opinion.

      The intention of the article is clear and correct in spirit.

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  • SPACE says:

    I put my phone on airplane mode and only use it as a camera, not for selfies but for capturing some of the incredible art, and to remember times with friends. In 08 I decided to not take pics , and I regretted it

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  • Jeremy says:

    The intent of the article zooming by

    (Some) Commenters heads

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  • Pan says:

    For those that find this article hypocritical, I think you missed that the author makes a distinction between using your phone as a tool (medication reminders, off-line maps, check-ins home or work) and using it specifically to record every moment for self promotion or monetary gain.

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  • LauraMae says:

    After the Nevada Rangers treated protesters so violently I think Burning Man should be done with. It no longer represents the original idea. It is no longer valid.

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  • Bradlee Van Brunt II says:

    When I was there in 2011, the the consensus was that the vibe was starting to change with the increase in private aircraft arrivals. I really did not see any cellphones. Photography was also frowned upon. Professional photographers were allowed to register for permission to take photos.
    Wait…I did see one cellphone. My friend was “dressed down” via a PA horn by the woman-in-charge standing atop an RV at the Critical Tits parade.
    A group of beautiful “selfie-challenged” women handed him a phone and asked him to take a group shot. (#nogooddeed…).
    Sure, phones were frowned upon, because they take you right out of the moment. And moments at Burning Man can be so incredible, so precious!
    Back then, 50,000 people would come for those moments.went there back then. Everyone seemed to be more on the same page.
    I really don’t think the author meant to be elitist.
    I take her message more as an homage to the way it used to be and the value of just radically letting go with radical self-reliance and radical self expression.
    You can’t police the use of anything and stay within what purity there is left of the original Burning Man ethos. Yup, those days just ain’t coming back.
    Moving on…

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  • Clayton Keller says:

    Ha! Weirdos…

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  • Step Dad says:

    Thank you for this piece Kirsten.

    While it seems a return to the days past of no cell phones is near impossible, I believe our community has the capacity to be mindful about how we use these devices in BRC and how it can affect our and others’ experiences.

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