First, this Douglas Adams quote:
I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
The second was this very insightful article on the dynamics of the evolution of sub-cultures: https://meaningness.com/metablog/geeks-mops-sociopaths
For the record, I've never been to Burning Man, nor seriously tempted to change that.
It's just general status quo bias, I'm not sure there is anything specific to technology. Technology makes it obvious because the pace of change is faster, but I've heard (vegan) people defending a drive-in McDonald in SOMA because it was here when they grew up.
* Almost Live!'s Guide to Living in Seattle 2 - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9Ho_PBuEYg
* Almost Live!'s Guide to Living in Seattle 3 - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7XCImmTfFw
* Almost Live!'s Guide to Living in Seattle 4 - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gxoi7h42jbg
* Seattle is a Changing - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGayNX41o2w
* Almost Live! Viewers Choice 1992 - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSqzVpfIrAc
* Gift Advice From Joel - YouTube || https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY12UoFYCKQ
Almost Live! was great television. Great 90's time capsule.
The Space Needle and the creaky squeaky Monorail and of course Sylvester are thankfully still there and going strong.
Both of the events you mentioned still seem to exist, in some form.
It's like when the NHRA top fuel drag racing comes to down. It lasts 3 days, with the finals on Sunday. I go on the preceding Friday. Far, far fewer people attend, and it's much more informal. You can park within a reasonable distance. You're not swimming constantly in a crowd. You can watch the mechanics at work, and even talk to them. There's no big crush in the grandstands. It's much more informal, unstructured, and with little need for crowd control. And yet there's still all the action.
On Sunday, though, I stay away.
Beautiful Adams quote ;)
That'd be an okay pen name though.
You might also like "On the Origin of Posers" http://hotelconcierge.tumblr.com/post/134371738229/on-the-or...
It focuses on some different aspects of subculture dynamics, and I don't know if the two models can co-exist but I find interesting points in both.
"liquid capital" -- such a sublime, apt description/definition of money. Surprised I've never encountered it before, in awe of its simplicity and insightfulness. So obvious I should have thought of it myself.
But I'd never heard of money described as liquid capital. It seems like the most apt definition of money.
At some point you think I'm hip I like music these days but eventually you'll go OK that's it I can't stand music today.
In my opinion, the only group that is on the path to actually "ruining" BM is the organization itself. From the rapid price hikes to the parking passes to general incompetence running infrastructure for such a large popup event to clashing egos, every time I talk to a current or former employee I get the sense that BM is run by children, half of whom want to run it like it's the 90s when the event was a tenth of the size it is today. The worst part has been the antagonism between the BM org and the BLM/local law enforcement. Every move the org makes seems to make life harder for attendees (although the cops seem to have stopped arresting for drugs, giving out heavy fines to recoup lawsuit costs instead, so I guess that's a plus).
The borg is operating in their best interests, but the departments that make burning man happen work really hard to always improve year after year. So when that crusty DPW person flips you off, try saying, "thank you for your work".
When I joined the same guy had been president of the club for years. And it wasn't until after I went to college that he retired, mostly from the grumbling. The fall event was run by a local business but manned by us and workers from another local business (the owner of the latter is now the mayor). And of course without the excellent town and county infrastructure services, few would have come that far.
It wasn't until I grew up and moved away and joined other clubs that I realized how much hard and smart work these people were doing, and how tremendously hard it is to replicate.
When an event almost goes right, it's easy to forget that because you only see the thing that went wrong.
I camp with a lot of volunteers, former employees, and people in charge of setting up BM's telecom, power grid, and organizing some of the other invisible infrastructure. Their work is done before the gates are open to genpop. The horror stories I hear from them every year range from missed payments for equipment and well past due invoices for infrastructure services to miscommunication among the staff that makes it hard for specialized volunteers to do their work (like setup telecom, organize logistics) to the occasional temper tantrum by leadership. Look no further than the utter hell they go through nearly every year negotiating with the BLM and LEOs, entirely of their own doing because they butt heads with the other negotiators. Pro tip: don't antagonize your only two vendors for land and security because your attendees suffer the consequences through harassment and higher ticket prices!
More importantly, infrastructure has not gotten that much better over the years despite the sky rocketing ticket prices and attendance. It wasn't until a few years ago, too, that someone with actual experience in logistics and infrastructure was finally put in charge of the work.
Also, DPW handbook not for public release? It's right there on the BM website accessible through a Google search .
 When did portapotties get shade? They should have had them since the 1990s and I don't remember any in 2014.
Check out regional burns. They're smaller, but many are not ruined yet.
It's masterful work, because even though I know nothing about any specific details, and this leaves ,me wanting to know those details before I take it as gospel, the truth is that a few months from now if AfrikaBurn came up in conversation, what I would likely remember is that I had read that it has real organizational and sociological problems. So, I guess that's goal achieved for this author, no matter how much at this point I want verification before accepting this.
> By sleight-of-hand and the wholesale and completely unnecessary import of an unwieldy American pop culture franchise, a group of creatively blocked shadow artists, bureaucrats and box tickers are making an elaborate and specious lunge at celebrity through curation-by-funding. Employing savvy redistribution of money, they stand on the shoulders of established, older artists and their fashionable, younger counterparts, thus hoping to crown themselves the fairy godmothers of local pop culture. In short, involvement in IBM appears to be nothing more than a cynical exercise in associative branding for themselves and, in some cases, the products they promote in the real world.
With apologies to IBM. You can use Monsanto or Tata Motors if you prefer.
> The burner mindset is parked on bricks in the stultifying cul-de-sac of hipster insouciance.
For those on the west coast, Fourth of Juplaya is the big gathering of Burners early in the summer but there isn't really a sense of community and everyone is really spread out.
The map in that would probably overlay nicely with a global wealth map:
From my "recently having read the article but never have been to burning man" mind, that makes it sound like it's just not succeeding.
Complaining is for spectators.
The lawsuit against the county police was especially egregious after they couldn't get two negotiators on decent terms with each other into the same room. After that, the police fees went way up and they started trying to recoup their money by any means necessary, including enforcing laws that were never before enforced during the event. BM's principals of radical self reliance and care of the environment set it up to be a great citizen to the land, but relations with the BLM have only gone down hill despite the fact that BLM goes out of its way to support community uses of federal land like Burning Man.
And of course there's the standard argument that while BM should have leverage, they're also so wedded to the site they're essentially a captive audience. And all the authorities know this. So I'm not sure they really have so much natural power.
Anyway, I'm open-mindedly curious about your own perspective. But I still remain really skeptical about the natural good will of local law enforcement and especially that there was anything reasonable about them jacking up usage fees (e.g. the new Nevada live entertainment tax), which just feels like a plain old power play fleecing at heart.
Then they should move. Really. Moving it even once would bring the local authorities to heel.
Montana and the Dakotas have a lot of space. I suspect some Indian tribes might be very enthusiastic about hosting something like Burning Man.
Yeah, I wouldn't be so sure about that. I get the feeling that BM might well and truly offend some of the elders. I could see a council or two wanting the money, but I wouldn't expect smooth sailing.
For example, if I remember correctly, when the 55mph speed limit was being forced on everybody, Montana simply abolished speed limits on the big roads. When the Feds got pissy about that, they simply dropped the speeding fines to something ridiculously low with no license points.
From what I understand, Burning Man was a curiosity in the 90s that the NV LEOs were largely ambivalent about but the relationship started to sour in the early 2000s when BM started really growing year after year. The county police did start to pull some sleazy power moves, I'm told due to an overzealous/tee-totaling Washoe county sheriff, but the BM org response was naive at best and absolutely childish at worst. The event was straining the police departments and other services in ways neither side had never imagined so I don't know if the police were power tripping or if they did genuinely need more capital to carry out their duty. Instead of capitulating to some demands and compromising like any other large scale event has to, BM org tried to get everything they wanted and in the process acted like "a bunch of big city Californians who think they're better than small town hicks" (I talked to a county LEO about this after a domestic violence arrest at an adjacent camp and those were his exact words). Mid-2000s is when I believe the relationship became antagonistic and after that there was pressure from law enforcement and the BLM to bring in more feds in greater numbers. Luckily, BLM and LEOs didn't try to use the atom bomb and block the event entirely but behind the scenes there was a year long struggle to get the event up and running on time.
After a while (late 2000s/early 2010s) BLM decided that the event had grown too big and put on another layer of bureaucracy that BM org had no experience dealing with, which again strained the relationship. Meanwhile, something happened that angered the feds (who were only there to show the public they weren't ignoring a oasis of drugs in the desert) and they started involving themselves with BLM's negotiations which further weakened and emboldened BM org. I don't know what really happened in the early 2010s but it all culminated in the 2012-13 lawsuit which cost the county millions and left a sour taste in everyone's mouth. After that LEOs went crazy with enforcement and tried to recoup their losses, which meant that all the nastiness behind the scenes started to spill over into the main event.
I've built up this perspective second and third hand over the years so take it all with a grain of salt. At the end of the day attendance and ticket prices skyrocketed, law enforcement became more and more obstructive, and the quality of the infrastructure didn't really improve but its hard to know what's going on unless you're in the org.
Someone really should stop Burning Man from participating. I mean, someone needs to stop Burning Man from being destroyed and what better way of doing this than by stopping Burning Man itself?
There's another event that happens I'd like to tell you about.
It's a place where people get together with friends and strangers to share thoughts, ideas, drugs of one kind or another, and even gifts.
It's a place that sometimes does get ruined, and sometimes does not--most often ruined by the organizers themselves. It has a lot on common with burning man.
There are people there who will agree with your attitudes about art, music, culture, and technology. There are people who will disagree so hard they want to punch you in the face.
We even burn things down--sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.
It's a great event, and I speak for everyone involved when I suggest that you participate.
It's called real fucking life. Feel free to join us any time.
There's another word for this that doesn't use phrases like "Burning Man" or "real life". That's: "community". My experience has been that it's harder to find and sustain enthusiastic community in the real world. When it happens it's of course great, but people in their day to day tend to be resistant to it. Temporary experience with a more open, enthusiastic, and non-judgmental community than you're normally used to can be an invigorating experience for some.
Cowering away from that difficulty isn't something to be proud of. Isolating yourself in a shell of people who agree with you isn't the right way to go about making dreams come true or enacting social change, which we badly need.
If you want a community in your life, go build one. Don't sit around telling us all how awesome it is to be a part of one that was pre-built and probably won't exist tomorrow.
We're talking about the opposite of cowering away. We're talking about the exact community building you value - both out there and back at home.
You're also clearly writing with a chip on your shoulder. I don't know what bad experience created that chip, but I'm not interested in fighting you or putting down your own experience. Please try to offer the same in return.
A temporary city turns out to be a great place for experimenting with new or at least different ideas about social organization, because it reduces the risk. Every organization has an opportunity to rebuild itself every year, so you can always decide to try something new, if you think it might work better than what you did before; if it fails, well, you just muddle through until it's time to go home and then try something different next year. There's a rhythm of organizational renewal and evolution that comes from the evanescence of the infrastructure. At home, organizations are never so flexible, and you get far fewer chances to go through the process of building one, so it's harder to develop the kind of experience that makes you good at it.
Furthermore, you can't underestimate the significance of the prohibition on commerce. Capitalism is such a pervasive element of everyday life that it's easy not to notice just how often our communities solve hard problems by simply retreating, and restating the problem in the form of a transaction. You can't get away with that at Burning Man; you have to engage with people socially if you want to get anything done. It's an extra layer of discipline that makes things harder, but more satisfying - not easier.
But pulling celebrity names out of a hat is not an argument. It's actually a fallacy. It's called appeal to authority. You should check it out, but I doubt you will.
I'm upvoting you for honesty. You're not right, but you're honest about it. I approve.
Whoever said "there's no event like Burning man on this planet" was a bit breathless, but going <<durr, try real life instead>> isn't much of a reply. If you want to start listing fallacies, I think what you have there is a false dichotomy.
Naming successful and wealthy individuals is a good counter, and we reach for naming celebrities because everyone knows them as opposed to naming Joe from accounting at XYZ corp, who has 1.2M in the bank but no one knows.
I'd take the downvotes as a job well done. I don't suggest you do it again though.
Every individual I've ever met who went to burning man was irritating, broke, begging for money, and full of "good" business ideas that were either "stolen" by huge megacorporations or just straight up idiotic business ideas "that would totally work if people weren't so close minded."
Whatever. My experience is anecdotal, and I'm not going to judge 8000 people based on my interactions with a couple of dozen.
Wait, no, that's not true. I'm totally judging all of them. You want a real human experience with unsanity and sharing and creativity and ugliness and real human stuff and burning things?
Go home to where you live. Be poor there. Hell, be moderately wealthy there.
Look, I'm about as in favor of arts and philosophy as a person can be. I spent 20 years as a professional violinist before I got in to technology. I spent years teaching music theory and history. Now that I have a better living as a developer, I volunteer for a dance company in Brooklyn, and I run an El Sisteme program in the Philippines with my brother.
I get it. There are more important things in the world than material wealth, and exploring yourself and other people in a non-traditional way is valuable.
But this is ridiculous. There are better and more honest ways to do this than burning man.
BM pisses me off because it's a waste of resources. All those people in the desert doing whatever it is they do is person-power that could be directed at a worthy cause that could accomplish the same thing.
Aside from my volunteer work I write 8 checks a year, for a thousand bucks a piece. I give them explicitly to the kinds of orgs that I don't work with on a daily or weekly basis. I give my time to orgs I know and love and care about. I give my money to those that I don't.
You want to do something good for you? You want to find out who you truly are? You want confidence to know that you're doing okay? You want to find out if your ideas have legs?
Spend a day with the homeless. Go to a foreign country and teach their poor what you already know.
Spend your Burning Man money on something that is worthwhile and will actually teach you something about yourself and your fellow man.
I really, really, really strongly despise Burning Man people. You don't actually want good for yourself or for others; you just want to feel like you are good to yourself and others.
Fuck you, I hate you all.
I hope that a hater on HN has now ruined burning man.
The best and most intellectually honest thing BM could do right now is shut the whole thing down. Burn it down.
But that will never happen. And we all know why. BM is a business now.
Businesses never commit suicide. Only people do. Maybe think about that the next time you want to go to burning man. Just sit on a phone waiting for someone who has a problem that's so bad he or she wants to end it.
None of you will ever do that because you are extreme and insane narcissists.
We are fucked. We live in a world where it's sort of okay for David Foster Wallace to kill himself, but it's also okay for idiots to go to burning man to "find" shit.
To put it the way the kids do: "I can't even . . ."
Where you go astray is when you pass judgment anyway. You are not qualified to judge the moral value of peoples' experiences at Burning Man any more than they're qualified to judge the value of your own experience and efforts.
There's a lot to legitimately critique about the event. I'm sorry you feel unwilling to see it at face value - at which point interesting discussions can really happen - and instead want to go for a fatalistic scorched earth policy of bringing down an entire community based on your own biases and personal projections.
That community will continue to welcome you if and when you ever approach it with some humility.
What I strongly, absolutely, vehemently dispute is that David Foster Wallace killing himself was anything but the worst hit English literature took, ever. Guy wouldn't have been as sharp and witty and beautiful without a long standing relationship with pitch black despair, but man how I wish he'd have lived to produce an oeuvre of Pynchonesque dimensions.
In specific response to your pondering the many faces of Burning Man - at core it's a temporary city of 70,000 people. That means it's a large and diverse place. That's why you can hear so many wildly different stories about what kind of place it is - it's each of those to the different people who seek those things.
Think of it like any other city - is New York a debaucherous party destination? A crucible for art and theater? A whitewashed yuppie land of banks and condos? An immigrant melting pot? A loud and dirty merry-go-round that never stops? A home of amazing, beautiful, inspired people who try their hardest to craft a community where people can live and thrive?
It's all of those things. And more. Cities are too complex and diverse to be reduced to a single dimension. Burning Man is no exception. There's a reason they call is Black Rock City.
In that sense, it's in so many ways a reflection of whatever you seek and however you feel. If you go into it looking to party that's what you're going to find. If you bring open energy and enthusiasm for your fellow human being, and a desire to simply connect and bond with others, you'll find that in bounds. If you bring a fear of pretentious Silicon Valley tycoons using it as their own self-serving dumping ground, you can find that if that's really where you want to direct your energies. And so on.
That's of course also why you'll continue to hear so many varied opinions on it (and so many explanations of how it's been ruined). Some people are convinced it's the epitome of civilization's decline. Others see it as the most important and nurturing community they've ever known. Etc. It's large and diverse enough to serve as a really big mirror to all the myriad ways people project their own identities onto it.
Here's a virtual hug for you! Really great post and some insightful points of view that really make me think about what you are carrying along for the ride. I hope your post helps open your own mind to all of our biases, preferences and unanswered questions that everyone faces daily.
* Don't Burn the Man, Burn the Man inside You!
The number one "ruined" point I hear about from early attendees is when it went from a volunteer effort to something with a year-round staff. Seeing a small band in a pub is different than a giant, commercialized stadium show. Neither is wrong, but nobody is served by pretending that they're the same. As most developers know, things change when you go from "I do this for the love" to "this is my job".
I don't think Burning Man was "ruined" by that transition, but I don't like how this article mocks the whole notion that something might have been lost along the way. Of course, it was written by somebody whose job is Burning Man, and as Upton Sinclair says, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Instead, it seems to say that there are many ideas of what the "one true essence" of Burning Man is, and each of those "essences" have been lost, often times more than once in a single event.
So if one points to a single event that "ruined" burning man, you're picking out one thing that was its True Essence, inadvertently putting yourself at odds with all the other people who thought that something else was the True Essence of Burning Man.
All in all, perhaps the essence of Burning Man is more resilient than we think.
The article talks about people integrating into BM's unique culture, and defending that culture. It talks about how things that once "ruined" BM are now accultured into it. It doesn't seem to ever indicate that the culture changed along the way.
I think a similar article could have been written with the thesis that you indicate; but I don't think it was this article.
You assert that transitioning from a volunteer effort to something with a year-round staff is a "legitimate criticism", but to others that is just part of the natural evolution of the event.
To decide whether change is bad or not, we first have to honestly look at the change, at what has been gained and lost.
More broadly, I'm not sure I fully understand the criticsm. There is paid staff, yes. But that's still a vanishingly tiny percentage of the effort that makes Burning Man what it is. It is still first and foremost a volunteer effort, and lives or dies by that effort. It's exceptionally few people, to my understanding, who earn money. I believe you can find a list of all of them on the BM financials page.
Consider the difference between "music" and "music industry" for example. Or the difference between coding on one's personal open source project and coding on somebody else's dime. Consider how many startups compromise their vision to become commercially successful. Or go talk to somebody at an ad-supported site; you can hear them defend things (e.g., auto-play video ads) that they would have previously reviled.
If people don't like how a hobby project is going, they have no problem shutting it down. But once it's one's living, that becomes almost unthinkable. Which in turn means that other things become almost unthinkable.
So my criticism of this article is that it's basically an exercise in refusing to think about the legitimate issues people have with what Burning Man has become.
But my specific point was that I don't believe the author of the blog post is paid by Burning Man. So I don't believe the content of the blog post would be inspired by that angle (correct me if you find out otherwise). That inclines me to consider its viewpoint more seriously, precisely for the reasons you mention.
It will reduce risks, excluding risky groups and activitys.
It will allow for companys to advertise with edgy art projects.
You can not compromise, when everything you have at the stake is your vacation. You will be compromised, if you start to hate the freaks that might cost you your job.
The first is the one that had so many wonderful and valuable experiences out on the playa and considers it such a special place. How dare someone without the proper deference for that special place come out and ruin it. So I understand where the criticism is coming from, but...
The second is that Burning Man is about inclusivity and impermanence. It's what made the event so special in the first place. What was isn't unimportant, but maintaining it as anything other than a memory is. Like meditation, what is in the current moment is what's important. And lamenting change prevents fully embracing that new experience.
What strikes me as necessary to "save" Burning Man from being "ruined" is to embody the values of the event. Be as inclusive as possible and embrace the impermanence of the event. Meet exclusivity with increased inclusivity. Meet clinging to past experience with increased focus on embracing the present moment. New burners won't understand what the event is about and old burners will have forgotten. Inform/remind them by example, not by condemnation.
I don't like thinking about anything having been lost. That's clinging to the past in a way that feels antithetical to the Burning Man ethos. Every year, many burners will ask themselves, "is this event still for me?" I started answering, "no" a few years ago. But that doesn't mean I think Burning Man was ruined or has failed. It and I have evolved in ways that are no longer compatible. It's changed me and I like to think that, in my own small way, I helped change it. And as much as I'd love to still be in my 20s and still experiencing all the wonder of those late-90s burns, that reality doesn't exist anymore and pining for it only creates craving and misery.
The article should mock (or at least not dignify) people who believe that something has been lost. Those people have forgotten the purpose of the event. Listening to a beautiful song can be a sublimely moving experience. But you cannot capture that experience by choosing a single note and prolonging it indefinitely. And yet people believe they can capture their experience on the playa and relive it year after year. The song changes over time and eventually ends. Acknowledging that doesn't make it any less beautiful.
And it's funny to say that Burning Man is about impermanence given how stable it has become. One of the critiques ignored in this article is that impermanence is exactly what it has lost. What it had to lose when it became the bread and butter of a bunch of people.
Again, I don't mind that. Permanence creates possibilities. Disney World and the Catholic Church can accomplish things that a one-man band or a lone wise teacher can't. Structured organizations gives movements historical traction. But I'd like to see an honest accounting of what was gained and lost, not somebody mocking the very idea that something could have been lost.
I can't imagine it pays well enough to justify hanging around in the desert for a month with a bunch of burners, if that's not your thing.
As an example, I used to work for financial traders. Once got out of that, it was easy to see how I had adopted some of the perspective of the industry, of my colleagues. But I'd never go back, because I can now recognize the moral issues with it.
* Bands? "They used be all about the music, then they went mainstream"
* Video games? "Now they just cater to beginners; they don't care about real gamers anymore"
* Movies? "They're so focused on the special effects, they don't even bother with the story"
...and the list goes on. Name just about anything that people enjoy, and you'll find a vocal contingent complaining about how recent changes have "ruined" it.
Then that band becomes slowly more popular, you are happy for their success until a certain point is reached. Now kids who you thought were just random lame kids with no taste in music at school are listening to them. If you want to see their show you have to buy tickets on ticketmaster, pay much more, and worry about sold out shows.
From a practical standpoint, it is now more difficult to see your favorite band. But I think the part that really bothers people is losing that feeling of being special. Everyone likes them now, there is nothing special about you liking them.
This same process can be applied to video games, films, craft beer, clothing/fashion trends, and probably any thing where you get very passionate fans.
That said, sometimes such complaints are clearly a bit whiny, but then again, sometimes they are warranted critiques.
We didn't take N good games that 10% of people like and turn them in to N bad games that 90% of people like.
Instead, we have something more like 10xN good games that 10% of people like and 100xN bad games that 90% of people like.
With movies, as opposed to games, I think this is less pronounced given the age of medium but still present.
 Technical barriers to entry. Photography had huge barrier to entries when it first started. With wet-plate exposures you had to be at a high level of technical ability in multiple disciplines to even take a picture. Only the people deeply interested in the subject participated. Also the high cost (in time and money) to take a single photo meant that a lot of effort was put into a single frame. Today it's trivial to snap a photo on my phone. However there is still great photography being today! It's just that there is a bunch more crap photos being taken. This is similar to developing a game (there were still plenty of crap games being made then too!). Personally, I think it's all awesome.
Ignore the crap and enjoy the awesome. No one judges a guitar based on how bad players sound. People listen to the players they like.
We've lost a bit to genre crystallization, but there's no shortage of people willing to experiment with weird things in Unity or mods to existing games.
The hyper-mainstream games are of course boringly predictable, but it's a short step away to other things.
Movies seem to really be hollowing out the middle more. You've got a lot of very low-budget fliers and indie prestige stuff and a lot of $100M+ mega-movies, drifting now into attempts at Marvel-esque cinematic universe perpetual money-printing machines for increasingly dubious IPs.
So yes, it's definitely the standard reponse for the "everything is crap now" mentality.
That's true but it's not the scenario posed. The scenario is not "why do most movies suck when most games don't?" It's "why do most movies suck now when they didn't years ago?"
These are related but different things. The "why does it suck now" stuff is nostalgia and romanticism, which is not what Sturgeon's law addresses. Sturgeon's law along with recency and forgetfulness lead to this nostalgic effect. But saying that Sturgeon's law is the same as nostalgia because it contributes is like saying radiation is the same as cancer because it contributes.
> The response is that most of Y was crap too, you're just remembering the good stuff.
Sturgeon's law was not phrased this way. It wasn't "you're remembering the good stuff" because it was addressing criticism of SciFi vs other contemporary genres. There was no question of remembering the good stuff. It was a question of sci-fi getting criticism that other genres simply didn't.
I get that you're trying to make X be "movies now" and Y be "movies then", but this is an awkward (mis)use.
And like any popular adage, what counts is popular usage, not original intent. Most popular adages have generalized and shifted over years of usage.
I'm not sure I agree. Those two types have certainly risen, but if you look at films from last year, there a are still a ton of "middle" films with decent budgets (10-30M) and high praise from the critics - Selma, Spotlight, Carol, The Big Short, etc. I don't see a hollow middle.
That's sounding a little bit like Sturgeon's law.
Games like Factorio and Minecraft didn't even exist. It's not a stretch to call FTL and Spelunky the best rouge-like games so far. Ocarina of Time, even with its huge nostalgia bias, is less re-playable than A Link Between Worlds. CS:GO basically amplifies everything good about CS 1.6 and CS:Source then adds the competitive support. Similarly, DOOM (2016) takes everything (Except perhaps the mod-ability and level design) that made Doom so good and improves it.
OOT is a classic simply because of its weirdness and innovative time mechanics, but I prefer the bright joy of Wind Waker and the more recent Twilight Princess is just better in so many ways.
But this always happens in anything that starts out as counter-culture. Always.
First the freaks and the true believers invent something that appeals to other freaks and true believers. Then it gets bigger and becomes a mainstream business. Then eventually it crashes as it starts to feel sterile and commoditised, and it becomes more about management and money than expression.
Then the cycle starts again elsewhere - sometimes with the same people.
(Any similarity to software is intended. Although sadly I think we have too few real freaks and true believers in software. Certainly not too many.)
By the way, I wouldn't call him a freak, but I greatly admire Joey Hess, writing great Free software from his off-grid cabin.
In a country of 300M people (leaving aside international visitors), let's not pretend that only one hundred people (early 90s) or even the mid 90s 8,000 attendance are the only people to whom the idea appealed.
Popularity, and prominence are distinct, and tangential from these complaints.
Explaining and communicating culture is hard. When faced with a choice between "pitching in and helping do it yourself" and "have someone else do it so I don't have to" most people would choose the latter. Which never scales.
If you want a community to stay true to its values, then it has to be the responsibility of every member to do their best to help communicate those values to newcomers. Sometimes the newcomers ignore those values and sometimes they deserve to be ignored, but you can't delegate personal responsibility for helping maintain a great community.
PS: Thanks to everyone on HN who has put thought behind a community etiquette-driven up or down, or who has taken the time to explain to someone why their comment's tenor doesn't mesh with the community we try to create here.
But one shouldn't spend too much energy focusing on keeping things the same. We still have recordings of art when it was good (Burns of yore, I guess memories would have to suffice) Things change, and the new things have their own merits.
I will always object when people refer to Skrillex as Dubstep, but his stuff isn't that bad either, whatever it is. What I experienced this year at Burning Man was no doubt missing some of the magic from 10 years ago. I didn't fully "get it" though I did my best to fit in. But whatever it is today is also pretty damn impressive.
If I went to a jazz festival and all I heard was electronic music, I might be understandably upset, even if I liked electronic music. The expectation was that there would be jazz. It wouldn't matter to me if you could trace the lineage of electronic music back to jazz, they are still different in very important ways.
Whenever a band starts to play with a full orchestra you know they've jumped the shark.
What I did realize, though, is that in order to really get the most out of Burning Man, I'd need to really get into the culture. People get into Burning Man like they get into their churches, where there are lots of social events. Ultimately, the groups that enjoy Burning Man the most are large groups of extended friends that like can be found in a small church.
The hardest thing with Burning Man, IMO, is the participatory prep. Meaning, the easy part of the prep is like planning for a long camping trip. What ultimately is required for me to be more than a tourist is much more than what I was able to do as an introverted person who just doesn't like to make artwork or run games for other people.
People would also routinely leave their playa covered and broken down vans, RVs and cars in my neighborhood. In the desert by my parent's house we would find numerous trailers abandoned full of trash, empty water bottles and old clothes. You knew it was from burning man because the stuff was covered in playa dust.
I didn't start going to Burning Man until after I moved to Seattle, so I haven't actually seen what the fernley-wadsworth road looks like post-event these days, but my impression of Hwy 447 going northwest is that it generally stays clean.
I get the sense Burning Man used to attract people like my younger self. From my Facebook and Instagram feeds, I now see many startup scenesters I know attending. If I want know, I feel I'd have to be much more careful to suppress my "weird" side. I can understand why the original attendees feel the event has become too diluted to be appealing.
Not having been, I don't know, but from a distance it looks like a pattern I've seen play out in other communities. One thing I've noticed is that many people who are genuinely cool, interesting, curious, adventurous and so on, don't see themselves that way at all - and many people who see themselves as cool and creative are in reality vapid and shallow.
But nothing is ever black and white, and one other observation is that organisers actually do have control, and are not bound to cross a point of no return.
Take Leipzigs Wave-Gotik-Treffen : This is one of the biggest Goth and Dark Culture Festivals in the world. Events are decentralized all over the city, so the city of Leipzig turns black for a couple of days every year around whitsun.
Lots of creative people are around, so similar to Burning Man in Germany it received huge media attention during the past couple of years, just by being well suited for a photo series. Search for "Viktorianisches Picknick" (Victorian picnic) on GoogleImages.
Yet they only sell full time (4 day) tickets. Due to the popularity for years organisers have been urged to introduce day tickets, but they have refused to do so because they only wanted to serve to a dedicated community. They could have made more money and rent better concert halls, however decided for keeping the community. The festival stayed small, no more than 30.000 attendees each year, not many big acts, it actually still has "Treffen" (meetup) atmosphere for Germany's goth scene, and the creative people continue attending.
You can't really do that. Burning man is different from a normal music festival.
I've never been to Burning Man, but I've been to other similar week-long psychedelic festivals, like Boom in Portugal and it's definitely not your 'normal' rock music festival.
First there's the 'non-commercial' side - no companies or logos or other publicity displayed anywhere, then there's the international aspect - literally, it's a gathering of people from all over the world. Then there are the drugs, the virtual lack of alcohol, the psychedelia and the 'unsanity' that people experience for a week, which manifests as all kinds of forms of art, music, yoga, martial arts, shamanic rituals and so on.
'Leave no trace' means people are conscious and careful about the place, so the festival ground is always clean.
People change, they become non-competitive, extremely nice and generous to each other - sort of like a sect, but in a good way :)).
So the festival is not just a great amount of fun and suffering from weather extremes, but also a very 'spiritual' and introspective experience - in which I personally regain hope in humanity..
Boom Festival is always a powerful experience, but 'burners' who've been at both claim Burning Man is even more powerful.
Of course as these events gain popularity, more and more people are going to be attracted to them and inevitably that's going to change the 'old spirit' of the festival.
But this is the rule of life - old gives way to new and it's been like this since the beginning of time, right ? :).
I think Fusion would be a more apt comparison.
Or the Chaos Communication Congress, though that's admittedly not a tent festival with tents?
I don't know — I think maybe it was. Not on some absolute scale (although I doubt that no single aspect of the past was absolutely better than an aspect of the present), but on a relative scale. I recall reading that part of the reason most of our musical tastes don't really change after high school is due to physical and emotional components of discovering music young vice old. Can't that be the same for other experiences too?
Imagine you're twenty-four at some event: you have food in your belly, friends around you, and you're having a ball. You don't really have any other responsibilities other than making it back to work once your vacation is over.
Now imagine that you're 36 at the same event: you have a wife and a few kids, food in your belly, friends around you, and you're not quite having a ball. Maybe you brought your kids, and maybe some aspects of the event aren't kid-friendly. Maybe you didn't, and you've got that constant back-of-the-mind worry that all parents have. Maybe your wife is with you and you're both enjoying the event, or maybe she's with you but you had an argument, or maybe she's not with you because the event's not her thing, and you miss her while still enjoying the event, or maybe she's not with you because you had a fight and you just want to leave the event and apologise. Meanwhile, the project back at work is still going on, and while you have faith in your subordinates, you know that they really do need you for a few key decisions every week, and you worry that they might be blocked until your return.
You're 48, at the same event. One of your kids is driving now. You can't believe the law lets someone that unaware of his circumstances to drive, and you're worried that maybe you shouldn't let him, but you're worried that if you don't he won't learn to notice his circumstances. He's not at the event, and you've got that constant low-level dread every parent has that he'll kill himself or someone else on the road. Maybe you and your wife have kept your relationship strong through all the increased cares and responsibilities, or maybe you've let it slip because there's only so much time in a day. Meanwhile, you've realised that some of the hopes you both had for your lives will simply never come to fruition: at this point in life, some doors are forever closed. And then there's your career: you've reached a high point in terms of capability, but you're still just one man. Most of your subordinates are good and trustworthy, but they don't see the bigger picture. You try to show them, but they're too caught up in the trees to see the forest. And then there's D—, who was a great and loyal guy, but you raised him up a little fast just as things began to go wrong in his personal life. Now he's underperforming, and honestly you don't believe that he can get better. You want to repay his loyalty, but you also want to repay the loyalty and hard work of all those D— is shortchanging.
Which of those people is going to enjoy the event better?
According to Socrates it was 
"Nobody ever goes there anymore - it's too crowded."
"He sings his songs of Ireland far away,
and of how he's going back to Dublin one fine day."
but carries on:
"And the Ireland of his heart's recall,
If it ever did exist at all,
Now only lives and wistfully moves,
Through Paddy's dreams."
So many of our memories are very... rose-tinted.
The universal rule of groups: its always the next guy who ruins the coolness of a group
As to Burning Man itself, it always felt like one of those events that I was not cool enough to go to. Camping in the desert would be interesting, and probably a lot less stressful than some of the camping I did during high school.
So you're playing your own gatekeeper? If you wanted to go, just go, you might just learn a thing or two about coolness, yourself and other people.
Coolness is largely an illusion.
In any case, isn't being uncool the coolest thing nowadays? At least that's the impression I get when I look at hipsters. 20 years ago, no-one would be caught dead looking like they do, it would have been totally uncool. Now it's cool (perhaps not for long anymore).
In my opinion, there's no substitute for authenticity, and anything that's considered cool or fashionable is merely an imitation of real authenticity (see e.g. late-stage hipsterism).
Burning Man is made for the exact opposite type of people. It's for people who find all things mainstream stifling, and are driven to break out of it in some way. It's for people who are into producing or consuming something, anything, that's several sigma off mean. That's what it celebrates. And for those of us who are really not into that stuff, going there is at best a waste of time.
I hope you don't take this as a negative comment. That's not why I'm writing this. It's definitely not for everyone; it helps no one trying to make it an event for everyone, and anyone who considers it needs to do real soul searching about their own identity and how that might intersect with the event. You're showing clear self-awareness which is leading you to a particular intuition. I respect that you can see with confidence who you are and where your cultural fit is.
You have to trust me on this. There are some genuinely, permanently uncool people in this world, and we ruin the "cool people" parties. We are not the kind of pretend-uncool that is actually a rebellious alternative kind of cool. We are actual, irredeemable squares.
The authenticity is there; it's just really, really boring. And not particularly attractive.
So please, don't tell me to just go to Burning Man if I want to go. Everyone would go home early, and no one would come back the next year. (Rationally, I know that couldn't possibly be true, but I still believe it.) Also, the "cool people" have been rather rude and horrible to me my whole life, so voluntarily walking into a concentration of them seems masochistic and ill-advised.
Coolness may be a mirage that may be chased forever without catching it, but uncoolness is real.
I think it has more to do with the expected enjoyment value. I really didn't get into frat parties in college, and Burning Man seems to be the art scene version of a frat party. So, I think it would be interesting, but I really don't have the friends that would make the trip worthwhile.
> In any case, isn't being uncool the coolest thing nowadays?
Not if reality TV is to be believed.
> In my opinion, there's no substitute for authenticity, and anything that's considered cool or fashionable is merely an imitation of real authenticity (see e.g. late-stage hipsterism).
Looking around, that doesn't seem to be the majority view. I think authenticity is dead. The majority of the people want their opinion reinforced and not contradicted.
The feeling of "I'm not cool enough for Burning Man" makes 100% sense. I know many people who have keenly felt that. I've felt it myself off and on. If you let yourself fall into the wrong mindset it can definitely bring you down.
But some of my greatest inspiration from Burning Man comes from having learned how not to give into those insecurities, and to have let myself see with open eyes the supportive community that really is there and shows authentic enthusiasm for you just because you're you: no matter how uncool, introverted, shy, awkward, or whatever other non-sexy self-label you apply to yourself.
One of the greatest strengths of Burning Man's community at its best (in my opinion) is offering such unique support for people proudly being whoever they are. Even if they're uncool. Especially if they're uncool. You are loved and accepted simply because of who you are.
Yes, this sounds like hippie nonsense. Yes, it's not universally practiced and there are elements that don't buy into it. It's definitely not a walk in the park. But that magic is really there. I felt it through some combination of dumb luck and personal openness to the world and I'm deeply thankful to have found it.
Maybe your path can help you find that too, maybe not. I'm lucky to have found some amazing personal community there that continues to support me even in my weaker moments. But I assure you, as best as I'm able as random words here on a computer screen, that you could be a deeper fit in that community than you may realize. Maybe you'll never go there (and I'd be the last to judge you if you don't). But if so, it's not because you're not cool enough for the party.
The logistics and planning of getting everything out to the dessert from the east coast was more significant than I had imagined.
I borrowed her popup tent that was covered in burning man dust, its weird gray and alkali. Its remarkable that burning man actually happens.
It wouldn't surprise me if in 2026 people are talking about how terrible Burning Man has become and how it's nothing like the wonderful Burning Man of 2016.
I think that this pattern exists in part because you can't really have the same mind-blowing experience twice. You can keep going back to the playa, and the event will keep offering you new experiences and even some surprises, but you do get accustomed to it. I suspect that many people claiming it is not as good as it used to be are failing to distinguish their reaction to the novelty of the experience from the nature of the event itself.
It is very common for people to go every year for 3-5 years, then move on - not because Burning Man has gone downhill somehow, but because they have gotten all they need out of it and are now ready to spend their summers doing something else.
because you're 38 and reminiscing about how unappealing burning is compared to when you were 25
Disappointment stems from attendees expecting a cultural phenomenon and getting a show; the expectation that Burning Man is still important but finding it's just a show. You don't get this problem at Disneyland because and talk of 'Disney spirit' is tongue in cheek.
Here are some more substantial questions than the sort of feel good straw-man in the article. What new ideas have come out of it in the last 15 years? How do you create culture by showing up for a weekend to a catered camp ground and show? Is there any overlap at all to what attendees think about the meaning/point of Burning Man? So if you come west just add it to the Vegas-Disneyland circuit because that is all it is now.
Indeed there is one advantage to Vegas and Disney, the cops don't shamelessly hassle gay people.
Your interpretation sounds excessively jaded to me and irreconcilable with the communities I know that continue to nurture and grow from BM.
I notice in particular your comment about coming to catered camps. That's precisely what Burning Man's community is pushing back hardest against, because the community wants to avoid the exact degeneration into vapid entertainment that you're claiming it's become. It's deeply deceptive to suggest this is a lost battle, or that the heart that makes this community something more isn't still strong and fighting very hard for the good fight.
Edit: I didn't notice your comment about gay people. What are you trying to express there? Black Rock City has to be one of the most gay-friendly places on earth. Where are you getting these ideas?
Yes, the bulk of the community is gay friendly. The cops (which were not there in the early days) sure as hell are not. Aside form being told of other harassment by them, I personally witnessed an event in 2006 when two friends of mine were detained for the weekend in Reno on some ludicrous indecency charge and released on Monday without charge.
So good luck to the event and its narrative but I and every one I know are sure as hell out of it.
The (overbearing) presence of police is dispiriting, and is most definitely a sunk cost of the growth and notoriety of the event as it now is. No one enjoys that. It is what it is. That said, it's easy to overstate its impact - they're ultimately a very small part of the experience and don't really stop you from doing whatever you want to do out there.
Burning Man is not what it was in 2000. People who really enjoyed what it was then may not enjoy what it is now. But it really isn't Disneyland or Vegas. Thankfully (in my experience), there's still a long, long way to go before it gets there. When it's getting there I'll be the first to step off the ride. But I'm still enthusiastically in love with what it is now and proud of the communities I know and have been a part of. They're some of the most solid people I've ever known. That's mostly, in the end, what keeps me there.
Our conversation sounds like a "changing of the guards" dialogue. I'm glad you have good memories from your times and I hope you can find some joy knowing there are still people with fires in their heart stirring the flames.
I've come to believe that the real purpose of Burning Man is to have these kinds of meta-discussions. The actual gathering in the desert is nothing but a side effect.
It's like the old koan about a radio: if you replace the speakers, then the housing, then the circuitry, then the controls, is it the same radio?
the shark has definitely jumped higher since the last time I went. Hardly saw any naked people this year. There were lots more "coachella" types - doing a lot of instagramming, but the worst for me was that there really wasn't a lot of room to be by yourself out on the playa. There were always people around. In past years, I could be out there by myself if I went out far enough.
That being said, BM is still incredible and I'm not against it evolving. The spirit is still alive and well.
That change saddens me.
That said, in the end I basically adopt your last sentence as my ethos. Change is inevitable and the saddest thing of all is to miss what's still great because you're too focused on what's lost.
"The 10 Principles are at their most powerful when given to strangers."
Every wave of people, SF residents, phone phreakers, immigrants, every generatuin; bemoans the next wave of people are ruining it.
He could have said "Allowing an uncontrolled influx of new participants ruined burning man".
And that is precisely right.
Some clubs should be exclusive.
Is it the culture of being totally present, here and now? Well, then you need to find something that without cell phones, computers, etc.
Is it the culture of sharing? Then you should find something that tries to run itself without money.
Is it the art and the spectacle? Find your local arts community. That's probably the easiest.
Find something doing stuff you like to do, go in and participate--even if you are an introvert. There is something very different about standing on the stage than standing behind or beside it.
"So original in her black lipstick
Listening to some obscure band
But isn't she pissed at all the other non-conformists
who listen to that same obscure band"