This is the first part in a two part series on how to create meaningful gifts & experiences at Burning Man.

Sixty thousand people make the pilgrimage from around the world to the Burning Man to take part in an experiment that gets rerun every year. It becomes the 5th largest city in Nevada and only exists for 1 week. Unlike most events requiring a ticket for entry,  you are guaranteed nothing with a purchase of a ticket, except maybe dust. You will get lots of that.

The people who buy the tickets are the same ones that spend their own money and time creating every single piece of art, music, class, restaurant, dance club and experience there is to be had. Operating on a gift economy where nothing can be bought or sold, even water, alters the normal incentives of producing art or experiences.

10 Principles

This fertile ground of possibilities is created in part by the ten principles of Burning Man. Take the principle of decommodification for example.

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

If you can’t buy it or profit from it a certain level of genuineness arrises.

When you realize the amazing experiences you have is because people are spending their own time and money you wonder how do you give back to this amazing community?

Creating Meaningful Gifts & Experiences

Creating meaningful gifts and experiences at Burning Man is a double sided swordThe playa, an empty canvas of alkaline dust & uninterrupted views, where the event is held is fertile ground for trialling new ways of interaction in a large population open to change. People at Burning Man are creating novel interactive environments combined with unconventional events to explore new relationships between people in a society. On the flip side, this is not an event you bring a few cases of beer to hand out to fellow participants and expect to see your ‘economic worth’ skyrocket in this gift economy.

We will go in depth on ways to create meaningful experiences in the second part of this series, but first we go over some reasons why big changes happen in people.

Breaking Up Patterns

You find a polarizing list of anecdotal descriptions of people’s first time at Burning Man. They usually range the full spectrum from, ‘This is hell on earth except with lasers, fire and horrible 24/7 music’ to ‘My direction in life has permanently changed and I hate to imagine never finding this place & people.’ For the purpose of this series, we will focus on the latter and why a large number of people are having these positive experiences. Some even ask, ‘Is there too much positive energy at Burning Man?

Burning Man’s potent formula to induce positive change is correlated with breaking up the useless habits in people’s lives. Habits are necessary so we are not overwhelmed with having to use our conscious mind to brush our teeth, walk or drive a car. However, when we allow society to influence our patterns in a way that is not ideal breaking up patterns can be helpful for many to have their subconscious habits challenged every now and then.


Change in Physical Surroundings

Most people do not live in a naturally alkaline dried up dusty ocean floor with not a stone, plant, building or living being for miles. This blank landscape, missing the manicured lawns of suburbia or the concrete towers of the city, is a fresh and unknown landscape for new possibilities for newcomers.

Similar to the feeling of arriving in a foreign country, when you walk down the blocks of the city for the first time and you see all of the intricate and well put together theme camps, what some people call live in art installations, it can challenge your ideas of security and privacy when most of the camp is like a large living room on the street front with the front facing wall removed.

The stark contrast of the desolate wide open vistas outside of the city to the strangely inviting theme camps lining the streets this is quite the opposite of suburbia and city life.

A barrage of constant ‘art’ is available as you walk down the streets. From interactive art experiences where people invite you to explore their world they created, to a 4 square inch piece of art a mile from the nearest visible marker, art is ever present and the lines are blurred between ‘art’ and the actual city.


Change in Social Agreements

Many places in world, especially in the United States, have invisible agreements between strangers. Strangers cannot be trusted and to be social and playful with strangers is seen as odd.

The social agreement at Burning Man starts as your vehicle leaves the asphalt and slowly enters the vast open playa. You are greeted by strangers with hugs as you enter the city, cries from strangers ‘Welcome Home!’ and first timers start to realize that the social norms here have very little conventions except that expect the unexpected.


Change in Movement Patterns

Most people in the United States have never used bicycle as the primary form of transportation, instead being alone in their car on their commute to work or the stores. When you transfer someone that navigates their environments in a large protective shell at 70 mph and slow them down to 10 mph and the only motorized vehicles are mutant vehicles. Your daily commutes around the city are filled with weird sights, people, bikes and giant dragons instead of cars and nondescript buildings.

One movement that is automatic for most people when leaving a place is the modern check for their phone, wallet and keys.

Phones for the most part are useless unless for their camera. Keys? Remember the living room with only 3 walls? Wallet? It has surprised many people that they quickly take this new environment where no money exchanges hands. The first time most people are struck hard is the first time they leave Burning Man and pull out their wallet.