staying (too) connected – internet at burning man

It just seems to follow you everywhere, doesn’t it?

And while I kind of like knowing that I can communicate if I really need to, there is something immensely freeing in how you live when your usual connectivity is severed. You don’t check email (or facebook or shudder twitter), your eyes and brain are not hooked into something far removed from your present, you are not displaced from observing and participating in the actual time and place that you are.

This is especially true for Burning Man where there is already so much happening around you. And for such a brief time. Do you really want to live through google and a computer screen when you are in Black Rock City?

Having said that, this year I will not be out on the playa, and will be hungry for images. So to all of you overly connected internet twits who happen to be uploading from the playa, let me say in advance, good on ya, carry on and Thank You for bringing it out to us.

The spread of wifi on the playa is a change which has occurred during my ‘tenure’ in BRC.  When I finally made it out to my virgin burn in 2006 it was possible to get a message in or out if you really had to, but it wasn’t easy.  Some hot spots existed.  They were few and marginal; carrying as much traffic as they could, and they were pretty unstable.

um, come to think of it, 2010 saw days of outages too.

A campmate had brought his computer and made several trips to 9 o’clock plaza where the medical tent had a signal.  The lack of infrastructure was noticeable and he reported that traffic was heavy and though possible, it was difficult and frustrating.  It all sounded pretty futile to me, not to mention sorta dumb.

Computers have always seemed like a pretty precious and fragile bit of gear to be risking out in the desert dust. For me, it is enough to expose expensive cameras to the risk, but more necessary, somewhat unavoidable. You can use the computer later, in the safety of home, when the fun is done and there is nothing but memories.

I suppose it’s ok if you have just given up worrying whether that particular piece of electronic equipment will survive.  Of course one might mention that this particular friend has a certain reputation for destroying things.

Terry's Burning Truck Art Installation, Exodus Day 2010, offplaya

And of course, a lot depends on the nature of your camping arrangements.  If you are in a trailer or motorhome, keeping a computer safe is pretty easy.  As your lifestyle slides down the luxury scale, things change.  Do you really want to take that computer out of its safe wrapping?  Sit it on your camp table you’ve just wiped clean of dust, walk away from your keyboard for a moment, which unexpectedly becomes longer (yeah, like that could happen) and as you are sharing canapes and cocktails with a friendly neighbor, you look out from under their shade structure to see — the whiteout.

Well all that aside – the preservation of your computer and its precious data, and the distraction from your surroundings – you’ve decided you can’t bear to be disconnected, so will there be wifi at Burning Man 2011? The answer is a qualified yes. As of Burning Man 2010, wifi has been pretty readily available in the area of Playa Info, toward the Esplanade from Center Camp. Brought to you through the efforts of private individuals who, like you, prefer to bring the outside world along with them. And now that the City is open, here are some locations that are now online.

Will it work? Maybe. After all, it still is the Black Rock Desert.
According to the org website:

Internet connectivity … will sometimes be available, but — and this is important — we cannot guarantee it will be up and running right when you need it. The network is provided by participants and is subject to outages and other weirdness — it is, after all, an improbable wireless cloud in the middle of a barren desert.

So good luck with that. My experience last year was that it was down more than up. What’s that you say? Did I bring my computer after all that nonsense I wrote above? well….

Oh, and if you do upload your stories and photos while you are onplaya, be sure to let me know!


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The mind is a wonderful thing to change.
Burning Man 2011 Update
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