Earlier today, I posted a blog entry called Is Burning Man Anti Social-Media?. The post points to what I see as a growing conflict between Burning Man’s “freedom of expression” policies and the expanding social media culture around the event.
I turned off comments specifically at SFGate.com, because, for two years I’ve not read them, and I have observed that the result of deactivating comments (save for special situations) is more thoughtful and intelligent emailed responses, and a conversation that spreads to the larger social media landscape, where it has more content value.
This email I am about to present, by Mr. Doug Broussard, was exactly what I had in mind. He disagrees with me, and does so in a reasoned, well-crafted way. This is the kind of exchange that’s largely lost in today’s “flame happy” environment at SFGate.com. Enough is enough.
Here’s Mr. Broussard
I read with interest your latest post about Burning Man and social media. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/abraham/detail?entry_id=95830) I wanted to note a couple of items that I think might get you to rethink your viewpoint on Burning Man and social media.
The first is that there’s a lot of social media creeping out from Burning Man already. While Internet access on playa is generally sporadic and slow for the thousands of volunteers who show up early to build the city, friends often post in social media about making runs to Reno or Gerlach, or that they’ve arrived at the nascent Black Rock City. I’m always encouraged to see this use of social media – reminding friends and family that we’re safe, or happy, or just on our merry way in a particular time and place – transcending such a hostile environment.
I do take exception with your demand for more social media from the artist-supporting Burning Man (if I may suppose an demand to your article). I think that often, social media use in situations commonly found at Burning Man are inappropriate. Plenty of film crews and other media outlets get press passes and ask participants to consent to photography and interviews. For attendees without a press pass, it’s a bit different. While one person may desire to share a particularly thrilling sight or display that includes recognizable people who haven’t given consent, they’re perfectly welcome to ‘capture’ it – for their own enjoyment. The problem is when one person’s desire to capture a moment – photographs, videos, audio recordings, even drawings – infringes upon the personal freedom of another person to be left alone or to simply stay out of the limelight.
You’ve no doubt met someone – probably several someones – who have been put in a difficult situation by social media. Maybe their boss saw pictures of them at a party, drunk the night before a big deliverable, tagged by a well-intentioned friend. Perhaps it was an inappropriate post at a time of great stress that caused even more trouble. Sometimes, there’s no one to blame but yourself. Some times, there’s a complete stranger sells pictures with your image to blame. At Burning Man, you can be photographed in a well-meaning but awkward situation that your boss would find grounds for termination ten times a day while completely sober and wearing a business suit.
This is why we – people who invest our time (for free) and our money in the event called Burning Man sometimes object to these calls for more and more varied communication from the playa. Are you aware that your article seems awkward possibly even ridiculous to anyone who has been to Burning Man-simply because anyone who has attended knows that there’s no Internet connection for attendees on playa? Look at the selective editing power of the ACORN/James O’Keefe videos – and consider what someone with an agenda and zero ethical standards can do to an organization that helps (low income homeowners, artists, etc.).
I understand your article is well-intentioned, but I can’t agree with it – on both self-interested and factual grounds. Consider some of the hypotheticals I’ve offered above along with the lack of Internet connection at the event – do you think that perhaps your column could have been a bit one-sided? I hope you will agree with me that reconsidering your conclusions about social media at Burning Man is worth a little of your time.
Again, thanks Doug. My response will appear in a follow-up post. And I encourage anyone else to please send a reasoned email stating your thoughts on the topic. Stay tuned.