Burning Man 2016 Is Here: Why Are We So Obsessed?

America is obsessed with Burning Man, the desert festival that is all about “radical self-expression.” The week-long event with its famous Black Rock City is built from scratch, and when it’s over, you’d never know there was ever been anything but sand and wildlife in the Nevada desert.

In fact, “tens of thousands of people” go to Burning Man every year, bringing with them everything they need to survive a burning hot week in the desert. It costs thousands of dollars to buy a ticket, put together supplies and get yourself there, but every year, the people of Burning Man come from all over the world, pack their tents and make the trek to the middle-of-nowhere desert festival.

Building the man #BurningMan 2016

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Quartz magazine describes the “obsession with Burning Man” as a “cry for help” from a society where many don’t know who they are any more, or what they’re doing here on planet earth. Those who go to Burning Man get to revel in an atmosphere without money, where festival goers exchange goods in a “gift economy” that’s completely unlike day-to-day life and includes “surreal art, orgies, and plenty of drugs.”

It sounds like a modern day Woodstock filled with 21st century hippies, but the reality is, there are plenty of way more conservative Burning Man participants. For instance, the big burning is “incredibly popular among successful Silicon Valley types,” the kind who normally wear suits, work in glossy offices, and turn up their patrician noses at communal-dwelling musicians and artists in flowing clothes and long hair.

But at the Burning Man Festival 2016, the suits and the hippies hang out together, and you often can’t tell the difference. The successful business world dwellers are burning to find something more, even if they aren’t willing to look for it in their Monday to Friday lives.

“As in, people whose day-to-day lives often include none of the spirituality, search for meaning, and hedonistic experiences they get for one week at Burning Man.”

According to Business Insider, the Black Rock Desert has become a “go-to destination for the Silicon Valley elite” for the magical week of Burning Man, a festival that seems to fill their burning desire for a change in their spiritually empty lives as they become people of Burning Man.

Psychologists and social scientists are beginning to pay close attention to the demographics of Burners. Daniel Yudkin is a PhD candidate at New York University, and he’s made a study of the “transformational experiences in the Burning Man desert.” He says that for many people of Burning Man, the festival is the one time of their year that they get to find “authentic connections and self-expression.”

“I think the fact that people invest so much of their own resources and time and energy to going to Burning Man suggests that there’s something missing, that there’s something Burning Man fulfills for them that they don’t get in day to day life.”

Techie Burners are of special interest to those studying the effect of the festival. Foursquare set out to discover where else this group of Burning Man 2016 attendees like to spend their time, wondering if they had something in common in their search for meaning.

It turns out that this group of Burners are really into community, and trying to find it in their work life all the time. In the tech world, people who are going to Burning Man 2016 “are six times more likely” than other tech employees to use a community work space like those provided by WeWork.

At the WeWork locations, start-ups and others share rented space where there’s free food, and the “chic decor” also acts as a backdrop for community events.

“People spend the day in workplaces where quite often we have to hold our tongues, not say what we really think, keep going, do what we need to do.”

Quartz asks a good question. If Burning Man 2016 is important to folks because it gives them what they don’t have in everyday life, why don’t they look for ways to change their lives when they get back from the desert this year?

“It can be a painful cycle for some Burners of depression and ecstasy because they haven’t been able to create or connect with others outside of Burning Man.”

[Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers/Getty Images]