Known for dust storms, outrageous costumes, ephemeral art installations, psychedelic drugs, and an economy supposedly based on the goodwill of others, Burning Man has also become the place where Silicon Valley's wealthiest tech entrerpreneurs escape for a week over Labor Day weekend.
The draw to the annual festival held in northwestern Nevada might seem counterintuitive, given the festival's anti-capitalist rhetoric. (Burning Man's values dictate that "gifts are given freely" with no money to be exchanged.) But festival founder Larry Harvey thinks the attraction is to be expected. He told Vox that there’s no mystery as to why the tech elite “would be smitten with the idea of an unlimited blank slate to do things that have never been done.”
Here’s what three tech titans say about the playa.
Burning Man and Silicon Valley are virtually one and the same, the Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO once reportedly said. Musk made the comment in 2014 at an after-party following the premiere of HBO series Silicon Valley.
“I really feel like (the show’s co-creator) Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley,” Re/code reported Musk as saying. “If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it. You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn’t even get fucking close to what’s in Silicon Valley. The show didn’t have any of that.”
The Google co-founder and soon-to-be CEO of new conglomerate Alphabet Inc. views Burning Man as a model for the type of unregulated space where entrepreneurs could experiment without undue restrictions and thrive.
"There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation," The Verge reported Page as saying at the Google I/O conference in 2013. "And that's good, we don't want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world."
"You know, I like going to Burning Man, for example. Which I'm sure many of you have been to. That's an environment where people can try out different things and not everybody has to go, and I think that's a great thing too," Page reportedly was quoted as saying by Business Insider.
For the Zappos CEO, Burning Man is the type of experience that flips what he calls “the hive switch.”
“Basically, if you look at nature, you discover that certain animals, like chimpanzees and wolves, compete for food and mates, while others--bees are the best example--organize themselves for the greater good. They live together as a unified force because the DNA is the same. Bees are always working together for the benefit of the hive,” Hsieh told Playboy.
The feeling of unity Hsieh associates with this hive mentality is what draws him to Burning man.
“The art, especially at night, just puts you in a state of awe,” he said of the festival. “These things are hard to describe until you’ve experienced them, I guess.”