I slowly approached the door feeling a strange combination of fear, shame and excitement. The house was a small one lost back in a bundle of old growth hemlocks far from the road. It was made from natural edged wood hand planed and lovingly put together. None of the angles were straight and none of the boards were square but it held a strange kind of appeal that most square houses did not. The door started to open and my heart skipped two beats.
We’ve all grown frighteningly accustomed to proving to our personal computers that we are not a robot. Every time we fill out a web form or accidentally forget our webmail password a little box shows up with a series of letters and numbers that are increasingly difficult to read. As the years have flown by, the secret codes have gotten childishly easy to read to completely and utterly indecipherable. For a brief moment I often doubt myself “Is this really what this program is expecting me to type”. If I was any more unreasonable of a man I might even have lingering doubts about whether I might be a robot myself.
So how did we get to this place where people write programs to test other people to see if they are programs? Everyone knows it’s to protect us from spammers and hackers. It’s those ‘really smart computer nerds’ that are keeping those other ‘really Bad (with a capital B) computer nerds’ at bay. So we go to bed at night feelings safe. But so much of it is like watching our grandma getting felt up by TSA security at the airport. It’s all about the illusion of safety, sadly you and I are often not even protected from the people who are supposed to protect us.
Google used their Google Maps cars to drive around neighborhoods automatically logging into people’s unsecured wi-fi and collecting personal information on their computers all over the world. They were fined paltry sums by many government agencies and they apologized profusely but this was the first time something like this was done on a wide scale. I’ve slowly moved most of my digital life into the cloud. At this point most of the virtual information I care about is stored somewhere other than my personal computer.
The following is a recounting of my first experience at Burning Man in 2004. I have been back many times since then, but that first trip was the most magical.
As I sat quietly tears streamed down my face. All around me thousands of people sat quietly humming in different low harmonious tones. The heat from the flames of the temple was so hot it was quite uncomfortable. Although we were seated over 300 feet away the 80′ Temple of Honor burned with an intensity I have never seen in any structure fire in my 4.5 years as a firefighter. I big part of me was glad to see it burn. I have been to visit the temple 8 times in the last 3 days and each time it brought tears to my eyes. I have traveled across a great deal of the planet and the temple was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The love and tremendous amount of energy that was put into the temple was staggering. It made me realize that once you see what’s possible you’re no longer interested in what’s probable. For the temple the gift was in the giving. I thought about the huge amount of resistance I had put up in switching over to the Burning Man gifting economy and I realized that a great deal of that was the difficulty I was having in seeing that the gift was in for the giver, not the receiver. There was a big part of me that was glad to see the temple go and another part that was just beginning to appreciate the transient nature of life. All the work that had been put into that temple that was only around for a week made me realize that no matter how hard I worked or how much I accomplished that it wouldn’t change the fact that even if I lived for 100 years that it was still a brief glimpse of time when compared with the timeline of the universe, the earth or even mankind. It was sobering in a deep and meaningful way. The night before we had burned the 40′ neon blue man at the center of the city and the atmosphere had been a world of difference, there was hooting and hollering and dancing. The burning of the temple was a far more solemn occasion. There was so much emotion in that place, frequently visitors made no attempts to hide their tears. The energy of the place was so intense it was hard not to feel sadness.