Is the Internet the infrastructure to overthrow capitalism? Is the Internet the utopian socialist state?
“…communism is currently emerging as a new mode of production, namely, peer production (PP), which produces commons instead of commodity. In PP, producers produce commons through voluntary participation in distributed network-based communities of production. Each volunteer chooses the tasks she performs, the amount of time she devotes to the collective production, and the place and time of her productive activity. In terms of distribution, the digital commons are available for free on the net. The rights to relatively scarce commons are still emerging, but they might be relatively restrictive compared with rights to digital commons.”
Jakob Rigi (2013)
Instead of looking at the Internet as such phenomenon I choose to examine what is said to be the manifestation, the physical realisation of the Internet, the Burning Man Festival. Fred Turner (2009) and Jessica Richman (2008) base their argument on the similarities in structures of the cyberspace and the culture of Burning Man; both evoke the sense of accelerating possibility, the ability to experience various subcultures, ideas simultaneously and, most importantly, create a new persona, and to create a virtual world surrounding it.
Burning Man provides the ‘cultural infrastructure’ (Turner, 2009) for emerging forms of new media manufacturing. The ideals and social structures of the festival emphasise creativity, self-expression and condemn the consumerist logics of the market, ban advertising (displaying brand names) and money economy (Kozinets, 2002). Furthermore, cyberspace and the festival shows explicit similarities in their values: creativity and merit, risk taking, active participation, tolerance of diversity and absurdity, aversion from middle-class values, commercialism and conformity (Richman, 2008). These similarities might account for the popularity of the event amongst CEOs and people of the Silicon Valley. Even if we acknowledge the shared values and structures, if we believe in the underlying ‘cultural infrastructure’ enabling such a utopian way of sharing and communality we cannot miss a striking difference. The capitalistic nature of the Silicon Valley standing in strong opposition to the concepts of Burning Man.
Before we could be convinced that the Burning Man is the cultural infrastructure that enables the emergence of peer production and leads to a utopian socialist state, take a different perspective and the high attendance of CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, CEO Elon Musk (even went so far as to claim that Burning Man “is Silicon Valley”) (Spencer, 2015; Bilton, 2015) will seem somewhat suspicious. The Burning Man, for some, is a purely business and is about establishing and maintaining connections.
“This is top-league networking and business folks are all here in the guise of having fun. It’s designed around the music, but it’s about the business. A ton of business will get done here. Entrepreneurs will get funded, investors will find their trajectories, service companies will meet and mix it up.”
Both the festival and the Internet rises questions about a post-capitalist, post-employment society. The answer seems not to be communism/socialist utopia. As cultural infrastructures, they enable the creation of a new kind of society and the creation and realisation of visions. Spencer (2015) suggests that instead of opening up the discourse to the public, the Internet and the Burning Man is an infrastructure that enables libertarian oligarchy to come to being and exercise its power over the masses. These infrastructures working in the legal framework of particular states open up (virtual) spaces and exercise their power outside of and parallel to the state.
Bilton, N. (2015) At burning man, the tech elite One-Up One another. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/fashion/at-burning-man-the-tech-elite-one-up-one-another.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Bowles, N. (2016) ‘Burning man for the 1%’: The desert party for the tech elite, with Eric Schmidt in a top hat. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/02/further-future-festival-burning-man-tech-elite-eric-schmidt (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Spencer, K.A., Jacobin, Marcetic, B., Gottschalk, M., Karp, M. and Kilpatrick, C. (2015) Why the Rich Love burning man. Available at: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/burning-man-one-percent-silicon-valley-tech/ (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Lindig, S. (2016) Celebrities flock to black rock city for burning man 2016. Available at: http://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a17528/celebrities-at-burning-man-2016/ (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Kozinets, R.V. (2002) ‘Can consumers escape the market? Emancipatory illuminations from burning man’, Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), pp. 20–38. doi: 10.1086/339919.
Turner, F. (2009) ‘Burning man at Google: A cultural infrastructure for new media production’, New Media & Society, 11(1-2), pp. 73–94. doi: 10.1177/1461444808099575.
Rigi, J. (2013) ‘Peer production and Marxian communism: Contours of a new emerging mode of production’, Capital & Class, 37(3), pp. 397–416. doi: 10.1177/0309816813503979.
Richman, J. (2008) ‘Connections: Silicon Man and Burning Valley’, Intersect, 1(1), pp. 27–35.