No Phone Use at Burns

Hi All!

Mirage here.

I’ve just returned from AfrikaBurn. It seems they are heading the way of Burning Man in terms of gratuitous commodification of experience. By this I mean adopting the default world setting of photographing and videoing anything and everything that catches the eye. And there’s a serious amount of eye-catching stuff at a Burn, n’est-ce pas?! 

Despite there being no phone signal there, and no WiFi towers either, there were so many people wandering around passively consuming artworks, sunsets, other people’s costumes, dancefloors etc etc…anything and everything…. exactly like we’ve all been conditioned to do in the default world.


An artist with an art car is speaking with a Burner. Suddnely, a voice shouts: “hey, get out of the way!” An ‘influencer-sparkle-pony’ type drapes herself over the front of the car and does a whole hair flicking drill while a gazillion images are taken. They then swan off, flicking through the photos to see how cool they look, without having considered the artwork, having interacted, having participated, having any real immediate experiences! All they have are some staged photos for later consumption by others who are not at the event.

I had to move 3 times during Temple Burn to avoid a phone held high above the head, recording it. “Dude, a Silent Burn is for you to have time and space to feel yourself and what this experience means to you, not to obsess about your framing or whether someone is in your way. You’re missing what’s going on!” (Also, obstruct your own view! Not the view for hundreds of people behind you!)

‘Golden Hour’ was the worst. You saw them everywhere: gangs of people with phones at the ready, crying out “Group photo!” and herding people together, interrupting conversations, flirtations, dancing – the whole gamut of diverse, immediate, participatory experience – to freeze in a unnatural and artificial poses. Then breaking out and roaming again.


In the Where What When booklet, AfrikaBurn clearly stated that the default at the Burn was you need consent from every person in a photograph, and consent is NOT to be assumed. In practice, I spent a lot of time interrupting my Burn to intervene with people violating these terms. I strongly believe it is critically important that we keep this behaviour out of the Burn space!

For the most part, people responded quite well. Some claimed to be unaware. Others guiltily confessed to knowing, but ‘just couldn’t resist.’ Indeed, it can be tricky, which is why I believe zero tolerance is the only way to go.


Another argument for keeping Burns a phone-free experience is to prevent commodifying the experience. This is a meta trend in society. Many people are not so much interested in the experience as the recording of the experience: capturing it to take it away with them, to trade it for kudos on social media. This is commodification, and a Burn is a decommodified space.


You can see it as just a harmless bit of fun, creating memories. I see it as a potential breach of 4 out of 11 of the Burning Principles!

Participation – you’re not involved if you’re filming/photographing. You become a voyeur.

Immediacy – Not only are you not in the moment, you impinge on others’ immediacy by asking for poses.

Consent – wide shots, distance shots, panning/scanning shots likely have folk in them you didn’t ask. Do I have the right to have my own Burn without someone attempting to capture my image? 

Decommodification – have the experience, leave it alone, let it be, live it yourself. Standing stock still filming the DJ in the epicentre of the dancefloor is not cool. Shouting “SELFIE” and reorganising a fluid dynamic into a static one ANYWHERE — but particularly on a dancefloor — is anathema to what Nest is all about! Burns have some of the best dancefloors around precisely because that sort of shit doesn’t go down (very much). It does at Burning Man. It’s started at AfrikaBurn. Let’s not have it infect Burning Nest. Let’s put up a strong defence against it.

We have removed money from the Burn space to see what life is like without it. Are we going to allow mobile phones, the agents of commodification and narcissism, the cult of self, into our Glade without a challenge?

I say no.


Let’s make it abundantly clear that we put our phones away at the gate and have a week of 100% Immediate Participation in the Burn. Let’s resist temptation to package our experience in pixelated form to be subsequently traded off on social media.

Let’s empower all of us to make it our Civic Responsability and Communal Effort to Each one Teach One about no phone use. Politely and gently intervene during the Burn if people are using phones in ways that seem to breach the principles.


Sometime soon, some group or event or organisation is going to take create a phone free space. People and the planet need those spaces. I need those spaces. Burns have been those spaces. (I won’t go back to Burning Man, as it’s too much like everywhere else these days) Burns could continue to be those spaces.

#phonefreefestivals #phonefreedancefloors




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