by Michael Ronen
How to reframe technology and design an incredible online camp experience for Burning Man 2020: The Multiverse
Since shortly after the pandemic lockdowns began, I have been designing innovative experiences for the Co-reality Collective’s groundbreaking online celebrations. These have paved the way to the virtual Burning Man Multiverse. It is a joy to share with you what we have learned over the last 4+ months and 9 iterative parties:
Begin by asking yourself;
What’s the human value?
From my journey so far designing co-reality experiences for parties, I have learned that identifying your purpose is the most important part. Why, as humans, are we gathering online?
Possible answer: To form and serve as a matrix of support, inviting all who are feeling lonely and socially isolated.
How can we encourage inclusivity and solidarity?
What forms of suffering and hurt are your activities potentially able to heal?
Examples: Pervasive human loneliness. Escalating racial and political tensions. Lack of community solidarity.
Can we experience unity?
In both the physical Burn and our co-reality parties, people essentially gather with the intention to move toward a state of collective consciousness — a feeling and realization that we are all equal parts of a whole.
Video in the Co-Reality spirit, which summarizes this article (because we live in a video world)
We can view the above questions as an exercise in social cohesion.
In order to answer them, it will be useful to begin considering our very selves as a form of technology. A human technology. From this perspective, we have evolved beyond the biosphere and into the noosphere. In the past, the internet created masks. Suddenly, we gained the power to assume multilevel personas — while simultaneously erecting barriers to engagement. Today, by developing curated experiences we are given the opportunity to remove the masks and break down those barriers. Burning Man online will foster the development of powerful inner engagement solutions such as empathy. In the midst of this global humanitarian crisis, we need to embrace technology that facilitates authentic connection more than ever.
The Map for Co-Reality party “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Sofi Lee Hanson
THE HUMAN TECHNOLOGY
Clarifying news flash: Emerging digital technology is not the point! Our focus is on the human-technology that we all possess but have forgotten.
While digital technology does allow us to connect with distant people via screens and the internet, it’s how we use this ability that matters.
What we should explore is within our mind: The Human technology. Of being human, being a mensch. We need to overcome what separates us — to find our hidden collective umbilical cord.
In my designs, I practice human tech through rituals and actions of empathy, curiosity, and imagination developed through intimate play and dance performances in the digital space.
Imagine co-dreaming while awake, or a CoReality member says ‘invoking a double consciousness state’.
Our aim here is to empower human connection in the virtual space. We do that by exploring conversational, dance, or play activities that may have sounded absurd before the pandemic. Who would have thought a year ago that we would be dancing in digital boxes or using a conferencing app to hold intimate space with a stranger? In this new world, we have the chance to empower someone we might never see again! The weirder the better if you ask me — that’s part of the process of exploration!
Members of Co-reality collective in a digital retreat
To tap into the power of human technology for the Burn, your camp’s UX (user experience) should incorporate at least one of the following:
INTIMACY — Expose yourself to a stranger
One of the miracles during pandemic isolation was that we re-framed and repurposed “serious” video conferencing applications to meet many of our intimate social needs.
We began using the conferencing technology for connecting with our friends and family, playing with grandkids, holding productive work meetings, effectively networking, and even for blind dates. We have become accustomed to and comfortable with attending meetings from our bedroom while wearing pajamas. It’s OK! Now is the time to get hyper-intimate, because through intimacy we can overcome the digital coldness forced on us by the limitations of video conference technology.
- Think of all those interesting things you could show in your house during this time of isolation. Make it into a celebration of extreme sharing with strangers.
- Open your closet to a stranger: Show them the shirt you still keep from your teenage years.
- Share the contents of your fridge/kitchen. What do you eat? … What do you NOT eat? What are your guilty pleasures?
- Tell someone about the music you listened to when your heart was broken.
- Share old photographs — from ten years ago — from your childhood — images depicting your parents.
- Make and share a list of your bad habits.
- Show 1–2 scars on your skin. Tell their stories,
- Open “Google Earth,” share screen and go down memory lane! Remember the setting of your first kiss — your first heartbreak. Use a street view to see your childhood street up close. Play music associated with the memories in the background. Now zoom out again. Observe Earth from space and invite someone else to relive their youthful memories.
- Share pivotal life moments with strangers. Imagine and describe them as freeze frames painted in the book of your life. What would you be remembered for?
- Go through your phone and talk about your most recent calls or texts with a stranger. Draw your friendship social graph like a mind map.
EMPATHY — Let a stranger touch your emotions
How would you utilize the tech in your mind to become more empathic towards someone new? Many of us grow up believing we are brains/neurological machines essentially separate from one another. We can’t actually see the cables that connect us (the umbilical cord we cut) and so lose sight of the truth of the underlying connection. Given that, how can people connect and regain the feeling that they are all part of one being?
Our innate EMPATHY HUMAN TECH works to help us do just that.
We feel pain when our “mirror neurons” react to someone else’s suffering.
We also feel the positive energy when we share someone else’s joy.
We experience enjoyable benefits by stretching the limits of our personality and playing the role of the hero or the villain.
- Create ‘compliment-sharing breakup rooms’ for a short period of time in your event.
- Genderswap experiences. Here is a very good experiment done by ‘the machine to be another collective’. Exercise switching POV.
- Share eye contact with someone in full view — Hug a pillow and let the hormones flow while you breathe
- ‘Step into the Circle in zoom’: Begin by having everyone cover their camera with their finger. When anyone says a word that you identify with, reveal yourself, and see the others who also identify. Encourage people to express their personal fears and hopes. Be aware of and sensitive to potential triggers.
- Music of my Emotions: Exchange meaningful playlists with strangers
- Interview my grandfather — Imagine an AMA with your grandparent where you are answering as them. The other should ask questions that relate to the grandchild (yourself) as well. Try to find links to other family histories in your circle.
- Meet my mother — The same idea as above — this one is great for daring.
The map for Co-reality’s “the time wrap party” by Sofi Lee Henson. In “Remember the times” we evoked intimacy among strangers set around the campfire and played music from their childhood.
CREATIVITY — Be inspired and act to inspire
Creativity is about interpreting a subjective experience — expressing what a person feels about the world inside, and that can be both collaborative or individual.
Being creative is a deeply personal and introspective human process involving only the creator and their medium/media.
When creators reflect on each other in an interactive digital space like zoom, an emerging human art piece is co-created in a non-human environment.
- Think physically through PlayDough sculpture.
- Acknowledge and process your problems by signing the blues
- Dance like you did as a teen in your room, imitate others dancing.
- Draw a “time capsule” message to be later found under a table in your own house.
- Stretch the boundaries of conversation etiquette.
- Create characters and worlds through make-believe and role play — Have participants change their participant names and use virtual backgrounds to highlight the make-belief narrative. Move to a new setting in your house. Talk in a different voice. Imitate someone else… who you are is NOT fixed … play with it 🙂
PLAYFULNESS — Act like a fool and play a new role
Centuries ago, the role of the King’s fool was to act out and interpret the truth to the King in an honest but playful manner. The same was the child who shouts “the Emperor has no clothes!”
The Hutchpa (polite rudeness) and Tachles (to the point) approach of Jewish comedians also emphasized the reality of each situation in a unique way.
It is immensely important that we find ways to play during our adult life. Here are some examples of play professions. What do they practice?
The of Stand Up Comedian and the Sad Clown
Playing the fool character is the closest experience to being a kid that many adults have. Consider your favorite comedians. Do they take themselves seriously? Are they comfortable exposing their weakness? Collecting jokes for a sketch, you can reflect on the absurdity of your darkest fears in everyday situations. For those who work in stressful environments, making a habit of reflecting on the absurd is highly recommended.
Both comedians and actors need a shared space where they can practice and rehearse their material. Although many comedians are loners by nature, you can also find them together in open mic gatherings practicing their jokes. Such gatherings foster a sense that they are part of a larger community of fools. It’s essential to even for lonely clowns to have a common space that allows for and encourages adult playfulness.
- Create a magic circle for playfulness.
- Allow participants to use humor to open up about their pain and struggles.
Co-Reality performers duo Zara & Sam Farliegh re-enact scenes from movies.
The Theatre Actor — Empathy creativity and curiosity in play
When actors meet for rehearsals, they usually open their sessions by talking about their life. One can’t just be transported into an emotional journey without first building a basic trust. It’s a very different conversation than the usual coffee room talk at the office. Another alternative is starting a rehearsal session with a warm-up exercise. Sometimes this progress directly into an improv session. An effective warm-up energizes both the body and mind, helping to induce a “high-meditative-open” state of being during the improvisation. Theatre directors such as Peter Brook were interested in creating an actor ensemble as a collective community. In this model, groups of actors would all live together during their art creation process. Some of the best productions would bring the actors to a retreat where they could explore even deeper materials unavailable within the confines of a city.
- Start every session with a dance or a childhood game.
- Make space in your session for improvisation.
- Allow all members to co-create and drive the fictional world story.
Other ways for adults to play and explore in digital environments: Video gaming. Creative psychotherapy. Toy testing (Remember the film “Big”?). LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). Online cosplay (This can be part of fandom groups like Comicon). Non-professional hobby clubs. Board games & card playing.
- Consider how you can practice ways to integrate humor and playfulness in your virtual space. How could your experience allow people to feel comfortable fooling around and playing as kids?
- Explore LAOG — Live Action Online Games as a resource for role play games
- Ask people to dress up, put makeup or create a mask. Give them direction to play “Super You, if you had a secret identity of a superhero how would you act, dress, and talk?”
Co-Reality Retreat, using Playfulness to allow us to open up to each other and to new project directions.
SOLIDARITY — Become aware of another’s pain and act to change it
Social media allows us to become aware of some of what’s happening within our networks but our actions mostly consist of reactive and superficial shows of interest and appreciation. The media urges us to perpetuate a reality of self-branding and hyper-consumption so as to maintain a system of capitalism and pervasive commodification. This pattern has landed us collectively in a space where both the existing serious issue of climate change and the newer concerns relating to a global pandemic meet us in moments of challenging isolation present every day. However, solidarity can serve as a way out. Only by recognizing the truth of everyone’s pain and accepting that we have both a privilege and the ability to make a positive difference can this be achieved.
We can do this by creating an inclusive culture characterized by allowing people time to listen to and be heard by others in the community. This culture is manifest in the language people create and the conversations they have. It’s manifested in the shared narrative being told and in the vision co-dreamed into reality together.
Experience begets wisdom. Knowledge is power. Human technology, when used intelligently, allows us to share that knowledge and empower one another together.
Activities to Develop Solidarity:
- Bring up a subject that often goes unspoken. Shed light on the ostracized. Give a voice and a platform to the unheard.
- Encourage cooperation and discourage people from stepping on one another. Embody radical inclusivity. Create experiences that invite positive new language while allowing bad habits to be unlearned and rethought.
- Ask people to help each other out as if they were “phoning a friend” on the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
- Let people guide each other to a potentially better life by sharing intimate failures and the warnings, shortcuts, and tips informed by their personal ordeals.
- Assist people in getting rid of bad habits (support groups) and gain great new habits and abilities (skills exchange groups).
Co-Reality petting station was an initiative to raise solidarity towards our fellow non-human friends.
UNITY — Feel yourself as part of a collective whole
The most blessed moments in the virtual “burn” are social rituals that produce a state of collective unity. This is achieved by combining “digital togetherness,” empathetic inclusivity, and a co-created collective make-believe experience.
Digital equality: On a Zoom call, we can all occupy equal amounts of the screen surface — the hierarchy of “the real world” is gone. Virtual backgrounds allow us to fudge reality and call in from nearly “anywhere.” In these settings, we all listen most of the time. Gender roles are mixed. There is suddenly an opportunity to shift out of patriarchy. Digital space is paradoxically leading us both outwards toward a multiverse and inwards toward a singularity!
Ways of achieving unity in a digital space
- Personally sharing extreme sensory experiences over a short period of time (in CRC we did a rebirth ritual when 30 people around the world were practicing meditation in their own bathtub).
- Moving together in an ancient dance which takes a new form in the virtual space
- Making intimate confessions to rooms of 100+ people in a massive “virtual stadium.”
- Making a dance game of following the leader of the movement. synchronizing the actions on the Zoom Grid as much as possible so it feels we are one body.
Co-reality member, Hannah Vanderheyden sharing during Midnight Ritual, our “Burn like ritual” every party at midnight. Hanna likes to consider our work as “a matrix of support and school for empathy. “
Michael Ronen is a futurist, an experience designer, business consultant for future proof enterprises, digital event producer, and facilitator for the virtual work era.
Michael started as an Immersive theater director who founded ‘Conflict zone arts asylum’ a network of artists from conflict zones. He later founded tech startups: Splash mobile VR (licensed to GIPHY) and Capsuling.Me (Virtual time capsules). Recently founded Wonderland Immersive Design, an agency for digital experience design, helping organizations such as Kinnernet, DLD & YPO transform their events into the virtual space.