Saturday, May 27, 2006


I’m a collaboration guy – background in theater, circus, music and puppetry, as well as online communities, virtual worlds and 37 flavors of melt-o-media.

As a long-time witness to this evolving participatory parade that is our local alternative culture, I can say that I have never seen it more "potentially" ready to break out into some larger strata of social relevance.

All these years of sweat and collaboration that have given us mad fire robotic sculptures, sexy freaky gypsy circuses, and dope tribal fashion burlesques, are starting to take on a life of their own.

In the past, where we left coast circusy folk might have felt marginalized and cutoff from the mainstream, now I believe that time and current technologies are evolving to provide the right kind of support even for emergent wild ass art communities - like this one.

After ten years, we should not underplay the effect that Burning Man has had on this community. Of course, it’s not for everybody, and it may not prove a long term relationship either, but for those who make the trip, and who make it heroically, it’s a collective revelation; an evolving and collaborative social experiment - a living, breathing process - just like life, just like the circus, just like us.

So, maybe you’re asking yourself, ”Ok, Spoon, ok, Burning Man, right, but what is exactly so different about today?"

I recently worked on a research conference the subject of which was the next 50 years of technology. These were the keywords I took away - nanotech, biotech, emergence, transdisciplinarity, democratized innovation, and extended sense-making. It’s all about small evolving into large. It’s all about distributed connectivity and collaborative process, which it just so happens is what we do around here, and what we do excellent well.

On the cultural front, dominant advertiser-driven mass media communication pyramids are being inverted, so that what has been coming from the top down is increasingly coming from the bottom up. All that pre-filtering that was being done by “certified” gatekeepers, is now being done by people with a passion for expression – people just like us. Think about how you get your information. Look at Wikipedia.

We are definitely a part of this bottom-up revolution, ladies and gentlemen - we are the small and the beautiful and the broadly distributed circus of future wonders. We are the culture we have dreamed into existence, and more and more now it is our job to share that dream with the world at large. There’s a future here that needs creating, and we need the help of many as yet unidentified people to do that. We need people who see the possibilities inherent in stylin' and sensuous circus-like community models, as well as people with deep skills in technology, marketing, construction and design, management, fund-raising and promotions.

We have the tools of our own advancement in hand – social networks have automated word of mouth. We have blogs, vlogs, podcasts, wikis, IM, SMS, Second Life, Wi-Fi and all sorts of channels for user-generated audio and video content – all these options available to us at near zero-cost. So, what do we have to lose? The worst that can happen is that we make some new friends, and get better at using the tools.

So, if you see a role for yourself here, then please, step forward. Help each other make this circus real; help make it more commercially viable and sustainable too. Help to convey its effect out along the “long tail” of alternative lifestyle choices, so that it can be more freely viewed and embraced by those who have been waiting - perhaps a lifetime for the toy trumpet blast of freedom to blow down their door and rescue them from that top-down reality, that too often is little more than a hypocritical and tyrannical multiple-choice test.

On a more cautionary note, don’t underestimate the resilience and “meta-stability” of our deeper political, economic and social infrastructures. None of this is likely to happen as fast as we’d want it to. Just don’t give up or surrender to fear.

And along the way, we must remember to opt for a truth that is also beautiful; because that is what we see when we look out into our world, and that is what we wish for the rest of the world to see as well.

I don’t expect we will cease being outsiders and purveyors of alien sensibilities anytime soon – we remain beats and hippies, punks and freaks - but as our communities, all up and down the west coast and in pockets around the world, are morphing in concert with each other and growing stronger, and as we begin to take hold of these democratizing technologies and use them to communicate and illuminate, it becomes obvious that the time has come for us to step up and to actively work together to propagate a grander, more sustainable and visionary future for ourselves and for all our little acrobatic offspring.