Design Thinking and Maker Culture, Uncategorized

Burning Man: How New Media Technicians Build and Maintain Professional Reputation by Participating in the Maker Movement

Introduction

New media technology is a fast-changing industry with many competitors. Frequent job-hopping is a constant phenomenon in the technical department. One way for new media technicians to improve their own industry competitiveness may be to build and maintain their professional reputation so that other peers and companies can notice them (Turner, 2009, p.76). Reputation is power. Your reputation determines who will talk to you, what they will do with you and what they will do for you. Professional reputation affects who will hire you and whether you can get a job (Fertik & Thompson, 2015). Not only that, professionals with high professional reputations are more likely to be closely connected, and they are more likely to interact with peers with similar reputations. However, the work content of new media technicians is often very boring and professional, making it difficult for technical industry personnel and their work to be seen. At the same time, the long-term overtime situation has also caused the social circle of technical personnel to be restricted. This makes it impossible for most new media technicians to improve or even establish their professional reputation. This article aims to explore how new media technicians can participate in the maker movement as a way to establish and maintain professional reputation, and use the Burning Man Festival case to support this and further deepen readers’ understanding of maker culture.

Maker culture and maker movement

The root of the maker culture lies in the traditional handicraft, repair, and construction, using hands as a way of thinking, expressing and designing (Dariah Teach, 2020). With the rapid development of the Internet technology and digital production tools such as 3D printers, CNC machine tools and laser cutting machines, mankind has entered the age of Industry 4.0. The maker culture now includes digital manufacturing and the use of various technical equipment and software, physical calculations and programming to solve complex problems (Papavlasopoulou et al., 2017, p.1815). In order to let readers know more about the history and concept of maker culture, my team members Letizia Gallo, Erini Skarlataki, Jingwen Chen and I have conducted research on the use of maker culture in different fields, and made the podcast together. Please click to listen:

Podcast: User’s manual to maker culture, by
Letizia Gallo, Erini Skarlataki, Jingwen Chen & Serena Huang. (2020, December 17).

As an extension of the maker culture, the Maker movement represents a broader trend of developing a do-it-yourself (DIY) culture, with the goal of building a global community of enthusiasts, artists, designers, and engineers. The Maker movement represents a fundamental breakthrough with past technical work. It has three notable features: (1) a high degree of social communication and collaboration between people in different industries; (2) strengthening knowledge creation and sharing in physical or virtual spaces; (3) The use of technological resources previously limited to corporate research and development facilities to produce substances (Blikstein, 2013; von Hippel, 2006).These three points can be briefly summarized as collaborative learning, encouraging creativity and technological democracy. These three goals overlap and influence each other in the development of the maker movement.

For makers, collaborative learning includes participating in joint activities, discussing with users and manufacturers, sharing information, and building relationships with other makers (Lande & Jordan, 2014). Cooperation and sharing with others is essential to the creation and success of makers. Maker movement is a like-minded community, and collaborative learning is its most important feature. Collaborative learning is not only conducive to the communication and collaboration of new media technicians with more colleagues, but also conducive to the interaction of new media professionals with their users and people in other industries. By collaborating with their peers, they can show their technological creations to their peers and understand the trends and directions of the industry. By interacting with users, they can learn how to improve their products. Technicians have shown that it is beneficial for users to interact with the product during the prototype development process (Lande & Jordan, 2014), which is in line with the principles of design thinking. Through communication with people in other industries, technicians can be inspired and create more emerging projects. At the same time, collaborating with people with different skills and knowledge also contributes to a smarter division of labor and collaboration within the project. The communication with peers, users and even other industry professionals through the maker movement will undoubtedly enable the full development of the professional skills of new media technicians, and therefore help to establish and improve their professional reputation.

In this atmosphere that encourages cross-industry cooperation, integrates professionals and amateurs, and collaborations and sharing, the maker movement has also achieved the goal of achieving technological democracy and encouraging member creation. A more inclusive vision of the maker movement can raise public awareness of the work of these makers. Public recognition also helps the maker movement to solve broader social problems, stimulate more communities and individuals, and encourage wider public participation. This has not only contributed to technological democracy, but also more a public understanding of the technology industry and the content of the project, and it has also contributed to the improvement of the reputation of the entire technology industry.

In addition, the maker movement with DIY culture as its gene is to encourage members to make and create. Through interaction, increasing opportunities for learning and collaboration between peers will inspire greater interest and ambition of technical personnel to create. At the same time, the maker movement encourages individuals to reimagine themselves as autonomous creators and engage in many practices that are the same as their own work. Different from work, in the maker movement, their projects can be successful or they can admit failure, because making and creation are themselves a process of thinking. This is more in line with the iterative process of new media technicians creating products, and it also attracts more creations from new media technicians. These freely created opportunities have truly encouraged technicians and improved their technical capabilities and professional competitiveness.

Case: Burning Man

The Burning Man Festival held every year in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada is one such example. For decades, the Burning Man Festival has attracted thousands of participants to participate in the construction of an annual temporary city in the harsh and remote Nevada desert, and then burn it and clean it so that everything is traceless. The event originated when its co-founder Larry Harvey burned a wooden statue on the beach in San Francisco as a summer solstice ceremony. Later the event moved inland. During the 10 days of the annual Burning Man Festival, participants build cities and temples, hold lectures and parties and design computer networks and dance clubs (Turner, 2009, p.74). The impact of this creative carnival on the participants lasts a year or even a few years after the end of the festival.

Burning Man: The Build. by Burning Man Project. (2020, November 11).

Burning Man Festival echoes the design-oriented maker culture (St John, 2017, p.3), which is very democratic and inclusive, and encourages creativity. In addition, some scholars pointed out that Burning Man Festival is not only visible on the Internet, but also similar to the Internet to some extent (Turner, 2009, p.83). This series of reasons has made this global maker movement attract a large number of technicians for a long time. According to long-term investigations by journalists and scholars, skilled workers and information industry professionals accounted for a very high proportion of participants during Burning Man (Kozinets, 2002, p.36). Not only that, Silicon Valley also invests a lot of money for its development every year (Schaefer, 2018). The reason is nothing more than the impact of Burning Man Festival on the new media industry and the people in the industry.

The Burning Man Festival encourages technicians to create and showcase their technologies and achievements, and provides a platform for them to showcase their technologies. Burning Man Festival, like other maker movements, attracts and gathers a group of making lovers. Due to the influence of Burning Man, these makers come from all over the world. Any maker can become short-lived celebrities during the event through the projects done in the event (Turner, 2009, p.88). In Burning Man, almost everyone can be seen. Such a carnival of creativity and making is especially suitable for new media technicians to show themselves. In addition, Burning Man Festival supports the desire of producers to share technical knowledge. Through a series of technology and knowledge display, new media technology is transformed from a means of pursuing profit to a means of individual and collective pursuit of self-change. Everyone can choose projects here, create and test, and pursue self-worth through display and sharing.

As a maker movement, Burning Man promotes the characteristics of technological democracy. Participants of Burning Man include professional technical groups and enthusiast/hacker clubs, as well as individual artists, welders, designers, programmers, scientists or entrepreneurs. Each member’s ideas or skills will be respected and generate value. Everyone can get the technical support they need, and their own skills can also solve problems for others. A graduate student from a technical university in New York who participated in the Burning Man Festival mentioned that her production was supported by other people, including “One of them can help me with music problems, and the other can help me with circuit problems, and I am a person who can help them” (Lande & Jordan, 2014). This kind of collaboration method and concept has produced a series of first-class technical production teams, so that technology is no longer proprietary to large enterprises. This allows technicians to connect with others and other groups through technology, making the original subtle or obscure technical work truly seen and needed by more people, and it also allows technicians to learn other skills in making. This improves the skill range of technicians, enhances their professional self-confidence, and provides a stepping stone for them to broaden their connections in the workplace.

At Burning Man Festival, members of different social worlds can gather and cooperate for a certain purpose, which provides a public space for technicians to work and study collectively. Collaborative learning inspired everyone’s inspiration, gave new vitality to the craft, and created some cross-industry projects and technologies. This was not only manifested during the Burning Man Festival, but also in the long days after the Burning Man Festival ended. In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, people were inspired and benefited from this kind of cooperation at Burning Man. For those burners who have been in the desert environment for a long time during the event, masks have long been a must-have equipment. When frontline medical staff faced a severe shortage of personal protective equipment, members who had prepared and accumulated dust masks and other protective equipment for desert use began to coordinate collection and donation activities. Burners without borders also worked with Harvard microbiologist Ethan Garner to obtain and distribute masks and other necessary protective equipment through the alliance and the website #GetUsPP Egetusppe.org. The designers who participated in Burning Man have developed a large number of methods to produce homemade masks and made prototypes of 3D printing technology to stimulate the production of mechanical ventilators to help make up for the general shortage in hospitals (Rowen, 2020, p.699). Such cross-industry cooperation and communication provide new media technicians with opportunities to connect with a broader social relationship and be seen by the wider society, and stimulate their connection with the collective and a sense of social responsibility. In addition, technicians can demonstrate their professional abilities in these cross-border project opportunities, and make more projects that are really beneficial to society while improving their professional reputation.

Conclusion

The maker movement like Burning Man provides an ideal public place for new media technicians. Among them, the technical personnel are based on projects and technologies, pursuing self-realization through free creation, sharing knowledge and collaborative learning. In this process, not only can technical personnel establish, maintain and improve their professional reputation, but also promote cross-industry social communication, make the public better understand the technology industry, and stimulate the enthusiasm of the broader public for technological creation. In addition, in such an inclusive and shared maker movement, more projects and technologies that are truly beneficial to society will be born. However, what impact the maker movement has on the wider public and the extent of its influence is a direction worthy of further research and discussion on the maker culture and the maker movement.

To learn more about makers of Burning Man, please click the following link:

Makers of Black Rock City :: Burning Man 2016. by Burning Man Project. (2017, May 8).

If you are also interested in using maker culture in other fields, you can check my teammates’ blog posts:

Reference

Blikstein, P. (2013). Digital fabrication and ‘making’ in education: the democratization of invention. In FabLab: Of Machines, Makers, and Inventors. Transcript-Verlag, Bielefeld.

Burning Man Project. (2020, November 11). Burning Man: The Build. [YouTube video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o0CmWkYzCo

Burning Man Project. (2017, May 8). Makers of Black Rock City :: Burning Man 2016. [YouTube video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe89v-3kwfo

Dariah Teach. (2020). What is Maker Culture? https://teach.dariah.eu/mod/lesson/view.php?id=782&pageid=709

Fertik, M. & Thompson, D. (2015). The Reputation Economy: How to Optimise Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset. Hachette UK.

Kozinets, R.V. (2002). Can Consumers Escape the Market? Emancipatory Illuminations from Burning Man. Journal of Consumer Research 29(1),20–38. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/339919.

Lande, M. & Jordan, S. S. (2014). An Ethos of Sharing in the Maker Community. Conference Paper June 2014. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18260/1-2–19892

Papavlasopoulou, S., Giannakos, M. N., & Jaccheri, L. (2017). Reviewing the affordances of tangible programming languages: Implications for design and practice. 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON) (pp. 1811–1816). https://doi.org/10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7943096

Rowen, I. (2020). The transformational festival as a subversive toolbox for a transformed tourism: lessons from Burning Man for a COVID-19 world. Tourism Geographies 22(3),695-702. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2020.1759132

Schaefer, B. (2018, March 23). Will the Spirit of Burning Man Art Survive in Museums? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/arts/design/burning-man-art-renwick-gallery.html

St John,G. (2017). Civilised Tribalism: Burning Man, Event-Tribes and Maker Culture. Cultural Sociology 12(1), 3-21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975517733162

Turner, F. (2009). Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production. New Media & Society 11(1&2), 73–94. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444808099575

von Hippel, E. (2006). Democratizing Innovation. The MIT Press.

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