Analog Census: What does Burning Man Mean to You?

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 10.47.19 PM In trying to process the Analog Census (see previous post on the Analog Census), we have been trying to make sense of everything participants wrote in response to the questions. In this survey, the answers where much more qualitative than quantitative in that the answers weren’t simply yes or no, or a number, or a date, or one of several choices. They were fill-in-the-blanks which where the blank space could be a whole page of free-form writing. As fascinating as it has been to read the diversity of responses, it has also been to figure out how to share this incredible data.

Example pages in 2013 Census Lab's Cargo Cult project

Example pages in 2013 Census Lab’s Cargo Cult project

We are continuing to explore this data and are open to researchers working with us on how to make sense of the responses. A couple of questions seemed like they could be efficiently illustrated not with charts or graphs but in word cloud form. So I ran the experiment using the site “” and just copy/pasting all of the responses into the input of that tool. What I have are two of the question responses. The first here is a word cloud associated with participants responses to the question, “What does the Burning Man Symbol Mean to You?” In this simple experiment, you quickly see the prevelance of words like “Freedom”,  “Self”, “Expression” and “Community”  which to some extent seems like a good insight into the population’s sentiment.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 10.55.09 PM

The second question I found to have a useful result was the responses to the question “Which of the Ten Principles are Most Meaningful to You?” Here we see word “Radical” loom large over every other word which maybe expected given the frequency this word is used in two of the 10 principles, “Radical Self-Reliance” and “Radical Self-Expression.” “Immediacy” seems to have the next highest frequency of use. Then you see words like “Effort” perhaps reflecting various forms of “Communal Effort” but perhaps also derivations from the principle of participation, which also shows up relatively frequently. “Gifting” and “Gift” perhaps might be the next most frequent word, but what is fun is the number of other words which may illuminate what people feel like “love” or “unconditional” but also “coffee” and “communal” and “delicious!”   Enjoy exploring these word clouds as an unstructured glimpse into the minds of Burners who shared their thoughts with us.

For Bay Area Burners who are interested in this kind of thing, we will be holding some more Analog Census Data Entry parties in the coming weeks. Send email to or message me @scribbleBRC.

Written by: Scribble


Playa Life: Activities in Black Rock City

There are many more blog posts coming up related to this topic. Readers can stay tuned into The Black Rock City Census by utilizing the WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter functions at the bottom of the posts.

When trying describe to someone what Burning Man is all about, one might tell them about the Black Rock Desert, and what the conditions are like. Or maybe they’ll tell them about the mutant vehicles seen, and the fantastic people met at the Burn. But actions often speak louder, so telling what was done on the Playa cannot be left out of any comprehensive Burning Man story! So, with their friends and Playa family, here’s what Burners did on their summer vacations:


Playful Mood

Burners in 2013 said that embodying a “playful mood” was their top priority, and this also led the Census poll of all of the activities in which they answered “yes” to their participation (followed closely by “sexy encounters”).

Playa Bumper Car Race

Photo by: Anthony Peterson (from the Burning Man website gallery)

Heckle or Tease

Heckling and teasing was the least common activity on the playa. This might be a reflection of off-Playa preferences about how people “play” with their friends – some people like to poke and prod their friends and “play rough” – others might prefer to abstain from this activity because of its potential to hurt feelings. But for those for whom that is their “cup of tea” there are other Burners who like to talk trash around the Playa.

Lamplighters on the Playa

Photo by: Cindy Graver (from the Burning Man website gallery)

Volunteering and Work

Of the activities that people seem to be most interested in, working or volunteering on the Playa seems the most inviting. The Burning Man webpage for volunteering describes it as “a form of participation, gifting and civic responsibility.” There are opportunities for everyone and all types of talent! Volunteers can choose the amount of time to help as well as with which groups. To get in touch, Burners can utilize the Burning Man site (above) for BM postings, or social networking and word of mouth to reach theme camps or regional groups. Opportunities could include planning, set up, operations, and tear down, as well as year-round ways to help. Spontaneous urges to pitch in while on the Playa can be satisfied by a visit the V-Spot in Center Camp (with no prior experience or arrangements). All of these activities can give citizens a better understanding of what it takes to make the Playa the wonderland it is – that’s why around a third of Burners do it!

Encounters of the Sexy Kind (see earlier post New Relationships)

Nearly half of Burners described at least one of their encounters as “sexy,” and there will be more about that topic in posts coming very soon. About 10% of Burners said they were not interested in a sexually-charged interaction on the Playa, which is something anyone seeking those interactions should keep in mind. Regardless of whether someone seems interested, practicing safe/consensual interactions and asking before touching someone can be very sexy; many find it nice to hear someone tell them out loud that they are wanted.

Dust and Silk by: Scott London

Photo by: Scott London (from the Burning Man website gallery) 

Get Naked!

In addition to “sexy” encounters, the Census also asked about getting naked. Veteran Burners know that just because someone is naked does not mean they are giving consent to grab or touch them, so the Playa is a great place to “try out” something that might not feel safe/comfortable in the default world. While just over half of Burners did not get naked, almost a quarter of them did. Almost another quarter said “sort of.” This might include those who participated in the “Critical Tits” bicycle ride or other topless events, or those more comfortable wearing merkins or pasties instead, which is nearly naked, but with the genital area covered/protected.

Get “Out of Control”

Most people on the Playa (around 65%) showed interest in leaving their comfort zone and getting a little (or a lot) “out of control.” But nearly 1/3 are “not into” this (self-described) category. Challenging boundaries and trying new things are healthy and can help to learn and grow as a person, as long as health and safety precautions are taken. It is easy to become dehydrated or sick on the playa when basic physiological needs are not being met.

Fireworks explosion as the Man burns

Photo by: Mike Orso (from the Burning Man website gallery)

Written by: Tabicat

Edited by: Scribble

Identity: Sexual Attraction

Author’s Note: Before we get started I want to say that any and all sexual contact on the Playa should be consensual. Just like in the default world, NO MEANS NO! If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, please check in. If it’s “cool” and you feel that each person consents, then let them party on.

One of the most complex and exciting aspects of being human is sexuality. The Playa is a most thrilling place to explore and engage one’s personal view of sexuality. Many flock to Burning Man for life changing experiences; often these impact not only one’s view of sexuality on the playa but in the default world as well. Each year the Census Department collects data that tries to assess what turns the citizens of Black Rock City on by asking the question “I’am sexually attracted to…”. The answers to this question have generated data that is based on people’s assertion and definition of what attractiveness is.

Human sexuality is diverse. Omitting the biological factor of sexual drive, which is there to ensure reproduction, we can jump to the emotional and physical states that Burners may encounter on the playa. This can include sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its multiple forms and acts. These emotional and physical states create the bonds that endear and connect sexual partners to one another. These bonds are usually expressed through deep feelings or overpowering emotions.

The eros of the playa or the opportunity to explore one’s sexual can be hyper-accelerated at the Burn. Discovering the enduring personal quality that inclines people to feel romantic and/or attracted to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender is one of the profound and life changing events that can happen by spending time Playa-side.

One of the key observations of this data is the spectrum of physical attraction people innately feel. 2013 data indicates that 51% of the overall population in Black Rock City were sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. By gender this was 64 % for males, 34% for females and for those in a fluid state of sexuality, 17%. 33% of the overall population was mostly attracted to members of the opposite sex. By gender this was 21% for males, 50% for females and 26% for for fluid (also considered neither sex). The percentage for those attracted to both sexes equally in the overall population was 6%. By gender it was 2% for males, 11% for females and 34% for those labeling themselves as sexually fluid.

The data also points out a factor that is observable in the general population which is that women have, in general, a more flexible sexual attraction than men (i.e., that men are more highly polarized between opposite- or same-sex preferences than partially to both).

Burning man can be an opportunity to explore one’s sexual attraction, but it is also important to make decisions that you can live with, and following the rules of safe sex and sexual consent are even more applicable to ensure that an exciting time does not lead to unwanted advances and negative experiences.

Source and Cited Material Links:

Written by: Crow
Edited by: Wendi Corbin Goulette

To Talk or Not to Talk about Burning Man in the Default World

If you initiate an online image search with the words “Burning Man,” chances are that you will get a NSFW barrage of scantily-clad Burners, overhead shots of the Black Rock City, and, of course, the Man burning. That first impression can be the only information some people ever get about the Playa. Do you feel a need to explain it to the default world? If you say it is “an art festival in the desert,” you might be met with “sounds like Woodstock,” as a response. Whether that is a positive or negative interaction, our population definitely shows differences in their level of comfort sharing dusty tales.


The majority of Burners (62%) told us they tell (most of) their non-Burner friends about their summer voyage. But over half of our 2013 respondents said they do not share their Burning Man experience via public means (i.e. in the media, a journal article, a blog, or website).

Typical citizens of Black Rock City are more comfortable sharing their experiences with their non-Burner family members than with their (non-Burner) colleagues. Ten percent of them do not tell anyone at work.

When asked the question about consciously choosing not to tell, you see a similar trend in the data:


Over 25% of Burners chose not to mention Burning Man to their colleagues; the second most common answer was “with other acquaintances.” Interestingly, Burners chose not to tell their families more often than fellow members of their church/congregation. Is the Playa, perhaps, a collection of black sheep who choose their own families?

There are many Burners who have default world responsibilities that differ from daily life on the Playa. When requesting time off for “vacation,” or upon re-entry, what do you tell your bosses, family, and coworkers? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by: Tabicat

Edited by: Scribble

Default World: Home

Upon arrival at Burning Man, you will likely note that yourself and others are frequently greeted with the phrase “welcome home.”  Over the years, this has become a common greeting to veteran burners and virgins alike.

Many people find the atmosphere at Burning Man to be so comforting and non-judgmental that to them, it feels more like “home” than anywhere else in the world.  We asked burners if they considered Black Rock City to be their only home, main home, second home, a bit of a home, if they weren’t sure, or do not consider it their home.


4% of participants consider Black Rock City to be their only true home, followed by 10% who consider it their main home, but not their only one.  The largest group of 47% feel as though BRC is their second home, and 20% felt as though it was a bit of a home.  5% were not sure, and 14% of participants said BRC did not feel like home to them.

With the vast majority of burners feeling as though BRC is their second home, we can assume that most people have a place elsewhere that they consider their main home, but they feel comfortable and happy enough at Burning Man to also think of it as their home.

More importantly, perhaps, is the 4% who consider Burning Man their only home.  That’s roughly 2,400 people who might not feel they have any sense of home if it weren’t for what we create in the desert.

Once again, “Welcome Home,” fellow burners.

Written by Wendi Corbin Goulette. Edited by Steven “Indiana” Crane



They don’t call Burning Man a “transformational festival” for nothing!  Spending a week in our beloved Nevada dust-bowl can be wild, mellow, relaxing, enlightening, inspiring, intense, and so much more.  You can also count on meeting some of the kindest, most open hearted and accepting people to be found anywhere on our precious planet.  It is very easy to form lasting and meaningful relationships during this relatively short period, and quite natural that some of us will want to spend time outside of the event basking in the jubilance and acceptance of the burner community.

Most people who attend Burning Man find themselves meeting and enjoying the company of new acquaintances so much that referring to them as “friend” is simply not enough. That extraordinary bond, for some, can only be done justice with the word “family.”


According to our 2013 data, only 3% of attendees did not feel that the burner community was like family.  13% indicated that they considered the burner community “A bit” like family.  The largest group of 32%, said that they felt it was “Somewhat” like family, and 30% reported that it was “A lot” like family.  Finally, there are 22% of us who well and truly “Extremely” consider the burner community our family.  That’s really no small number, when you consider the worldwide number of Burners!

At Burning Man and regional events, newcomers are consistently in awe of the rampant acceptance of Burners, as well as the intensity of the new bonds they’ve formed.  Keeping in contact with these people in the default world only serves to strengthen those bonds, and cement them ever deeper with each interaction. This is perhaps why so many Burners greet their extended family to the event with a warming “Welcome home.”

Written by: Wendi Corbin Goulette
Edited by: Eulophia

Identity: Artists


Black Rock City’s temporary nature involves the creation and destruction of a community of more than fifty thousand people. Depending upon your definition of art – be it performance, writing or visual pieces – you might consider the very transformation of the Playa art making.

We asked Burners whether they considered themselves artists, as well as their primary art form, and if they get paid to make their work.
Only 33% of Black Rock City citizens identify as “artists,” but 47% say they are creative people. The remaining 20% do not consider themselves artists.


Of these artists, almost 60% say the majority of their artworks are visual crafts, followed by performance for approximately 30% of Burner artists. The remaining population answered “literary” or “other” art forms.


Many people consider “getting paid” as criteria for determining your artist status, so the following question might help you decide:
When asked, 17% of artists said that their main income is provided by their craft. Another 8% said they “often” get paid for their work, and 30% said “sometimes.” The “rarely” and “no” responses combined make up the remaining 45% of Burners answering this question. If you were to draw the line between artists and non-artists, based on if they are paid for their work, then 55% are, and 45% are not. That’s a strong creative presence on the Playa no matter how you slice the pie!

Written by: Tabicat
Edited by: Wendi Corbin Goulette
Photos by: Scribble

Playa Life: Sleep Habits

Without getting too technical or requiring a complete understanding of the benefits of REM sleep, it is common knowledge that sleep is beneficial. It’s also known that going without sleep for too long increases risk of accidents. Lack of sleep impairs cognitive processes such as attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. It affects the sex drive and in prolonged chronic cases it can lead to health issues like heart problems, stroke, and diabetes.

Scientists have gone to great lengths to fully understand sleep’s benefits. In studies of humans and other animals, they have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions. When first arriving in an environment like Black Rock City one would think that sleep would be even more important but the lights, flames, and pulse of the playa beckon to some like a siren. These people go go go until they crash some time two days later. This can be referred to as this-is-the-second-sunrise-I-have-seen-today syndrome, and can leave a burner looking like this:


Sleep on the playa can be made more difficult when considering the heat, the noise, and the constant presence of dust. The best way to get the most of the Burning Man experience is to design your shelter around these factors. A great strategy to avoid this environment temporarily is to burn in an RV or a tricked-out, hexa-yurt. If you are stuck in a tent, eye shades, ear plugs, shade cloth, spray bottles, and twenty blocks of ice from Artica.

The assumption, with all the harsh conditions and the way too many things to be explored, getting sleep on the Playa might seem impossible. However, the actual data is quite encouraging.


This first graph shows a comparison of sleep time on the Playa with regular schedules in the default world. Almost a third of Burners said they slept just as much on the Playa as they usually do, with nearly that much getting more shut-eye. Slightly fewer people reported sleeping just 1-3 hours less than they are used to, followed by a group of around 14% citing 3-5 hours less time in bed. The least common reponse was sleeping 5 or more hours less than usual, which, as explained above, may affect well-being quite seriously.


The next chart displays the hours of rest only. The image shows that a little more than 32% of the population maintained a normal 7 to 9 hours of sleep during the week. The second largest group represented was around 25% of the population, who slept 5 to 7 hours a night. About 20% of respondents who slept more than most, at 9 to 11 hours a night! The remaining 20% of Burners were divided almost equally on the fringes of sleep values. The two groups were those that slept less than five hours per night, and those who managed 11 or more hours per night.

Written by: Crow
Edited by: Veronica

Playa Life: BMIR

Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) is broadcast at 94.5 FM on the dial. Most Burners (72%) reported listening via the FM station on the Playa during the burn. BMIR plays an eclectic range of music as well as making announcements/emergency notifications and spur of the moment interviews.

On the way to Black Rock City, 22% of attendees accessed BMIR using mobile devices; BMIR provides traffic information for those waiting to enter the gates.

Only 3% of our population said that they listen (online) for the rest of year, but that amount jumps to 18% in weeks leading to the event.


Written by: Tabicat aka Tabitha Palmer
Edited by: Scribble aka David Nelson-Gal

Playa Life: Marital Status

Wedding in Black Rock City

Photo by: Brian Runser From: Getting Married at Burning Man at

Most of recognize within ourselves a very human need for companionship – for interaction and affection and love. So for the Census, respondents were asked if they “considered themselves married,” and self-identified regarding the question of their married status.














Only 26% of Burners considered themselves married. This amount was a surprise, as there appeared to be a fair amount of married couples and families on the Playa, as well as husbands or wives whose spouses did not attend. Perhaps married people are more likely to have a house, children and/or pets, making the journey to Black Rock City more costly and requiring more planning than their single counterparts? Or maybe younger-at-heart individuals, still finding themselves, must make up more of the unmarried population than previously thought.

69% of Burners said they were not married – keep in mind this could include divorced or separated individuals, as well as widowers and widows – not necessarily meaning that they have never been married.

Interestingly, 5% say “sometimes” – sounds like the zip code rule to us!

Written by: Tabicat

Edited by: Love, Ali