Tech elites accused of ruining Burning Man festival

It may seem like an unlikely playground for wealthy capitalists, but that's exactly what Burning Man has become.

The raucous festival, which encourages creativity and innovation, now attracts moguls known for their creativity and innovation, CBS News' Michelle Miller reports. Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors have been in attendance.

New York Times technology columnist Nick Bilton said many Silicon Valley movers and shakers see Burning Man as a networking opportunity.

"They're going with the hopes of trying to meet entrepreneurs that have successful startups and befriending them with the eventual goal of being able to invest in those companies," Bilton said.

The annual gathering of hippies and free spirits frolicking naked in the desert has been around for nearly three decades, and some longtime attendees are shaking their heads.

Burning Man, after all, is a place where money is frowned upon. Almost nothing can be bought or sold. Everything must be shared. Revelers usually sleep in modest campers or tents, with tens of thousands of people covering a remote section of Nevada desert for a week of art, dancing and anything else they desire.

But the well-heeled techies anonymously cavorting with artists, musicians and other bohemians often arrive by private jets, stay in air-conditioned dwellings, eat meals prepared by gourmet chefs and employ servants called sherpas who take care of all their needs.

"Rather than going up to a bartender and saying you want a cocktail, you go up to a gentleman who is one of the sherpas," Bilton said.

Burning Man's organizers actually welcome the influx of wealthy participants. They say Silicon Valley philanthropy funds the elaborate art installations that are the hallmark of the festival.

Larry Harvey, a Burning Man co-founder, spoke to Charlie Rose in March.

"We were on the cover of Wired magazine, years ago. And then people from that industry began piling into the event. And then they said, 'Oh, they're going to ruin it,'" Harvey said. "But they've said every migration is going to ruin it, and it just enriches the environment, you know?"

Critics say that in embracing Silicon Valley's elites, Burning Man has essentially "jumped the shark." Some of them have even started competing festivals where attendees must set up their own shelters and are banned from using sherpas.

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