The following should be taken with a full cup of salt, but bear with me: the adjective “millennial” might be less useful as referring to membership of a specific age cohort than as shorthand for the phenomenon of experiencing one’s life chiefly as a narrative, with the self playing the lead role. In particular, experiencing one’s life as a “journey”: a meaningful if meandering path toward some form of authentic discovery and realization of the self. If you squint, it becomes clear that almost all popular conceptions of millennial traits can be attributed to this narrative foundation: narcissism, commitment issues, the obsession with wanderlust, magic, passion, and purpose. And these traits are by no means limited to those born in the ’80s or early ’90s: large swaths of Gen Xers and Xennials have come to narrativize their lives in a similar vein.
Within the framework of one’s journey, the primary unit of currency is an experience. And under the experience economy the most valuable form of capital is a transformational experience: a genuine refactoring of the perception of the self and the world around it, typically rooted in a profound experience of the oneness of being and/or limitless potential of the self (and rarely the suffering of others, injustice, inequality, etc. — vibe killers). The Burning Man ethos taps perfectly into this economy, providing all the necessary means for a transformational experience with an instantly recognizable aesthetic framework.