short interviews with friends #5: dan burgess

Very much enjoying being back on a bike in London

Dan Burgess is one of the founding members of Swarm, a small but highly networked collaborative partnership that sets out to find solutions to big social and environmental problems. He’s also a former DJ with Sancho Panza, ex-Naked thinker, and now one of the brains behind the Nesta-backed, hacking-with-purpose community Good for Nothing. He blogs at hi-tech/hi-nature.

Hi-tech/hi-nature: explain!

It’s an inquiry really. A question. Or maybe a mantra, or an idea how to live perhaps. Or a dream state, an approach to life that I imagine to be deeply lovely. A response to my deep fear of runaway climate change on a globalised planet where society is addicted to material growth and completely disconnected from the natural world and the biosphere that supports us all.

I could go on, but I might write a book. Now there’s an idea? Actually this is making me work this through, so thanks James!

Practically for me hi-nature is time spent in wild places, running, walking and quite often now just sitting alone. It’s where I find perspective, creativity and will often get the clarity I struggle with in the day to day hustle of modern life. In short I get inspiration, and an inner or spiritual capacity to cope with the challenges of living in the 21st century.

And so, hi-tech. Well aside from the parallels and patterns I see in living systems and web systems and networks, technology isn’t going anywhere.

So for me this is a nod and salute to the possibilities of personal and social technologies, the ability to connect with folk far and wide and to share, support, love, learn, discover, re-imagine and do together, and to help us individually to develop, grow, express and sustain ourselves. The network effect and connection possibilities is really it for me.

So hi-tech/hi-nature is in this sweet spot of deep connection to the natural world all around us, an awareness, respect and consciousness of all life integrated, balanced and in hybrid with the connectivity, creativity and goodness of human networks and social technologies….

I need a one liner….can you help?

You’re involved with Swarm, Good for Nothing, and you also have your own personal undertakings (a pretty big one a while back was moving your entire family to Costa Rica for a year!). Can you explain what they all are? and do these represent three distinct sides to your life…or are they connected in some way?

Funnily enough I’m reading a book at the moment called The Three Marriages by David Whyte which explores an idea that humans are programmed to pursue three relationships: one as in classic marriage to another human, the second marriage is our work/vocation and the third marriage is to our own self, our inner journey or personal mission.

Classically we spread ourselves thinly across all of them and end up ruining or abandoning at least one of them, which in turn leads to all kinds of pain and anguish.

The Three Marriages is more about how we need all of them to exist harmoniously together and to integrate them into each other.

I’ve been seeking more integration in my ‘marriages’ for some time.

Costa Rica in 2011 for 10 months living in a treehouse by the Pacific with my young family was a big part of trying to reconnect, regroup and integrate as a family after years of me becoming frazzled and distant through becoming too immersed in my work ‘marriage’ which was making me very unhappy and consequently my family too.

Good for Nothing is an experiment into what more meaningful work might feel like and continues to evolve, we’re about to step it up a gear as we seek to kickstart another 15 cities across the UK. We will be announcing a program to do that very soon, and we’ve got chapters starting to hatch in Europe and beyond. The magic of Good for Nothing is the nothing, that there is no money involved, taking money out of the mix creates an amazing purity of creative response and human energy – but that makes bringing up 3 kids tricky!

We’ve just started a new venture called Swarm. Working with collaborations of individuals and organisations across lots of sectors and prototyping solutions to big systemic issues, with a view to turning them into funded ventures, new forms of social business. Solving real problems and building sustainable business models. So that’s all starting to kick off.

You spent a few days living by yourself in the woods recently. Did you see that thing about the North Pond Hermit? His apparent motivation for living 27 years in the wild was simply that he wanted to be alone.

I totally get the solitude bit. I crave it. I think humans need it, contemplation time. But it’s been pretty much eroded out of ‘developed world’ way of life.

I’ve embarked on a outdoors environmental educators course this year called ‘Call of the Wild’ at Schumacher college in Devon. So through a series of weekends over the year I will be camping out on Dartmoor, exploring a deeper connection with the wild and developing more practical skills to work with people outside. My aim is to try and eradicate spending my time in dull meeting rooms, sitting around a table, listening to abstract discussion and political posturing.

Instead I want to walk, explore and create with people outside, work through issues and plans and ideas and challenges while sitting in a wood or along a river, or a park. I think we open up more outside, we become more like who we really are, we see differently, we notice more and feel much better, sharper, connected through it. And the connection is what I’m really interested in.

GFN is hack-minded, and over the past few years we’ve seen things like Sugru and Tech Will Save Us spring up, all with an intention to improve/alter our relationship with products, technology, society etc. What do you think it is about hacks and hackers that make them some kind of vehicle or agent of change?

Participation and experimentation I think are the main reasons that make hacks feel like change is possible. You can imagine something different and try and make it. Which in most other systemised or commercialised parts of life you can’t. Power and legislation doesn’t do participation or experimentation. It does control. The spirit of hack is I think participate and experiment.

Music’s a massive part of who you are, from Sancho Panza back in the day to bossing the decks at GFN. Does it play some kind of complementary role to what we’ve talked about?

I love music. I grew up with the acid house movement in the late 80s, and I was a drummer since my teens. I spent the first 10 years of my working life DJing most weekends. I was/am fascinated by electronic music, individuals hacking tunes together, ripping loops and samples and making something new and awesome which could move a room full of strangers in a beautiful way.

I love how music opens you up, moves you. My music tastes are much more diverse these days, but I think humans are creatures of music, we love it. So music should feature more widely in daily life I reckon.

A party in a forest, with a lovely chunky sound system and some lasers, that’s about perfect 😉


One thought on “short interviews with friends #5: dan burgess

  1. Pingback: things i’ve learned from short interviews with friends | james hogwood's blog

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