Contextual; Life On The Move

Why the social lives of digital nomads can’t trail behind while everything else is on the go

Words by MAKENZI LELLIOTT

Digital Nomad is a phrase that many people have probably heard of although don’t know what the term means, but with the way global society is heading, there could be 1 billion of us who will be coined under that term in little over 15 years from now (Levels, 2015).

So, what exactly is it? While not having a concise definition, a digital nomad is someone who, due to their work being technology based, lead a location independent life which allows for frequent travel (Reichenberger, 2017). But technology and modern ways of life can have quite an adverse effect on wellbeing, and digital nomads are no exception to this.

While the life of a digital nomad is an aspiration to many, fuelled by how current nomad’s lives are portrayed on social media, there are some severe downsides to the lifestyle which are not often discussed, and as of now, there have been little to no advancements in making this lifestyle easier. These problems can range from the more obvious, such as language barriers, changing time zones, and fatigue, to the less obvious such as personal sense of security (Digitalnomadsoul.com, 2017). A large, and very understated, issue that arises is a lack of social life.

On the surface, it may not seem that big a deal, as a lot of people lack conventional social interaction, but always being on the move amplifies this, and can be quite detrimental to an individual. A number of reports have actually stated that social isolation is associated with an increased risk for early mortality (Laugesen et al., 2018), even if this isolation is only perceived, with one journal stating “In light of mounting evidence that social isolation and loneliness are increasing in society, it seems prudent to add to lists of public health concerns” (Holt-Lunstad, J. et al., 2015).

But it’s not easy meeting people when you work alone, and even less so when you’re also frequently travelling. A recurrent disadvantage of being a digital nomad that crops up in several websites and blog articles written be nomads themselves is the challenge of not having a social circle for support, and quite frankly, company. Derek Baron, of wanderingearl.com, has been travelling since 1999 and states that after a while, conversing with others was sometimes difficult.

“The main reason is that due to the vast differences in life experiences between myself and whomever it is I may be talking to, I am simply unable to find a common ground to build a decent conversation upon.” (Baron, 2010)

In a podcast by Eli David, of becomenomad.com, he discusses the negatives of his lifestyle, and one of the main ones is being alone. It forces people to take leaps by themselves he says; something that most people would prefer to do with someone by their side. He raises the point that although being alone can mean you know a lot more people, loneliness still affects you, and as he goes on to say; even if you are an extremely social person, being a nomad goes hand in hand with being alone (David, 2014).

Jordan, a freelance travel photographer who has been travelling for almost two years, provided some valuable insights into his life, and the issues he personally faces as a digital nomad. Jordan is originally from the UK but is based in Bali. Although he usually aims for one or two trips a month, he has another six planned for the rest of the year. Jordan is not alone on his travels, so does not experience the same lack of social interaction as some, however still says that it can be hard even though, as he puts it, is “an extremely social person with a close group of friends back in the UK”. The biggest problem for him is that most of the friendships he makes now are short and impermanent, and with the amount that he works, finds he doesn’t have a lot of time to see the friends he does have.

So, as more people take this digital nomad lifestyle on, and with predictions of how many of us will be working in this way in the near future, is there anything that can be done to make the social aspect easier? In a recent report titled ‘The Way to Wellbeing’, the Centre of Research on Self-Employment suggests some future policies that they believe would benefit not just digital nomads, but all branches of self-employed people (Binder, 2018), even looking into the work-life balance.

But what about on a more personal level, to directly help digital nomads? There are already a number of apps and websites in place, such as ‘Meetups’ which make it easier for people to gather with like-minded people, but they don’t target the real reasons why people might not be socialising, such as the little free time, or uncomfortableness in these new situations, which are at the root of the problem.

There is much room for development in this area to truly improve the lives of digital nomads, but it needs to start being thought about soon so that this lifestyle will be ready for the workforce of the future.


REFERENCES

Baron, D. (2010). Challenges Of A Permanent Nomad – Wandering Earl. [online] Wandering Earl. Available at: https://www.wanderingearl.com/challenges-of-a-permanent-nomad/ [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018]

Binder, M. (2018). The Way To Wellbeing. [online] Centre for Research on Self-Employment. Available at: http://www.crse.co.uk/sites/default/files/The%20Way%20to%20Wellbeing%20Full%20Report_0.pdf

David, E. (2014). BN015 – The Disadvantages of a Nomadic Lifestyle. [podcast] Become Nomad – Digital Nomad Lifestyle and Long Term Travel. Available at: https://becomenomad.com/disadvantages-nomadic-lifestyle/

Digitalnomadsoul.com. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.digitalnomadsoul.com/disadvantages-of-being-a-digital-nomad/ [Accessed 6 Oct. 2018].

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., Baker, M., Harris, T. and Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, [online] 10(2), pp.227-237. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1745691614568352

Laugesen, K., Baggesen, L., Schmidt, S., Glymour, M., Lasgaard, M., Milstein, A., Sørensen, H., Adler, N. and Ehrenstein, V. (2018). Social isolation and all-cause mortality: a population-based cohort study in Denmark. Scientific Reports, [online] 8(1). Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22963-w

Levels, P. (2015). “There will be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035”. [online] levels.io. Available at: https://levels.io/future-of-digital-nomads/

Reichenberger, I. (2017). Digital nomads – a quest for holistic freedom in work and leisure. Annals of Leisure Research, [online] 21(3), pp.364-380. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/11745398.2017.1358098?needAccess=true&