From London to Thailand, digital nomads are on the rise but is this lifestyle really sustainable?
Words by SONNY BROOKS
In the year 2000 a prediction was made by professor Leonard Kleinrock that a new way of working, which he named ‘Nomadic Computing’, would come to fruition. His prediction stemmed from the development of more powerful computers, wireless networking and emerging technologies revealing new channels of communication. (Kleinrock, 2000) Over the past two decades, Kleinrock’s prediction has become a reality, producing a group of individuals know as ‘Digital Nomads’. Defined as “people who are location independent and use technology to perform their job”, Digital Nomads are able to live seamlessly within today’s society and possess the ability to work in any global jurisdiction due to ever-increasing flexibility through job roles such as: blogging, copywriting and website development (Page, 2018). Philip Thomas, a self-proclaimed Digital Nomad, highlights his choice for the lifestyle was due to the independence and flexibility he was able to obtain (Author, 2018). Whilst it cannot be certain how many Digital Nomads exist, an article by the BBC suggested hundreds of thousands live amongst us, therefore indicating that the flexibility among a vast number of jobs has meant a Digital Nomad is becoming an increasingly sought-after
lifestyle (BBC, 2018).
The Leap of Faith
Today, a 9 to 5 job can no longer be considered ‘normal’. With 58% of Britain’s workforce working either side of these hours, flexibility is becoming an increasingly desirable attribute when looking for work (Horton, 2018). A Digital Nomad can however, take this to extremes and requires taking a ‘leap of faith’ in order to quit a usual routine and take on a new challenge. Timothy Ferriss states “what we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do” (Ferriss, 2013). Early last year, Forbes magazine conducted a series of interviews amongst Digital Nomads. Ryan O’Conner, a Digital Nomad and owner of One Tribe Apparel, was amongst the interviewees claiming that “the hardest part of being a Digital Nomad is the inconsistency of surroundings” whether this be the routine, infrastructure of the local area or keeping up with time zones (Ritlop, 2018). Ryan would often work 10 to 12-hour days, never leaving time for himself in order to cover the time lost whilst travelling. In addition to this, Nigel Bruce, a businessman who travels for over 12 weeks a year for work expressed that the biggest challenge he faces whilst travelling is personal security. Working within dangerous locations meant travelling to and from business meetings was a top concern (Author, 2018). These factors can be considered small day to day impacts on a Digital Nomad’s life, however, when constant, this can become incredibly stressful and exhausting after a short period of time. As aspirations amongst society increase to adopt this lifestyle, the question has to be asked – is it really worth it?
Whilst it can be considered that there are many short-term problems related to the Digital Nomadic regime, the bigger, overarching issue lies within the longevity of this lifestyle. The lack of budgeting, long-term connections and having to keep-up with a challenging schedule are difficulties that Digital Nomads face, with constant change creating added pressures daily. Biesalski deserted this lifestyle after 5 years due to the “burn out of constant travel” (Biesalski, 2018). Additionally, Phillip Thomas, who has only adopted this lifestyle for a year and a half, is already considering settling down once he’s hit the two-year mark due to multiple reasons, one being the “lack of a stable friendship group” (Author, 2018). According to Fitzsimons, other Digital Nomads have also had to abandon this lifestyle due to wanting to settle down (Fitzsimons, 2018). It can therefore be concluded that although the Digital Nomad lifestyle is appealing due to having the means to travel for work and have flexibility in working hours, the extremes of keeping up with this lifestyle and the isolation that many face cause a dip in motivation and ‘burn out’ after just 5 years and sometimes even sooner.
Although considered ‘cut-off’ from society, there are many tools in today’s marketplace to assist Digital Nomads with the organisation of their work in the form of apps and websites such as Trello and Wunderlist, as well as travel services including: journey planners, travel packs and portable Wi-Fi hotspots. Paul Smith, a long-term businessman, who stopped travelling after 6 years to spend more time with his family, claims that although there are many tools in the marketplace that assist constant travel, such as GoogleFi and interchangeable adapters, these tools do not support the Digital Nomadic lifestyle (Author, 2018). They do not tackle specific problems such as day-to-day organisation of travel, communication with loved ones and keeping a consistent regime (Author, 2018). Therefore, there is scope for exploring the possibilities as to how to improve the quality of life of a Digital Nomad.
It can be suggested that the lifestyle of a Digital Nomad is a ‘phase’ due to the long-term effect of loneliness, finances and personal security having a negative impact on those who are constantly travelling for a living. With a limited number of products and services produced to help those who find themselves constantly on the move, it can be considered essential to explore new ways to improve the longevity of this lifestyle to maintain global communications amongst both society and industry.
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