When the world began to change in the spring of 2020, the longevity of those changes were totally in question. Was the lock down going to last a week? A month? Was office life just around the corner or the long gone memory of a previous world? Three years later, it’s become clear to most of us that some of the changes we went through as individuals and as a society are here to stay. And while things like increasing rates of isolation have left people feeling “socially distanced” permanently, there are at least a few silver linings inside all this transformation.
For many our workplace and laptop have become one and the same, and Zoom has become the new conference room. The liberating qualities of new technologies coincided perfectly with the pause on in person office life and have led us to a world where that pause may just be permanent. While many choose to delve deeper into our new virtual rabbit holes, with increasing screen times across the board (read an article about kids rising screen times here), there are those of us who see that we can utilize this workplace revolution as a way to actually get out of the house and into the world even more. Like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon, we have the freedom as individuals to explore the world in entirely new ways, to take flight.
What does this post-covid, post-office, post-everything since the industrial revolution world look like? Many point to a world of increasing virtual insulation, of more and more digital stimulation and less and less time spent outside the walls of your home. While plenty may go down that path, we want to offer an alternative. The blueprint has already been set for us. Let’s take a look at an existing archetype, our case study for a new way of living: the Digital Nomad.
The Past and Future Nomad
So, what is a digital nomad? Well let’s start with the term itself. Oxford languages defines a digital nomad as “a person who earns a living working online in various locations of their choosing (rather than a fixed business location)”. While we’re not sure who first coined the term, the actual idea of a digital nomad was first popularized in a book of the same name written by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners. Digital Nomad was written in the late 1990s and argued that growing technologies—specifically the Internet—would allow people to return to a nomadic way of life in the future. Fast forward 25 years later, and today there are almost 11 million Americans who consider themselves digital nomads.
But let’s go back further. All the way to the original nomads, the nomads that weren’t as digital as they were paleolithic, let’s go back to the time when our minds were being hardwired. The truth is, long before we settled down into civilization, humanity had its roots in the nomadic lifestyle. Following the game, moving with the seasons. These are things that may seem unnatural now but were absolutely the norm for the vast majority of mankind’s history. To be clear, I’m not saying we should throw away the thousands of years of innovation and civilization we’ve accumulated—however, I do think we exist at an interesting crossroads.
We exist at a point in history where the culmination of our settled civilization’s advancements has given us the opportunity to return to our original mode of being—the nomadic lifestyle—with completely new material gifts. To live as happy wanderers without having to worry about starving if we don’t do well in the next hunt. Our society is like the hero from Joseph Campbell’s journey, having gone through the ordeal of settled civilization and come back to its origin point with the medicine of an interconnected technologically advanced world. There’s an idea that evolution doesn’t move in a linear fashion, but rather as a sort of spiral which repeats the same themes and lessons at a higher level each time it wraps in again on itself (here’s an interesting article on it). Think of the way music works, how the same notes may be played at higher and higher octaves. There is sacredness in this repetition. What I’m getting is that, just perhaps, we have created a perfect environment to re-explore our nomadic roots in a way that has never been possible before. The digital nomad is born.
What Nomad Means to You
So, you’ve made it this far and you're interested in testing out this nomadic lifestyle. But you’re wondering, does that mean you have to sell all your belongings and move into a van? Well, maybe! After all, with services like Letgo and Facebook Marketplace it’s easier than ever to find buyers for your household items. And there’s a growing and very dedicated community of van lifers out there (check out this article here to see the movement's origins and this article here to see a critique). But, chances are for most of us that feels a little extreme.
The reality is there is a spectrum to the Digital Nomad lifestyle. For some this means constantly being on the go, hopping from city to city or even living out of a vehicle like a van so that they can be on the move constantly. On the other hand there are those who chose to move only once or twice in a given year, oscillating between a couple choice locations. Some people live out of hotels, some AirBnBs, some hostels and some own all the destinations they hop between. There is no one way to do it, and part of the joy of experimenting with a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle is in making it all your own. There’s no wrong way to walk on the wild side.
You may also ask yourself, what sort of technologies support your nomadic lifestyle? Well, the Internet is going to be an obvious boon and is the backbone of the digital nomadic lifestyle… but beyond this, other emerging technologies offer a glimpse into some interesting opportunities. One potentially supportive technology is cryptocurrency, or NFTs, or just generally both and all things Web3. Beyond being lucrative (though volatile) investments, these currencies can be extremely helpful especially for those who are hopping around internationally and are looking to store their assets in a way that isn’t centralized in any one state (check out this article here to see how cryptocurrency, Web3 and the digital nomad lifestyle all overlap).
Finally, the truth is that not all of us are made for the nomadic life. You may experiment and find that living out of your suitcase is just not for you. And that’s okay! It may be that for a period of time it attracts you in, but it’s not something you want to sustain if and when you’re interested in settling down and having a family. It may be something that you love dearly and carries you all the way through your retirement! And it may be that you simply like to put down your roots and have very little interest in letting the wind sweep you off into who knows where. All of the above are valid and will be particular to your own inclinations and lifestyle. But, even if you’re someone who has zero interest in becoming nomadic, we hope that you can pull just a little bit of inspiration from the new possibilities that sit at your fingertips with this coming digital age.
Because the reality is, our screens are like prisons locking us in only to the degree that we let them. They, like most things, are wonderful tools and poor masters. Taking in some of the nomadic spirit doesn’t mean you need to drop everything and move across the map. It can mean simply that you take advantage of that farmers market happening up the street, or the festival going down a state over, that you go to the park on your lunch break or—to be totally cliché—take a moment to stop and smell the roses. Cliché or not, the stories we tell are important, they shape who we are, so remember that not all the recent changes that have shocked our world are for the negative, and at some level you have the liberty to take more risks with your life than you might imagine.
Journey on, wander free.
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