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SingularityHub: How Digital Nomads Are Leading the Seismic Shift in Where We Work

by Peter Rejcek, SingularityHub (Excerpt)

Have laptop, will travel.

That’s become the slogan of an increasing number of the global white-collar workforce. People are unleashing themselves from corporations and companies to plug wirelessly into the wider world. The tribe of this digital diaspora is described and named in various ways—among them, location independent—but I prefer digital nomad.

Full disclosure: I number myself among this constituency, breaking the tether to corporate ties last year. I’m writing to you from a somewhat disclosed corner of southwestern Turkey where sugar-cubed-shaped homes tumble down rugged hills toward the Aegean Sea. I can literally see Greece—at least a few of her islands—from my window.

I’m certainly not alone, and the community seems to be growing exponentially, reaching what appears to be a tipping point that is ready to push the 9-to-5 workweek into the dustbin of history, along with pensions and an annuity.

“[Digital nomads] don’t subscribe to the standards of previous generations for what defines happiness, what defines productivity, what defines success. I think they’re freeing themselves from the shackles of previous generations,” says Brian Solis, a self-described digital anthropologist and principal analyst at technology research firm Altimeter Group, which is part of the marketing firm Prophet Company. He is also the author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design. […]

Startups have risen to provide co-working and co-habitation spaces, creating a sense of community and shared purpose. Solis recalls the dark days following the bomb, when entrepreneurship seemed to have been snuffed out. He traveled to New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, among other cities, urging workers to emerge from their cubicles and offices and into shared spaces with Wi-Fi. This was perhaps co-working 1.0—mingling not necessarily with co-workers but co-revolutionaries in a new movement.

“That movement demonstrated to people that you could be in control of how you work, but also be surrounded by people who think the same way you do,” Solis says. “It’s just different. You have bursts of productivity. You have bursts of attention span.” […]

Who are digital nomads?

Probably not all of them are who you would expect. There are certainly the backpacking millennials—tech-savvy and running a high fever from a bad case of the travel bug, and moving is the only cure they know. But you’ll find Gen Xers on a mid-life gap year (or decade), as well as professionals with full-time corporate jobs and tech entrepreneurs who can start a business as easily from Hong Kong as they can from New York City.

Solis sees those who seek location independence as part of a larger seismic, societal shift caused by the eruption of technology. It’s another aspect, he says, of the on-demand, or gig economy that in less than a decade has come to permeate life. Witness the meteoric rise of sites like Upwork, with its 12 million freelancers, AirBnB (valued higher than Hilton Worldwide), and Uber (located in about 300 cities). […]

“People aren’t going to operate the way you want them to operate anymore. Those days have come and gone, and that’s simply because they can facilitate what they want and how they want it with their smartphone outside the office or outside of work,” Solis says. “I see this becoming more pronounced over the years.”

I’ll leave you with a few words from digital nomad Matthew Kepnes, also known as Nomadic Matt, who runs a budget travel website and wrote the book How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. His sentiments echo something else Solis says about how people are choosing their own happiness over convention, swapping experience for consumerism.

Kepnes writes on “I am running away. I am trying to avoid life—your life. I’m running away from your idea of the ‘real’ world. Because, in reality, I’m running towards everything—towards the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom and living.”



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