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Escaping to a digital nomad lifestyle

Escapers worldwide are taking advantage of new opportunities to work digitally

Regular contributor Masooma B dissects a paper on the increasingly popular digital nomad lifestyle. Is it practical and beneficial to adopt a nomad lifestyle?

The Digital Nomad Lifestyle: (Remote) Work/Leisure Balance, Privilege, and Constructed Community by Beverly Yuen Thompson

Summary

The paper highlights major concepts related to the lifestyle of digital nomads. Their lifestyle has been critically seen through the lenses of privilege, inequality, community and work-leisure balance. Stebbins’ serious leisure concept and other sociological premises have also been considered.

Digital Nomadism

Digital nomads on leisure bases select their desired or preferred location and work with travelling.  Digital nomads just need a laptop and work-skills to perform their online tasks by either writing blogs, news features, social media advertising stuff, e-books, web designing, programming and much more.

Cohen et al., (2013) presented the ‘lifestyle mobility’ concept that referred to voluntary-based movement depending on the leisure aspect. It has been observed that less earning increases economic and emotional pressure and the workers tend to get more work to increase their pay.

Different perspectives to see the nomadic life

In the perspective of digital nomads, leisure and work balance was the major context. Robert Stebbins’ ‘serious leisure’ theory offers insight in to the lifestyles of digital nomads. The paper showed that their leisure significance was inverted in life as they prioritized it over workplace or office area.

Inequality-Privilege context was considered to analyze the demographics of a digital nomad, relative benefits and influences on relationships, while community perspective helped in visualizing their social position. 

Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles

Wikipedia

Methodology

Thirty-eight detailed interviews were conducted with digital nomads. The author met them at three events

– The Lisbon 3rd 2017 DNX Conference “Digital Nomad” that held on 9th September.

– In Spain, Geneva during Retreat Digital-Nomad Girls that held on 18th September

– In, Spain, Barcelona during Conference 7in7 of experienced nomads 2017, 3 to 9 October.

Later, skype interviews were considered as a follow up to get more details.

Digital nomads use Skype to connect
Digital nomads use Skype to connect and keep in touch back home

Demographic Information

The participants were from the developed world; the majority of them were bilinguals. The age limit was 21–49 years and 80% of the sample were single or not in a marital status. They were Bachelors and Graduate degree holders while only six participants had lesser education.  Interview questions gave qualitative data that was organized, coded and arranged according to theme base.

Serious Leisure

Robert Stebbins said that mundane leisure activities such as television watching and sports etc., are different for nomads. His concept of serious leisure has six components such as perseverance, personal effort, leisure-career, identity, tangible reward, and distinctive essence or flavor in a sociological context.

He presented the alteration from professional or work-based identity to leisure pursuits as digital nomads describe remote work in the context of travel patterns that seems different from traditional tourism and relies on a basic learning concept.

However, it is difficult to distinguish them from tourists as they select the desired location, create their own lifestyle, and operate differently from the locals. 

Economic Context

In this context, it is a win-win approach. You earn with leisure and comfort. Professor Schor of Boston College carried a Pew survey and said that gig workers usually make less than $31,000 income on annual bases.

The persons who are full-time employees work part-time to earn extra as compared to those who only work as freelancers. In the current work, 29% were full-time freelancers while 42% were gig workers. 

Inequality and privilege context  

Aydogdu (2016) criticized this mode of earning and said it as technology-centered life where the real association with people and destinations is lost. The nomads also follow a capitalist approach and work hard to enhance their business gains. Nomads rarely have children and struggle to balance work and leisure.

Nomads usually move to the countries of ravaged economies to increase their currency value and local people also welcome tourists because it benefits them financially.

Nomadic Community

Although nomads leave their family and hometown, the feeling of loneliness is expressed through their writing samples. Languages and customs differences between Southeast Asian and South American countries are clear. Nomads, therefore, search other digital nomads through online platforms and nomad conferences to develop a community.

Digital nomads create their own community
Digital nomads meet wordlwide to create a sense of community

Findings

-Nomads chose a distinctive lifestyle and for this, they are often considered irresponsible by their friends and family members. However, they survive and balance perfectly when they work in the form of large groups as a community.

-In the context of Privilege –Inequality, they prefer locations which offer demographic privileges and hedonistic pleasures. Research showed that Thailand’s Chiang Mai is a rich digital nomads’ spot that has co-working sites and aesthetic value places as well. 

Bali, Vietnam, Medellin and Lisbon are some other places. It shows that they remain unconscious about local culture, language, and surrounding people and enjoy their own sense of privilege.

These differences influence their social status and Alexander said that this privileged lifestyle negatively influences their behaviors while Kaplan (1996) termed it ‘nihilistic distancing’ that brings excitement in differences as if there would be no social distance, then the locals will show no interest and exclamation for tourists.

Amna, 7in7 conference volunteer, told that she promoted charity donation for digital nomads that would be brought back to the local communities to minimize inequality and to bring social change.

Sally, who was an Arab-American said that she traveled to locations where people used to converse in Arabic language and where she could build connections. They stated that color differences gave rise to distances and inequalities and the nomads usually do not try to learn other languages.  

-Different people stated their personal experiences of social variability and they said that gradual familiarity and learning of culture can improve situations when they need to engage with locals. 

-In an employment and economic context, the participants said that they compared it to a part-time service job with less experience. Earnings gradually improved and they were able to finance their college dues in this way.

One participant was multilingual as she was familiar with more than 2 foreign languages. By using her ability, she started to find nomads and developed a network and she enabled people who spoke different languages to find more tasks through a platform.

One client was earning a large amount by software developing and websites designing and optimizing mobile apps. He said that he had worked on Disney and then on numerous high paying projects, and therefore he seemed quite satisfied with his work.

It shows that nomads can earn high by strategically improving working conditions. Although they earn less than an office job, however, there always remains a great potential to increase the earning. 

– Nomads work by following their passion for tasks and adopt it as a hobby. They find leisure in investing their time for online earning. Some adopted it for their passion of traveling and by reading nomads blogs they got information about suitable places.

One participant, “Jenny”, achieved a chemistry-related Ph.D. She had UK passport, and she had the opportunity to work in Australia, Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked as a digital nomad in co-working spaces. 

-Co-working areas were preferred by some nomads to aid connections with people. There is the number of companies that now bring together digital nomads such as 7in7, Remote and GlobeKick that manage entrepreneurship retreats and also shape it as a business-oriented approach where the business seminar is held for motivation and also for fun purpose. 

-One participant developed Facebook Group of Girls and the online community grew with time.  She also organized meet-ups and the author attended one such meet up in Javea, Spain. The girls from Brazil, London, and Sydney, and from all over the world, joined the group.  Conferences are executed in English which shows how the Western audience is the major focus.

-Finally, long term friendships or relationships were not possible and they were using online dating sites. 

Paper Conclusion

Freedom potential is obvious when compared to a full-time, static profession. Due to less salary, they have to work constantly but in the context of Neoliberalism, this phenomenon is not just related to nomadism but rather seen in all fields.

Their downward mobility is based on income potential as they also have micro-entrepreneurial goals to earn more. From a feminist perspective it’s a male-dominated occupation and also technology-based. It led to alternative conferences for digital nomads to promote meet-ups and community development.

It’s a creative approach: creative tourism, community building, social dynamics, and fix leisure duration. They make money and enjoy their trip. It is, however, a temporary lifestyle, as after constant challenges many switch again to a traditional lifestyle. 

In the context of entrepreneurial literature, a freedom-perspective is put forth, whilst the choice of location with leisure is an option at the cost of social isolation. 

The nomads who chose to live in an expensive place in middle-class countries devoid themselves of local culture and population contexts. However, high earning potential, independence and community building supports their passion. 

— END —

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11 replies on “Escaping to a digital nomad lifestyle”

Great article. I like the freedom of being a digital nomad. I just can’t wait to all this pandemic stuff is over for me to really spread my wings again.

Digital nomadism is part of the future and I’m not surprised that many people is adopting this work style, I think it has advantages and disadvantages just like other types of work.

Through this pandemic, it forces us to work technologically. We can always work from an area which has internet service.

Now that everything is all over the internet, exchanging information is also easier like turning your hand. Want to do anything as if it is not limited by space and time, this is one of the reasons for the emergence of digital nomads. Thank you for sharing this information, I am very happy to read it.

Yeah I think we should take advantage of the digital world presented to us today to have job opportunities. I’m enjoying my digital world already.

Digital world is all we have now. The covid19 caused pandemic has made is go digital. Thanks for this reasonable post.

Well, I think the rise of digital nomads is one of the phenomena that occurs because of the changing mindset of young people today. The stigma that working in the office has gradually shifted where with the internet, they can complete work at home or anywhere else while making money to support their dreams and needs.

As I love to travel a lot I wouldn’t hesitate to be a Digital nomads as I will work to perform my online tasks by either writing blogs, news features, social media advertising stuff, e-books, web designing or programming

It is on the high rise. People are turning to being nomads, although now on a full time perspective.

Very interesting learning about the nomad lifestyle and how they build a community around it. I think they must be very cultured people with a full range of ideas traveling to so many places. Like you said though, the downside is isolation and lack of structure. Perhaps that’s why nomads gradually shift towards a more traditional life approach.

This is not surprising since everything is in digital transition. If anything the crisis has fast track the future and it is. I know that digital like anything has its fair share of risk but at this point we may have to learn to live with it.

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