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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
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 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 vehiclesWikipedia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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.
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.
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