Digital Nomades – The herd moves on

Being able to exchange information promptly and over long distances has always been the decisive driving force behind new forms of communication. In most cases older practices have faded into the background and then – over time – been “forgotten”. Interesting migration paths of communication are to be found everywhere. Adults view the communication behaviour of their children or today’s youngsters critically (and with a degree of horror). And there we have it: we can hardly imagine these kids without smartphone, SMS and WhatsApp!

These means and forms of communication are nevertheless only the logical development of earlier communication forms such as carrier pigeons, postcards, telegrams and the local pub. By the way, these too were denounced at “their time” just as much as Twitter, Facebook and co.. New connectivity and changed communication in society is neither a reason for panic nor an obligation to join ranks. It is what it is – new technology – with its advantages, prejudices, trends and the necessity to deal with it.

This also includes the digital nomad scene as a new, hip form of work for young people. Like migrant workers and the Pony Express it is changing connectivity and creating new jobs for digital nomads. At the same time, however, it also create new problems that are usually not so readily reported on. We’ll take a look at a few of them in this article.

In the relevant forums you can find articles about the joy of travelling and tips on how to become a successful nomad. Only after a while do most discover that you pay a price for such a life and which currency this is collected in, when the intoxication of permanent novelty has worn thin.

The best way to understand and interpret the “digital nomad” is to look at the words separately. “Digital” is usually used in the context of computers, the Internet and digitisation, and nomads are typically peoples who move about from place to place without being permanently settled. But even the consistently positive use of the term “digital nomad” is exaggerated marketing in its own interest. The original nomad was neither free nor unbound; on the contrary, he had to consistently pursue his source of food – otherwise he starved to death. Nor were nomads particularly technically gifted, certainly not in the digital sense. Only with the Neolithic revolution and urban culture did technology and digital knowledge emerge, which was then branded by clever PR agents with the former nomadism as the currently hippest working style in the universe.

Now this interpretation has a fine irony, because not only nomadism but also digital nomads are hipsters to a degree. Very few adults know its exact definition, but at least roughly, everyone knows what is meant. But let’s take a closer look; a derivation from Wikipedia is sufficient for this purpose:

Hipster is a name for a milieu whose members loudly express their scene consciousness (in contrast to the mainstream), which was widespread in the media in the early 21st century and mostly used somewhat mockingly. Most of them are teenagers to young adults from the urban middle class. Although they see themselves as a subculture, they can now be assigned more to the mainstream.

And that is precisely the case for the digital nomad. The originally exclusive scene has long since become mainstream. All airlines, Airbnb and dozens of other specialised companies now earn a lot of money with digital nomads. There are already Internet-savvy hostels and guesthouses which live predominantly off this clientele.

In the scene designers, content creators, copywriters, writers, bloggers, programmers, photographers, YouTubers and similar professions whose work results can be realized without a traditional office and without physical aids on the Internet are predominant.

If, in addition to the desire to travel, government agencies and bureaucracy ae listed as an argument for the affirmation of the digital nomad, then things get really complicated. No one enjoys it, but even hip digital nomads have to deal with bureaucratic matters such as place of residence, health insurance and taxes.

With a little more thought it becomes self-evident that nothing works without taxes. And that applies to (almost) any country you care to name: mobility, infrastructure and communication networks cannot be maintained without taxes. So the logical question is not whether, but only where, as a digital nomad, you pay your taxes. Thus paying taxes in the country where you went to school for free and trained to be a successful nomad would be a logical consequence. Reality is different, however: the Web is full of advice and tips on how to avoid taxes and state liabilities. Aside from the question whether this can really work in the long run, you get the impression of a world full of narcissists and egoists. Paying no taxes but taking advantage of the facilities a state (paid for by other taxpayers) offers  is not fair in an increasingly digital world either.

All in all, the whole scene seems more like permanent digital adolescence to me. You may be heading down on a new way, but somehow you haven’t really grown up yet. Because, like their idealistic predecessors, the “Snow Geese/Snowbirds” in Florida and our “winter refugees” of the generation 60+, they are mostly on the run from …

Some of them from the cold and the snow, others from a regular working day. But just as the campsite in the Algarve does not replace the family at home, a hostel on Bali is just as seldom the basis for a successful professional future. The world has certainly become richer and more colourful with our nomads, but satisfactory social structures require a presence, despite text messages and Facebook – grandchildren and friends want real contact and not just chat with us on the Internet.

For digital nomads far too often confuse issues:
Far, far away with freedom,
cost with value
and celebration with success.

Original text: UTO
English translation: BCO


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