Those Digital Nomads

A new kind of techo middle class arises.

In early 2015 my wife and I were living in Brazil supported by my job as a programmer and her english teaching, but life got static and after much deliberation, some saving up and a lot of courage we felt it was time to finally leave corporate life and go abroad, so soon we began to meet in person some of the people we’ve known from online communities, the self-titled “digital nomads”.

The common definition of this term — someone who works online and travels a lot — sounds right at first but that could also include rich folks who have enough passive income to travel as much as they like.

It seems like there needs to be some differentiation between well-enough people who can just travel on a whim as opposed to someone who’s left an office life to try to make it as an online entrepreneur, selling most of their things to scrape together some cash to go live somewhere really cheap (hello Chiang Mai!), often times with no plan B.

From what we witnessed this past year and across many interviews held on the Abroad Podcast, that seemed to be a common story with these people: leaving some safe job, hustling their online endeavors, travelling on the cheap, gaining confidence in both life and business, then managing to not freak out when one or two things go wrong. Sometimes three.

Pondering about a more fair definition, I started putting together what the traits are that I feel these people have in common to try to get to the heart of our essence, so we can better explain what it is that we are and why do we feel different from everyone else.

Digital Nomads are mentally resilient.

Nobody will leave a steady job to create and manage an online business without a lot of courage and some serious self-teaching skills; we know that today on a particular website you can learn electronic engineering from MIT or watch a whole channel dedicated to farts, but who spends more time on the former? These people do.

Not only is heavy learning a key aspect of being able to keep your head above the waterline of technocratic obsolescence but there’s also a general deep interest in optimizing your performance; they will not ask you if you meditate, they will ask you what school of meditation you use and what other dozen types of meditations your might recommend; some of them have made meditation apps themselves. Improving your mental performance with diet and supplements is also common, as is learning to speak multiple languages.

Digital Nomads embrace change.

The big leap of leaving a steady desk job is the coming-of-age ritual for digital nomads, equivalent to inserting your hand inside a fire ant glove in some other cultures; it might hurt less in the short term but it’s as scary if not more, because our tribes are fragmented so you might not have the support you need to carry yourself through it.

Changing your environment is vital for one’s evolution. As the late Timothy Leary has taught us there are two ways for the human mind to evolve, both by migration: you either migrate in space, where you will go to some other place and interact with different people or you migrate in time, by hanging out with younger folks; either way, your mind will have to face the question ‘why do I do this differently?’.

Ironically, change is the big constant in a digital nomad lifestyle; if you’re calling the same place “home” for more than 100 days some digital nomads might call you a weirdo. Friends will come and go, lovers too. The heartbreaks are common and in that metaphor of life being a roller coaster, “regular” life means you’re routinely going on the same ride over and over again when in this lifestyle you’re building the coaster as you go, the twists and turns will be a bit crazier.

Digital Nomads truly want experiences, not things.

As I write this our good friend Chris Reynolds was crashing at our place for a couple nights, and when he got here yesterday with his one backpack my wife was amazed “oh, you only have one backpack, uh?” to which he replied “yeah I’m starting to think it’s too much”.

Minimalism is the digital nomad’s necessity-turned-to-philosophy. It starts when you do your “final garage sale” before leaving home then grows a little more when you have your first major suitcase malfunction, then maybe a little more once you face some real poverty around the World and by the time you realise nowadays you can rent just about anything with the click of a button, you’re thinking one backpack is too much (app idea: underwear renting).

Which brings me to the next point…

Digital Nomads are harbingers of the sharing economy.

While our parents are discovering and reading about this thing called “the sharing economy”, how “soon” people are not gonna have a lot of things and share most of what they do, digital nomads are already inventing, using and relying on these systems on a daily basis.

The advantages of sharing seem obvious from the perspective of people who already think and live it, but they fail to consider that in order to really live in a full-scale sharing economy, the aforementioned traits must exist inside someone’s mind — you have to be open to letting your witnessing of life’s passing to teach you that holding on to objects is almost ludicrous and see enough acts of kindness in your journey in order to understand that most people are not assholes who just want to take advantage of others. When you grok these two concepts, the power of sharing becomes evident.

“Let your witnessing of life’s passing to teach you that holding on to objects is almost ludicrous and see enough acts of kindness in your journey in order to understand that most people are not assholes.”

For me, that’s the greatest part of being a digital nomad and what makes me proud to mingle with these folks is understanding that passport stamps are way more valuable than things and the pictures are a lot more important than the phones that take them. When talking to friends and family who are still “stuck back home” and explaining how we’ve been living in other people’s houses, riding other people’s cars and sharing food with strangers in co-working spaces, it sounds very alienating to them, but it is indeed the future.

To quote my favorite movie, Fight Club, “we are the middle children of history” — the 30-something-year-old digital nomad is not really one of these 17-year-old techie teenagers that in a few years are going to live and work full-time in Virtual Reality but she is also not her parents, who just use email and facebook but won’t go much deeper than that. This is a generation of people who are smart and tech-savvy enough to adopt any and all new systems that will allow them to live better, for less money, and more fully but they will not care about who’s calling whatever tangible asset “mine”.

Except maybe our laptops. My laptop is my life, get the fuck away from it.

Digital Nomads have no culture.

Wait, what?

As the late great Terence McKenna stated many times, “culture is not your friend”. Culture is a glorified term for the set of rules and restrictions that society inflicts upon the virgin mind of a child in order to keep her under restraints and behaving accordingly (by the way, it should give you chills when you realise that if yourself ask the question “according to whom?” that the answer is “dead people”).

I despise that word and when I see people glorifying culture as something praise-worthy it makes me cringe hard, they are looking at some society’s traditional dance and thinking that’s oh-so-nice, forgetting that that same culture also prohibits girls from doing certain things; it’s all the same, all across the globe. Culture is more of a mental straightjacket than a celebration of mankind.

But perhaps a better title for this section would be “digital nomads see through culture”, because by being down-to-Earth travellers — and by that I mean not just touristing around some place for a week but actually living there, going to the market, having to rent a place, etc. we are able to witness how cultures impose their will upon individuals, with a special temporary license to participate for a while and realise that having grown up with parents saying things like “don’t believe everything you hear on the news” the truth is more like “don’t believe everything you hear anywhere” — because cultures bully individuality. It’s great to be adaptable to change and we get used to it, but we won’t change ourselves into something that looks or smells like senseless tradition.

A new kind of middle class.

By minimizing expenses, creating their own businesses online and travelling the World, digital nomads are a new kind of techno-middle class: mentally strong to face entrepreneurial challenges in a wobbly global economy, smart with their choices and eager to learn about everything, they are a new class of people, akin to the upcoming bourgeoisie of the late part of the Middle Ages — when feudalism was giving way to a new kind of merchant class that would dare to leave the castle walls and go trade elsewhere, enriching themselves and becoming disseminators of knowledge and trade by way of the same mental traits.

The fortress wall of today is that steady job one has to break through; life inside the castle is safe and sound, but it gets boring and doesn’t fulfill a certain kind of adventurous mind; outside beyond the woods, there lies another set people, another set of beliefs, another set of opportunities to grow and enrich oneself tremendously, if only one’s is brave enough to face the dragons along the way. The big difference is that today we have many reports of people who have done it, people who have left the castle to become merchants of experiences, and they are accessible right here on the internet. The forest outside is no longer dark and mysterious, God only knows how many articles you can find about the X ways of going about it yourself. The digital nomad at heart out there will do it and find her way, therefore I believe no other class of people will grow more in the near future than us.

We are here to stay, us digital nomads, except that we are not here to stay because we are here to move and be moved by the experiences we have. That’s why we left home. That’s why I see myself as a digital nomad: someone who’s eager to grow, to live and to share this exciting new way to enjoy life that the internet has allowed us to have.

PS: share this if you cringed over the term “Marketing Funnel”, and corrected it in your mind.

Thanks for reading, commenting & sharing.

I am a digital nomad, developer and musician who loves to write about the nature of reality, music, aliens and aliens who write music about the nature of reality. Co-Creator of the Digital Nomads LIVE!! — Ladies First event on September 25. Sign up here.