Digital nomads are no nomads

A pack of tourists

This post is part of my 200 words per day challenge that I am sharing publicly on Twitter in order to improve my writing and develop a writing routine. Feel free to join and comment.

Digital nomadism is sexy, but what does nomadism really mean ?

Nomadism is plural: it varies both in time and space. Inuits and tuaregs, for example, are famous nomadic populations. Yet, their cultures are vastly different. So how do we define nomads ? Studying nomadic first peoples from an historical perspective is both hard and hazardous, because history is written by sedentaries while nomads rely on an oral tradition. Instead, I propose we take a look at the value system characterizing the spirit of the nomads.

In the collective imaginary, the nomad is first a simple individual. Etymologically speaking, the term “nomad” refers to the member of a tribe of itinerant shepherd: a mix of “nomas” (“the pastoral”) and “odos” (“the road”) in ancient greek, to describe those who change locations depending on the seasonal rhythm by carrying their material possessions with them. A nomad does not accumulate.

This simplicity is no simplistic vision of the world: the historical nomad is not only a protector, but also greatly empathetic towards the people outside of his tribe.

A protector first, because he understands his necessary link with nature. Harming nature is contrary to the nomad’s ethics. The skills used to survive while respecting nature are transmitted to the next generations: this duty of memory is a central value of nomadism. Therefore, community is at the heart of a wandering society: the tribe as a platform to divide work and transmit knowledge. The best nomads, the ones who survive, are the ones excelling in those two domains.

On the other hand, nomads are compassionate. Violence is a necessary evil, but it is not amplified by their human nature. On the contrary, nomads limit violence to their basic survival needs: to feed or to protect themselves. Killing animals, for example, excludes all aggressivity to become a social (sharing a meal) and spiritual (exchange between nature and mankind) activity.

When we go back to the etymological meaning, we can observe how stubborn the nomadic populations are as well. “Nothing is more immobile than a nomad, nothing travels less than a nomad” says Deleuze: nomads are anchored to a territory and circle around it in a seasonal fashion. Indeed their knowledge is linked to this territory. Nomads do not travel, in a modern sense.

Despite this stuborness, a nomad has curiosity and is open to exchanges and communication. Sharing, hospitality and solidarity are values of the historical nomad as well, not only towards their own tribe members, but also towards foreigners.

Now, when I look at digital nomads, I do not see heirs of the nomadic spirit.

Most are regular travelers looking only for themselves, quick to join “like-minded” people and traveling in pack, without much compassion or real curiosity for locals or foreign cultures.

Harmful to nature when they are not slow traveler by contributing to airplane or more generally transportation pollution.

Harmful to the local economical environment when they over-consume and do not act in a responsible and sustainable way.

Digital nomadism is a cheap, low-effort nomadism.

And there is nothing wrong with that, because I tend to be one of those digital nomads. But we need to become better travelers if we want to make it a sustainable lifestyle, a neo-nomadism.


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