How I’ve designed my nomadic model

Playing around with a skull (una calavera in Spanish) at a artisan market in Mexico City. Skulls and death are being celebrated in the Mexican culture and not being perceived as scary. To many people’s surprise, Cinco de Mayo is an American holiday not really celebrated in Mexico. One of the biggest Mexican holidays though is Día de Muertos (October 31 to November 2).

I was fortunate to have my nomadic perspective challenged at a talk earlier this week. The perspective was that the lifestyle model I’ve designed — based on my perception that the world is shifting from being hierarchical to network-based — was immature, selfish and anti-society.

I’m deeply grateful for this challenge as it triggered thousand people (it became the talk of the day) to have a — hopefully — honest conversation about how they have designed their lives and I started to think about how I can better contextualize and explain what’s behind my current model.

Technology used with intention can create tremendous positive impact on both an individual local level and on a community global level.

The model I’ve spent the past decade in designing, living and iterating is based on the idea that technology used with intention can create tremendous positive impact on both an individual local level and on a community global level. Emerging digital technologies have one thing in common: they have a built in promise of liberating us from atoms by using bits to do the work. What I mean by this — using the early insights of Nicholas Negroponte and many other Internet pioneers — is that that we no longer need to use our own bodies to carry out work but can employ bits via software to do it for us cheaper, faster and more secure. In turn, this can liberate time, space and attention if we so choose. But that is a personal preference.

This shift, from atoms to bits, that we have been experiencing for the past 25–30 years is a paradigm shift which means that there are new rules emerging. That doesn’t mean that the old rules are disappearing and the new rules are suddenly taking over overnight. It just means, in the short term, that it’s now possible to do things differently than before, especially in regards to lifestyle design.

The old model, let’s call it the industrial model, relied on stability and physical synchronous presence. That was how we built our geographical, local cultures and communities. The nation-state supplied the overarching culture, promised us to keep us safe from perceived and real external threats and asked us to fit in through patriotism and the idea of us versus them from a geographical perspective. The local community integrated this authoritarian view in their local community and also developed a specific local community to be able to, within this community, live in peace and stability by shared values. For some, these shared values, was a beautiful garden, others a prison.

The Internet offers us the opportunity to connect and stay connected, create and grow relationships with anyone of the 4 billion people that are currently connected around the world (more people will eventually become connected as companies are offering access from anywhere for anyone). This offers us to partake in a new dimension where we can become liberated from geography, if we so choose, and create communities around interests, passions and shared dreams. This doesn’t eradicate the need for the local geographical community but offers an additional parallel dimension where what we cannot find locally, we can explore globally. That, from my point of view, enriches our lives and the world.

What its happening, especially since the arrival of the Bitcoin-Blockchain technology, is that the nation-state is being challenged, sitting right in-between the local and the global perspective. The reaction from many nation-states is to pull back and dream of a well-known past, perceived to offer a much simpler and non-challenging solution. Historically, in times of uncertainty, we tend to chose what is known over the unknown. This happened in Europe in the 30s, the US in the 60s et cetera and it’s happening today. This is driven by fear, uncertainty and doubt but also a lack of shared dreams and visions.

My experiential research project is about exploring how it feels but also works to shift from a physical and hierarchical organization of my life and work to a digital and network-based solution. This has enabled me to detach from the idea that we need to live, work and play in one single geographical community to — in theory — live work and play in an unlimited number of very diverse communities across our planet. This is in essence what is being called being a global nomad as opposed to being sedentary (in lack of a better word), tethered to one place through physical things, work and relationships.

There are obviously, just like with the sedentary lifestyle, pros and cons with living as a global nomad. And just like the design of the sedentary lifestyle, there are infinite ways of living like a global nomad. I’m using the word global instead of digital nomad as I don’t believe we live digitally. I don’t live in cyberspace just cause I post a blog post or respond to a tweet, I live in the physical world (sans spirituality but let’s leave that for another post).

I believe what is challenging to people is the audacity by which global nomads are rejecting the generally accepted model that they grew up in for a new, lesser known model. The other reason I think people are being challenged as by doing something differently the perception is that it’s not just a rejection of the status quo but a judgement of anyone that decide to accept the status quo.

I’m open to the idea that I might be completely wrong in my analysis as I can only rely on my own perception of how I think people perceive global nomadism. Personally, I’m neither rejecting or judging the status quo just exploring and researching what I view as alternative possibilities.

That said, let’s move on to take a look at the pros from my perspective of my current nomadic model:

– By shifting organizational model I’ve been able to redesign how I use my time, space and attention. In the hierarchical model I was a cog that needed to be available geographically and synchronously (referencing the 9-to-5 lifestyle). In the network-based model geography matters less and I can work asynchronously from anywhere. I personally felt very trapped in the 9–5 lifestyle, only having a few hours before and after office time for life outside production. The 9-to-5 lifestyle is legacy from the industrial era when we all needed to show up at the same time at the same place to build stuff together in physical factories. That is no longer necessary for a lot of projects. Today I can work in focused sprints and then take time off to spend in nature.

– By shifting from atoms to bits I’ve been able to let go of the physical manifestation of information — called things — to the digital manifestation — called apps. That means that I no longer need to personally own and physically store, maintain and service everything I need (or believe I need) in daily life but can access them on an on-demand subscription basis from anywhere in the world. This has resulted in lower living costs, a freedom to live and work anywhere and a lesser concern about material things. I also have much more influence over my so called burn rate (what I spend on a monthly basis) as I can turn off and on the subscriptions based on cash-flow.

– By shifting from participating in one single local geographical community to multiple local and global communities I feel I’ve enriched my life on so many levels, met people I would otherwise never meet, made significant new friendships and opened up my mind to new ways of seeing the world and life on this planet. To quote Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

As with most things in life there are also a few cons that I’d like to share:

– By shifting model I’ve had to reimagine a life where there are very few supporting services and create my own solutions, my own hacks. Insurance and retirement savings are all local or national, very few if any solutions exist on a global scale despite corporations claiming they are “global” (globalism in this context means that they have a global footprint to reach now markets and economy of scale but rarely offer global services except for Internet companies in specific and not so regulated industries). Also, by not owning anything or having a fixed address I’m excluded from accessing credit.

– By traveling the world I’ve been exposed to both time-consuming and physically tiring jet lag and respiratory challenges which I have rectified by traveling less and narrowing down where I currently live, in California, Mexico and Chile. I’m also sensitive to how I live to create as little harm as possible on our environment and cutting down on the transatlantic flights has resulted in less traveling and lower carbon emission (in addition to consuming less, recycling, reusing and eating less meat).

– By only accessing and not owning I’m not building equity through things but have to focus on building equity through intellectual capital. This is a challenge in a world where the central banks are printing money and making credit dirt cheap, driving up prices of real estate. The majority of people today build their nest eggs from passive income and not their daily work. This I believe, and the cost of healthcare care (especially in the US), is what is keeping people tethered to one singularity.

This new model, exploratory at first and now my new normal is something I’ll keep exploring, iterating and sharing as I believe that we are just in the beginning of a tremendous social transformation driven by technology but also by the need and desire to evolve as human beings, explore new ways of co-existing in the world in a more fair, equal and peaceful way.

I’ll let you, the reader, be the judge of if you believe that this model represents immaturity, selfishness and a threat to society or if it, as I believe, an act of kindness to explore the human potential, untethered and unshackled from anything that might enslave us, real or imaginary.

I’m currently writing a book about this experience and if you are interested you can sign up for my newsletter Fewer Better Things where I share my perspective on an irregular basis and will announce when the book is ready for worldwide publishing.