This entry is a part of the CSCW blog and summarizes our CSCW 2019 paper “From Nomadic Work to Nomadic Leisure Practice: A Study of Long-term Bike Touring” by Pedro Ferreira, Karey Helms, Barry Brown and Airi Lampinen. The paper got awarded an honorable mention.
Bike touring is an effortful leisure activity that is loosely structured around riding one’s bike (at minimum) for multiple days. For some this may entail a couple of weeks, while others stay on the road for more than a year at a time. Some focus on a sense of self-reliance; bringing along camping and cooking gear, often inside panniers attached to their bikes, while others prefer to stay at hotels or rely on network hospitality via platforms such as CouchSurfing or, more specifically to the bike touring community, a network called WarmShowers. While bike touring is demanding both psychologically and physically, we look at it as an example of nomadic activity that resists subordination to the ideals of work and productivity. As such, it gives us an interesting view of how people negotiate the boundaries between work and other parts of their lives.
Apart from the pedaling itself, bike touring is about balancing social needs against alone time, or balancing between structure and managing varying amounts of uncertainty and risk. Where will I sleep tonight? Do I want to join this friendly group of people on their itinerary for a certain amount of time? How do I keep work emails from disturbing my journey? How do I make sure my children can contact me? These are the constant negotiations that participants need to consider during their journeys. These questions, rather than mere problems to be solved are actually the very things that make bike touring pleasurable and enjoyable. Negotiating these issues while bike touring is different from the kinds of life-work boundary negotiations that have previously attracted academic attention.
The study of mobility, or nomadicity, within Computer-Supported Cooperative Work has traditionally focused on work, while leisurely aspects of nomadic experiences have gotten significantly less attention. The implication of this emphasis on work and productivity, for us, is that other aspects of life, such as leisure and rest, remain less documented, less understood, and possibly less appreciated. Further, this impacts which technologies get designed. By documenting bike touring and analyzing experiences of this particular nomadic leisure practice, we discuss how centering leisure can help us rethink the temporal and spatial logics that are built into our technological words.
Also outside of academic writing, there is a tendency to reflect on the balance between work and life by starting from the work side of the equation. Here, instead, we started from the flipside by interviewing eleven individuals who do bike touring. participants managed to fit bike tours with the rhythms of work and/or family life — or, in some cases, rather fit work and family life around their bike tours. This entailed reorganizing and rethinking the role of mobile phones, for instance how to maintain an adequate distance from work emails, or in other cases, how to make sure that one was able to conduct a sufficient amount of work such as to enable being away for longer periods of time. We also analyze how people collaborate to make these journeys possible and enjoyable. This both looks at how people travel together but also how they see themselves as hosts and guests, and how they see the value of sharing and giving back beyond the economic models that dominate technological platforms.
Finally we bring forth two points that we believe to be central in our current time: First, we open up a discussion of the temporal logics that are inscribed on our systems: How can we design with time so as to challenge the dominant ways in which time is designed for us? Second, and resonating with contemporary issues surrounding network hospitality and platform capitalism, we suggest that bike touring challenges spatial logics of tourism, shifting away from the effects that platforms have in directing and concentrating tourism (resulting in discussions of gentrification that are so abundant today), towards a more deliberate and collectively negotiated spatial logics of tourism that offer alternative ways forward.
Nomadic leisure practice, then, serves as a wider critique of a relentless focus on work itself. For those we interviewed, bike tours served as opportunities to prioritize leisure, enjoyment, and personal goals in combination with community building and positive local engagements through the creative use of digital applications and platforms. In turn, this challenges the role work plays in our lives and its often unquestioned necessities.