The New Nomads

Emily, digital nomad, with Voltaic backpack about to mount camelThree nomads connecting in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Yours truly, revealing the secret to keeping my digital devices active and connected: Voltaic Systems solar backpack. Nau’s Acoustic Pant also proved most excellent for riding and other adventures. The handsome man holding my hand sports a traditional deel with a wide sash that serves as a brace during wild rides as well creating a pocket for mobile device and other accessories. The bactrian camel wears a beautiful handwoven saddle.

Last weekend, an uncle asked me “How many hours a day do you go online?” I looked up from my iPhone and repeated the question out loud several times, stressing the different words to understand what he meant, like Jude Law as Brad Stand in “I Heart Huckabees” pondering “How Am I Not Myself?” Go online? 10 or 12?

“All of them,” my wise brother answered. “She doesn’t go online, she just is.” Uncle seemed confused and more than a little worried.

This week’s Economist has a great section on the new nomadism might help him understand the shift that occurs with ubiquitous connectivity. In it, Paul Saffo describes the evolution of the digital nomad from the early astronauts (who must bring what they need because they cannot rely on their environment to provide it) to intermediate hermit crabs (who survive by dragging a cast-off shell i.e. carry-on bag of cables, discs, dongles, batteries, plugs and paper).

In contrast, the new urban nomads, appearing only in the past few years, are defined “not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it.” As the technology becomes more advanced, it becomes invisible — the connection is what’s important.


  • New oases – Expect “a huge rise in demand for semi-public spaces that can be informally appropriated to ad-hoc workspaces”. The new architecture, says Mr Mitchell, will “make spaces intentionally multifunctional”. This means that 21st-century aesthetics will probably be the exact opposite of the sci-fi chic that 20th-century futurists once imagined. Architects are instead thinking about light, air, trees and gardens, all in the service of human connections.
  • Family ties — nomadic technology deepens them, because it enables connected presence. People expect less content but instead a feeling of permanent connection, as though they were in fact together during the entire time between their physical meetings.
  • A world of witnesses – ubiquity of mobile video changes the game for exposing human rights abuses, health care and environmental monitoring.

Labour movement, one of the articles in the series, features Pip Coburn, who also co-hosts a weekly participatory podcast with Jerry Michalski. On April 21, 2008, they’ll discuss the issue of mobility with with the author, Andreas Kluth, discussing social effects, business effects, direction of forces, privacy and sense of time and place.


Recognize yourself, global nomad? Check out, founded by Janera Soerel, a new online publication and social network for and by the vibrant community of global nomads.


Imagine! Kenya sings for India. Australia sings for Lebanon. Japan sings for Turkey. France sings for USA. (I still prefer Sufjan Stevens’ version of “The Star Spangled Banner”, but the Kenyans singing “Jana Gana Mana,” by Rabindranath Tagore, brought tears to my eyes.) These beautiful short films are part of Pangaea Day, the global peace party on May 10, 2008 that grew from Jehane Noujaim’s TED Wish.

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