Cosmoplitanism of the Digital Nomad

The nomad is invoked as a metaphor for our present technological mediated mobile lifestyle and identities. The “digital nomad” has become quite a buzz word to describe a new breed of urbanites who are location independent as long as there is a good coffee shop with free wifi. John Durham Peters cautions that the “nomad is explicitly a hero of postmodernist thinking” and that we are encounter an often romanticized account of nomadology.

Forbes: How To Succeed At Becoming A Digital Nomad

Telegraph: Living and working in paradise: the rise of the ‘digital nomad’

The influence of mobile media on space and time have often attractively described as the freedom to travel and work anywhere in the world, painting an intoxicating picture of sun-kissed entrepreneurs, owners, freelancers who can indulge in travel and adventure. Best seller, Timothy Ferriss in The 4-hour Work Week : Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich says it all, the era of the New Rich.

“How to reconstruct your life? Whether your dream is experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, this book teaches you how to double your income, and how to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want.”

Say YES to precarious work! Cosmopolitanism that makes us the “citizen of the world”.

Sounds like Castell’s cosmopolitan global elites, but Castell’s conception is sociologically significant to the network society because of the ways it accounts to for the cluster of nodes in specific cities or regions that our high-speed infrastructures of communications are built on. The nomadic lifestyle is contingent on network nodes but it does not produce the the social uniformity or global sameness of McLuhan’s “Global Village” in the discursive conception of “citizen of the world”. For this is a forced globalization and individuation, a form of domination and imposition on mutiple economic or cultural models for a global netowrk. The geographical hotspots for digital nomads are capitalizing on these unequal flows, whether it be attracting populations to tech hot spots or third world/ cheap to live locations (for lack of better word).

The invocation to the nomad in mobile studies, especially in Leopoldina Fortunati’s use of “digital intimacy” looks at social groups belonging to communication networks rather than on fixed spaces. The cellphone allows for the possibility to contact its own communication networks at any moment, at any public situations. Kristen Drotner emphasize the importance to consider socio-cultural varieties of Fortunati’s “digital intimacy” and its potential to blend public and private space

I appreciate the use of Goffman’s work in what he calls “face work” and “stage performance” as a way to think about Braidotti’s nomadic identity, the simultaneous and multiple identity, roles, and performance. This horizontal positioning of audiences led to discussions of nomadic intimacy and nomadic audiences, where audiences occupy various front stage performances, becoming part of various portable publics.

What is missing I think is the political context. Nomadic metaphors rests on “flexibility”, “adaptability”, “portability”, all aspects of mobility offered by investing social relations based on connectivity. The nomad or normadic descriptions is not ahistorical, though metaphors sometimes are treated as such. The nomadism offered by self-help books, popular press (though more critical now of digital nomad life) portrays a postmodern hyper-mobile individuality while mobility is thoroughly unequally divided. The different mobility enable and constrains freedom and power, and the metaphor of the nomad seems to swallow it whole.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post! I love your criticism of this concept, and I can’t help but notice how this ideology resinates with my own MRP interests in the creative city, and its overlap with mobility. For me, mobility is a forgotten aspect of the creative class. Like the digital nomad, mobility is presented as a gift that is provided to individuals that surrounds their job with a sense “coveted-ness”. However, in the creative city, mobility is a driving factor of inequality that ultimately creates barriers for large portions of the population. Although digital nomads are different, they share very similar relations with creative city workers. The biggest farce that surrounds this work is the idea that movement is action, and work is the result. Individuals don’t just become successful through movement (there are some one off cases). Many have preexisting financial support, and similar to the creative city, belong to the upper middle class. There is an illusion of care free living that surrounds the travel and food bloggers of our generation that is not an accurate depiction of reality. These lifestyles are not sustainable in terms of what they’re fandom is able to interact with.

    It is also important to consider how this plays into the bigger issue of technological determinism, and our desires to instil so much power into our machines. The term digital nomad, as you point out, takes away form our social realities and perpetuates false representations of the empowerment that comes from travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emma, thanks for your insights. I completely agree and see a lot of similarites. And I think it speaks to the postmodern subjects as a whole in which mobility becomes instrumental rather than substansive. In many ways the digital nomad proclaims to be part of the creative class. I think this comparison you made is important as it speaks to a greater phenomenon we are experiencing.

      Especially recent immigrations changes as introduced by the Trump adminstration fruther essentuate that power and privledge that comes with travel and it’s interwinement with gender, race, and religion.

      Great addition on tech determinism or perhaps more so tech fetishism. We both agree of the society of control of our political economy but like you said we continue to give power to our machines.

      We are becoming more and more like the same person ;p

      Like

  2. I think that there is so much valid criticism here! I especially agree with your discussion of the politics that are missing from the discussion of the ‘digital nomad.’ For example, who is afforded the privilege to be a digital nomad? What kind of social status is required, as well as techne? Who can survive with the precarity involved?

    Secondly, I think that the use of the word ‘nomad’ is highly politicized. Throughout history, nomadic peoples have been criticized and forced to settle. Look at the perpetual stigma around Romani people or the settlement imposed on Canada’s Indigenous peoples by government power. The fact that the word ‘nomad’ has relatively recently been redefined to refer to travelling yuppies or the tech-savvy is more than slightly ironic. An interesting demonstration of how definitions are networked, to be sure.

    Like

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