August 18, 2008
thoughts on being a digital nomad
I'm writing this from an outside table at Jo's Cafe on South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas.
I spent part of the morning having a good look at Digital Nomads, the new Dell blog. It seems Lionel Menchaka, one of my pals over at Dell is helping to run it. Also, I find to my delight that my old buddy, the uber-smart, uber-creative Phil Torrone, is also a contributor. So yeah, I'm hoping to see great things come out of the enterprise.
A "Digital Nomad" is roughly defined as someone who, thanks to the internet, can and does work anywhere he or she likes. Thanks to the internet, last February I was able to move from London, England to Alpine, Texas without changing jobs, so I guess it's not surprising that this new Dell blog caught my attention. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Though the blog was created by Dell, it seems they don't want the blog to be all "about" Dell. I think that's a smart move. As I'm fond of saying, if you want to be boring, talk about yourself, if you want to be interesting, talk about something other than yourself. Of course, in the comments there were a few "This is just a cynical marketing ploy by Dell to sell more laptops" remarks. This is to be expected, I suppose. If Dell tries to have a conversation online, some bloggers are going to have a problem with it. If Dell says nothing, some of the very same bloggers are going to have a problem with it. I call this, "Having Your Cake And Eating It 2.0". I find this phenomenon increasingly common in the blogosphere. Maybe it was always thus, maybe once I was better at not noticing it.
2. I remember when I had a god-awful office job I had to commute to every day, how appealing the idea of being "digitally nomadic" appealed to me. You mean I can hang out in cafes all day and still get paid? No more commuting? No more paying high, big-city rents? How cool is that?!! But being a digital nomad has a dark side. There's something unhealthily addictive about being "Always on", "Always online", "Always connected". Reading Clay Shirky, it seems than whenever Society takes huge cultural shifts, mass addiction sets in as a coping mechanism. Clay pointed out that in 19th Century England, the addiction of choice was drinking gin. In postwar United States, the addiction of choice was long hours vegged out in front of the TV. In today's world, I'm guessing our new mass addiction of choice- the Internet- means not even being able to go to the bathroom without bringing along your laptop. They call it "Crackberry" for a reason.
3. Yes, the Digital Nomads blog is "marketing". Then again, so is the sentence preceding this one.
4. The Digital Nomads blog is what I call "indirect marketing". People aren't supposed to read it and go, "My, what a lovely blog. I think I'll go out and buy me a couple of brand new Dell laptops". This is more of an "Alignment" play. In other words, by "aligning" themselves more with the digital-nomad crowd, they hope it'll help them in time to create products that are more compelling and relevant to them. If you were in the computer business, you'd want to have the same alignment. "The Porous Membrane" etc. The good news is, Alignment plays can be extremely effective. The bad news is, they take FOREVER to gather momentum.
5. The blog is still in its early days. I can see it still struggling, like all new blogs do, to "find its voice" [Hey, if a blog can find its voice in under twelve months, I consider that good going]. Of course, it's going to have the same problem that ALL corporate blogs do i.e the problem of balancing BOTH the needs of the perennially kvetchy, perennially skeptical, perennially dissatisfied blog-reading public, and the commercial interests of the company. Harder than it looks. The fact that they are giving it a go AT ALL I find encouraging.
6. As someone who has been lucky enough to actually become a professional digital nomad, not just dream about it just happening one day, I can honestly say that yeah, it's a tremendous privilege. Big-city wages with small-town overheads is a damn good business model, and I simply could not do it without an internet connection. I also believe that yes, there's a lot of people out there who are not really digital mavericks, though they would very much like to be some day. With these folk in mind, I guess my advice to Dell would be, forget about trying to get the digital mavericks to read your blog. If your stuff is any good, they will happily come of their own accord. Instead, ask yourselves what can YOU do to help MORE people become digital mavericks, themselves. If you play a tangible part in shaping this part of their lives, they will love you and your products forever. And recruit their friends to your cause. It's all good. Rock on.
Posted by hugh macleod at August 18, 2008 10:48 AM
Welcome to Austin!
I did the nomad thing in Europe for a couple of months this year. I was dismayed at how much of a challenge it was to find free or reasonably priced wifi (or wired Internet access, for that matter). I guess we're a little spoiled here. How are things in Alpine, outside Gaping Void World Headquarters?
I took a quick look at the Digital Nomads site and it was surprising in a good way. Yes it is sponsored/run by Dell but doesn't have Dell's logo all over the place. From an aesthetic point of view it has a really nice look and feel to it. My favourite section is the Nomad stories so people can be inspired by how others are living lives outside of a traditional 9-5 office environment.
I think the idea of being a digital nomad is one that many people will find appealing. The question will be how much this effort on Dell's part will help their business. But good start, I say.
It's always easy to fall by the wayside of being on the left or right (the balance of genuine conversation vs. looking out for yourself/company)
People easily label companies/brands as ethical or unethical. In reality, most of us are not that different from 'unethical' organization if we just look ourselves with a clearer eyes.
I was at an open mic in one of hippest downtown coffeeshops last week. A guy,angry as hell about the war,capitalism, all the while reading his piece from his new 3g iphone.
It doesn't add up to me.
I love the idea, and can see where the Digital Nomads are trying to offer up great advice (in particular the Tools and Tips section). Keep it up and people will come!
But to truly make this a place where people will interact and take part, they should lose the canned catalog images and go shoot some low-res fun shots in cafés, coworking spaces, parks, etc. People, dogs, paper - not laptops. That will help with the "un"corporate feel.
And who the hell wants a Dell laptop signed by Michael Dell? That's weird. Not the laptop – that's valuable (to some, I guess). But Michael Dell's signature?
Where do I sign up...
I love the idea of being a Digital Nomad but I hate the process of traveling which seems to be an intrinsic part of it. It would be cool though to get paid to work anywhere I wanted to live.
I appreciate reading your take on Dell's blog because I really couldn't figure out its purpose or who the intended audience was. I Tweeted Richard at Dell who just said it was part of a number of different projects that were being rolled out but said nothing specific about the blog itself.
I agree with your take on blog-reading audience...they can be a demanding group of people but I think the attitude varies from hostile (political discussion boards) to warm & embracing ("fan" culture). I assume that corporation blog readers would tend more towards the former than the latter but there is always the counter-example of Apple to prove me wrong.
"Instead, ask yourselves what can YOU do to help more people become digital mavericks, themselves."
Totally agree Hugh. As an aspiring digital nomad, that's what I was hoping to see when I read the name this morning somewhere on twitter. Like what Pam Slim does over at www.escapefromcubiclenation.com for aspiring entrepeneurs.
Haven't had the time to check it out in detail yet but, dear makers of Digitalnomads.com, count me in as the second person who backs that advice.
Excellent and effective evil plan, Hugh.
PXLated, I hear what you're saying. Though I don't agree that starting a blog "dilutes" other people's blogs on the same subject [and besides, healthy competition is a good thing, surely?], I think supporting other blogs of a similar ilk would be an interesting idea. They have enough enough resources that if they really wanted to, it wouldn't be too hard for them ;-)
Thanks for the kind words, Everybody.
@Hugh -- thanks for the suggestions on www.digitalnomads.com. We'll certainly be mindful not to talk too much about ourselves but focus on how we can empower our readers to live the dream and become digitally nomadic.
@amrita - I'm glad you like the profiles - I just posted another nomadic profile this evening, this one from Marshall Goldsmith, someone who has traveled a lot more than I have. Somewhat irreverent but interesting.
bruceericatdell - Chief Nomad
Hey Bruce, thanks for the comment. You guys are doing a great job- keep it up! :)
Beautiful design, easy on the eye, missing the point. Well I would say that and it is only for effect but when I see that at least 50% of current contribs are PR/marketers I cringe because there is always that tendency to sell the upside with little attention to the downside.
In Hugh's post, he says: "by "aligning" themselves more with the digital-nomad crowd" - but I see so many different facets to this. Like Hugh, I've been a digital nomad but for some 11 years. I was in the position to make that choice. That is afforded to a very few people for many reasons. Outside the tech sector how many truly get the chance to choose? What might Dell say to those corporations who might view this as a genuine way to save money while giving people a more satisfying life style? What might Dell say to those who aspire to this lifestyle but are unclear or afraid of how it might work. Like Hugh - I benefit from good money coming in and not a whole lot going out, but again, how many really have that choice? What about stay at home moms and dads...the list goes on.
OK - so it is early days and I do applaud them for making the effort. But I really do wish that efforts of this kind were not so marketing led and skewed positively towards the practical, the reality.
After all, as Hugh knows, it ain't always a bowl of cherries. I know that too.
Well - since no one else seems to have commented on the cartoon - I will.
Very, very funny. Laughed out loud.
Smart move by Dell to write about the next big thing: digital nomading. Several of my friends are already planning their trips, and I'm gonna give it a shot as well by traveling to Nepal this year and keep on blogging at the same time.
Steve Rubel gave a short presentation about Digital Nomads at the Next08 conference in Hamburg earlier this year. Here's an excerpt from a post I wrote for The Next Web Blog:
These guys quit their corporate lives to start traveling from city to city and work as consultants. They use web-based tools to work together with others. Rubel: “You can see them working in Starbucks a lot, or at those new co-working facilities.” Although only a few thousand people have been adopting this lifestyle so far, Rubel calls it “worth watching”.
I think of the current lifestyles, this is one of the most romantic. Those digital nomads are the new Jack Kerouac’s and Hunter S. Thompson’s: traveling to wherever life takes them and meeting interesting people all over the world. All these experiences are documented in their blogs that inspire other people.
It's good to see companies having conversation, of any kind, with the world. I find it sad that there are people out there who diss it as only "marketing crap". From what I see, it looks like Dell actually wants to engage it's customer base in discourse. That can only be a good thing.
Of course, I'd just love Dell to have given me a battery that holds a charge longer then 15 minutes so I could detach it from my desk and MAYBE go to a cafe. (I'm saving up to buy a Mac next for this reason only.)
I've been following the developments with Dell with interest... Their new blog looks good, and hope it helps serve a purpose. Just a small note of curiosity - I was in a meeting today and noticed that the design of the sock manufacturer Bridgedale I was talking to is almost exactly the same as the one being used over at Digital Nomads.
Maybe someone should have got you to draw a foot for them?!
Summer, I hear the new Dell Latitude battery runs up to 19 hours...?
I miss Austin... I was just a couple of blocks for Jo's on SoCo.
And, moving back to Montreal, I was able to keep the same (temporary) job: online teaching. Wish I could maintain that job full-time, but universities take a long time to change.
This is indeed an interesting conversation, and I totally agree with the OP on what Dell (and other companies) are positioning themselves to doing.
Of course, I've been a digital nomad both as a student and as a professional (half-time for both) and so I see both the benefits and downsides. It should be interesting to see where "some" careers are able to take this, and how it influences others.