… it’s just not evenly distributed. This brilliant quote from William Gibson perfectly captured what it felt like at DCBKK 2014 in Bangkok, a conference for digital nomads and location independent professionals. The gentleman who quoted Gibson is living and working in SE Asia and using geo-arbitrage (taking advantage of cost of living disparities in different locations) to lower his credit-card debt back in the US.
Another gentleman I met is building websites for local governments and cities in US while living in a small town in Romania. It turns out that the labor costs in Romania are similar to those in the Philippines, but internet speeds are much better and there are no typhoons. Everyone had a story for why they are where they are.
“Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my office” – view from the conference venue in Bangkok
In some sense, most of the folk I met at the conference already live in the future. Many of them have realized that doing information processing for work (which is the main form of work in the future) unlocks them from one particular location. They roam the planet on whims and build businesses on the go.
It is fascinating how the Internet is enabling a rapid spread of ideas that often go beyond the conventional habitual thinking, enabling escape from the local optima where previous generations have locked us into. Connect enough like-minded people across the world and new ways of thinking have a better chance for survival. Internet also enables those reverse diasporas to come together to help turn ideas into reality. I tend to think these sorts of resets are necessary for innovation and new perspectives. For example, Estonia is a good showcase for what state services could be like given a fresh start and doing ground-up design with the latest technology in mind.
I felt quite inspired meeting such a large group of nonconformists. They are truly designing their own lives – escaping desire-based, materialistic consumer lifestyles and pursuing much humbler needs-based lifestyles that value experiences over possessions.
I think this nomadic crowd has figured out a few things that will take a bit longer for the masses to realize – namely:
- The 9 to 5 workday is a relic of the past – it does not capitalize on the differences of our hedonic arousal curves and forces us to operate in artificial and non-optimal conditions. It might serve its purpose in blue-collar work, but its effects on creative work are questionable. We are more productive when we work on our own time!
- A large part of modern jobs do not require physical presence of all employees in one location; nor do they require said location to be fixed. In fact, during my trip to Asia, I met startups that had raised capital in Silicon Valley but had relocated the whole team to SE Asia to save on costs and be closer to their users. There are many opportunities for different types of geo-arbitrage. These opportunities can, and should, be used for things like optimizing burn rates. We can capitalize on our location independence to be more efficient.
- Being born in any nation state is just a random coincidence. Taking state borders that are a result of historic military conflicts too seriously limits human potential. The only “state” we are unfortunately still physically bound to is the Planet Earth and Elon is already working on it. We operate better in environments that are suitable for our varied needs and we should take advantage of our freedom to move.
For some, this all might seem like a niche idea – just a bunch of IT geeks that have the freedom to roam the planet; but then again, there are already 104 cities in the world that have attracted more than one hundred thousand expatriates. On my trip, I only visited Bangkok, Manila and Hong Kong. I did not even need to go to Tokyo to see that the future is already here!