At 18:00, standing at Central Station, waiting on a delayed train after having wrapped up another workday, drenched from the relentless rain, and seeking solace in the online world of social media. However, stumbling upon someone you kind of know from high school demonstrating their fantastic life as digital nomad on Bali and ‘Ten reasons why you should be a nomad too’ is the final blow on the random Tuesday night for me (and I suspect I’m not alone in this sentiment).
The trendy portrayal of the digital nomad lifestyle, exploring corners of the world that still have affordable — to western standards, accommodations, endless sunshine and exciting landscapes, has gained popularity in recent years. However, it has also attracted its fair share of skepticism. It’s crucial not to dismiss this critique as mere jealousy, as I genuinely believe there are inherent and controversial issues with the understanding of this digital nomad lifestyle. With some, a rather radical perspective, viewing it as a form of neocolonialism — in essence the continuation of colonial power structures through economic, and or cultural means. In a globalised world, in some sense this is inevitable consequence. Yet, I the idea of the digital nomad lifestyle, despite its global appeal, might inadvertently contribute to a sense of detachment and disruption of local communities and the erosion or appropriation of cultural tradition.
In an interesting article by Sabina, the concept of social media de-localising the local is explored. I want to further this idea which not only removes the local context but also disrupt the connection to its original community significance. For instance, Balinese locals are fed up with the escalating post-work party culture on the island 8,000 have signed a petition that condemns the noise disturbance, public drunkenness and drug consumption. This detachment happens as social media platforms (Instagram, TikTok) often oversimplify and commodity or misjudge the essence of local cultures, reducing them to superficial representation for the eye of the viewer. Additionally, the pursuit of shares, likes and validation can overshadow the nuanced narratives that truly define local tradition.
A post of Nomadic Matt on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwkwv-soncE/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=ODhhZWM5NmIwOQ==
Furthermore, the rise of digital nomadism brings forward the question of the traditional notion of community, reflecting on the transformative nature of belonging in this interconnected world. Firstly, the key aspect of the nomadic lifestyle challenges our understanding of ‘local’ communities as a geographical entity. The digital nomad’s centre of interest, more than geographical pinpoint which often share linguistic, historical or cultural backgrounds, lies more in virtual communities, with websites and social media accounts existing to meet other nomads. Often they rely on online platforms and co-working spaces, these digital infrastructures facilitate the online networks of connection, yet often work outside of traditional community networks. The impact of these kind of virtual community have lead to an rise of gentrification and the commodification of local culture, as exemplified by the case of nomadic paradise Bali again.
We have entered the era of globalised living. Yet, the manifestation and privilege, particularly with a note to Western context, to travel and reside wherever we want often overshadows the notion of cultural sensitivity. The challenge ahead lies in the creation of a global community that not only embraces local tradition but actively works towards the idea of co-existence in this tradition. The digital realm has a big role to play within the shaping of this global community, starting with ‘Ten reasons why you should be a nomad too (but be sensitive to local communities and tradition please!!)’
Beckman, Jonathan. 21AD. Review of Don’t Settle: The Rise of Digital Nomads. The Economist, March 21AD. https://www.economist.com/1843/2018/03/21/dont-settle-the-rise-of-digital-nomads?
Hennigan, Rowena. 2023. “How to Become a Digital Nomad.” Harvard Business Review. February 8, 2023. https://hbr.org/2023/02/how-to-become-a-digital-nomad.