Digital nomads are people who live in a nomadic way while working remotely using technology and the internet. Such people generally have minimal material possessions and work remotely in temporary housing, hotels, cafes, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles, using Wi-Fi, smartphones or mobile hotspots to access the Internet. Some digital nomads are perpetual travelers, while others are only nomadic for a short period of time. While some nomads travel through various countries, others focus on one area. Some may engage in van-dwelling. In 2020, a research study found that 10.9 million American workers described themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 49% from 2019.
One of the first digital nomads was Steve Roberts, who in 1983 rode on a computerized recumbent bicycle and was featured in Popular Computing magazine; the magazine referred to him as a "high-tech nomad".
The term "digital nomad" started to be used in the early 1990s to describe a new type of high tech traveling lifestyle made possible by the growth of computer networking and popularization of mobile devices like laptops, tablets and PDAs. In his 1992 travelogue Exploring the Internet, Carl Malamud described a "digital nomad" who "travels the world with a laptop, setting up FidoNet nodes." In 1993, Random House published the Digital Nomad's Guide series of guidebooks by Mitch Ratcliffe and Andrew Gore. The guidebooks, PowerBook, AT&T EO Personal Communicator, and Newton's Law, used the term "digital nomad" to refer to the increased mobility and more powerful communication and productivity technologies that new mobile devices introduced.
Craig McCaw predicted in 1993 that the union of telecommunication and computing would create a new nomadic industry. By enabling people to conduct business from any location, wireless communication and digital assistants would facilitate a return to a nomadic lifestyle where people moved as they wished and took their environment and possessions with them.
The 1997 book Digital Nomad by Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners used the term to describe how technology allows for a return of societies to a nomadic lifestyle. Makimoto and Manners identified an emerging "digital nomad" lifestyle freed by technology "from the constraints of geography and distance."
In contemporary usage, the term broadly describes a category of highly mobile, location-independent professionals who are able to live and work remotely from anywhere in the world with internet access, due to the integration of mobile technology into everyday life and work settings.
People typically become digital nomads due to a desire to travel and location independence. Compared to living in expensive cities, a digital nomad lifestyle also has cost advantages. Digital nomads are able to take advantage of different jurisdictions and global labor arbitrage to preserve their liberty and wealth (i.e., earn income in Country A, become tax resident in Country B, bank in Country C, own real estate in Country D, open a company in country E, hire labor from country F, etc).[dubious ]
The number of people who became digital nomads during the Covid pandemic starting in 2020 greatly increased as remote work and work-from-home policies became more prevalent for workers. "In 2020 alone, the number of digital nomads in the U.S. surged almost 50% to 11 million."
Although digital nomads enjoy advantages in freedom and flexibility, they report loneliness as their biggest struggle, followed by burnout.
Other challenges include maintaining international health insurance with coverage globally, abiding by different local laws including payment of required taxes and obtaining work visas, and maintaining long-distance relationships with friends and family back home. In some cases, the digital nomad lifestyle leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication between digital nomads and their clients or employers. Other challenges may also include time zone differences, the difficulty of finding a reliable connection to the internet, and the absence of delineation between work and leisure time.
Feelings of loneliness are often present in the practice of nomadic lifestyle, since nomadism often requires freedom from personal attachments such as marriage. The importance of developing face-to-face quality relationships has been stressed to maintain mental health in remote workers. The need for intimacy and family life may be a motive to undertake digital nomadism as an intermittent or temporary activity as in the case of entrepreneur and business developer Sol Orwell.
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