Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
May 1, 2009 7:59 PM

When Your Office Is Anywhere And Everywhere

When you're a digital nomad, your office can fit in a backpack, but not a briefcase.

I tend to know more people in their digital format than I do in their protein forms. It's par for the course for people like you and me as we slowly shift and morph our business and personal relationships into a vat of connectivity. So where, for example, do you meet an editor for enRoute Magazine? Why on Twitter, of course. And when we finally connected in person, it led to this: a new column that will look at the intersection of travel, technology and what life is like for digital nomads - people like you and me. People who can (and do) work from anywhere and everywhere. With an Internet connection or a mobile one. At 30,000 feet in the air or at your local coffee shop.

This idea of being a digital nomad is new.

The way that business flows - and is done -  is changing, and technology is enabling this type of work style. Of course, you know this and you also know the transition is happening quickly. Work today is not even about having a laptop anymore. Your smartphone will do the trick. If you really have the urge to type or need a larger screen, any computer connected to the Internet should give you access to everything you need. Some of us don't even have traditional offices anymore. Some of us don't even have assigned desks anymore. Soon the term "desk job�? could be a thing of the past.

We hold no attachment to our physical offices. Being in one place does not increase our productivity. All we really need is an online connection. This way, we don't create clutter or worry about physical "stuff,�? and we don't have to rush back to a physical space to check e-mail or download a proposal.

My "real�? office is my BlackBerry, my laptop, my high-speed mobile Internet USB stick and my backpack. (Don't laugh; briefcases were meant for paper and files. My Samsonite backpack is the ultimate mobile office with room for extra cables, an iPod and, yes, a magazine or two. Plus, I've got two free hands to work the BlackBerry). Being a successful digital nomad is all about optimizing space. You optimize your physical space by carrying only the lightest gear, and you optimize your digital space by ensuring that all your devices are as small as possible while packing in as much storage capacity and speed as you can afford and handle.

That's what Ultraportable is all about: embracing digital nomadism.

I love the idea that my office is anywhere and everywhere. In future columns, we'll look at products, services and ideas that will help you be more effective, efficient and free. I'm looking forward to sharing my stories and lifehacks with you - here in the magazine or sitting right next to you on an airplane. And if that doesn't work, how about we connect on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter?

Sidebar - iRecycle

Who would have thought that $300 iPods could become disposable 12 to 24 months out? I recently picked up a 32 GB iPod Touch. I wanted to wrap my head around how the touch screen works, and, of course, I wanted to play with all of the amazing applications. (Apple recently announced that over 500 million applications have been downloaded from the iTunes store since they started offering iPhone 3G - update: it's now over one billion.) But what do you do with your old iPod? Mine was a fairly new 30 GB iPod Classic. I decided to turn it into my portable backup hard drive. Plug it into your computer, format the iPod hard drive and copy and paste all of your critical information over to it. Now when I travel, most of the important stuff on my laptop is backed up to the old iPod. It's slim, it's light and it makes the perfect portable hard disk storage system.

If you have any cool travel tips, ticks and lifehacks for the digital nomad, please let loose in the comment section.

The above posting is my new monthly column for enRoute Magazine called, Ultraportable. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- enRoute Magazine - Ultraportable - Home Page.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • I love this idea of the "Virtual Nomad" or "Digital Nomad." I've been thinking about it for a while. The interesting thing is that when people start uncoupling from things like the conventional work environment, you have to start providing new services around that new lifestyle design.

    This provides opportunity. For example, in my field - fitness professional - people that are working from home may be less likely to go to a gym for their fitness needs. I've seen a big upswing in searches for bodyweight exercise related terms on Google Trends. I even wrote a post a few weeks ago on the Virtual Nomad phenomenon on my blog.

    It's interesting how evolution in one aspect of lifestyle design cascades through other - seemingly unconnected - aspects of our lives.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Reply
  • Posted by Khayyam Wakil
    Mitch Joel

    Give it a name... Digital Nomad!

    For many moons my sole purpose was to find a way to sit in a hammock and just hit enter once in a while :)

    First, I would like to extend my congratulations upon you for landing a nice gig and reinforcing why twitter is a very useful tool when used properly. And now, on to the Digital Nomad. I love this descriptor! I first found myself as a Digital Nomad while travelling overseas. I had money to survive for three and half months in India and Pakistan. While in India I bought a motorcycle and drove to Nepal. It wasn't really planned out all that well since I ran out of money in Nepal. I stashed my laptop in northern India and after a gruelish journey, retrieved my new found money maker. I'd piece off little print and design jobs which when converted resulted in small fortunes that would allow me a month or two of food, shelter and gas money for the bike.

    I managed to roam around for an entire year! It was sensational to experience life this way. I wanted more. Got a job at an agency. Quit a job at an agency. Went out on my own. Took a beating at first and with persistence the choppy waters smoothed out. So what I did was focus on opportunities that would take me to far off places for work. And then I realized that I could bring them to me. Wherever I was! I was doing it all along and finally realized it. So started my path of working from wherever I want to.

    Then came along Twitter. Opened me up into a whole new arena. Put me in contact with people I'd never thought I'd ever be speaking with, sharing with and getting them to critique projects. Everyone was so helpful and in in return would want to pay in kind. One little design favor here another one there. Someone gives you a referral... badda boom badda bing. You're off to the races!

    To top it all off, you've got Skype and my newly found savior, BaseCampHQ. Skype allows me to conference call with clients, one on one video, share my screen with them; everything you need to maintain a healthy relationship with a client. And a good project management tool to keep things organized will go a L O N G way.

    Yup, you can do it... you're golden! Get ready to bask under the sun and press enter*

    *Some results may vary

    Reply
  • Posted by Cherie Ve Ard
    Mitch Joel

    It seems digital nomads and resources for them are popping up everywhere :) It's a wonderful thing, indeed.


    We've been full time technomads (our preferred term) for almost 2 years now, living and working on the road in a small solar powered travel trailer. And we love connecting with others living their path and calling to travel with technology.

    Digital nomadism isn't all *that* new however.. Steve Roberts was doing it all the way back in 1983 on a bicycle. Check him out at www.microship.com. He's now nomading around on a sailboat.

    - Cherie / www.technomadia.com

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Digital nomad spotted yesterday, on the Beaubien bus in Montreal: 17 year old skateboarder who pulled a Mac out of his bag and typed away at his keyboard for about 10 blocks. Stuffed the laptop back in his bag, got off the bus and rode off into the sunset.

    Happy travels, Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nunomad
    Mitch Joel

    Hey - glad to see this blog and more people hopping on board. This is a topic we've been writing about for a while and I've done a lot of interviews with digital nomads, or what we call NuNomads on our site. Getting ready to take of to Brazil myself with our 3 kids and just finished a book on the topic. Please come and get lots of information on how to make this lifestyle happen if you're interested in seeing the world. I'd also love to interview more of you!

    Reply
  • Posted by Corbett Barr
    Mitch Joel

    Great post. There are a lot of people becoming digital nomads (and a lot of resources popping up on the web). You're right that technology is making it easier to work from wherever you want.

    The downside is that technology is also making it easier to be interrupted by work at any time. An important compliment to becoming a digital nomad is the concept of lifestyle design, which encourages people to value not only mobility, but also time. The same technology that can become intrusive can also be used to make us more productive.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I love how you have repurposed your old iPod as a backup hard drive. Very eco-friendly! This is a great solution for reducing e-waste which is the unfortunate result of technological advancements!

    Reply
  • Posted by atul chatterjee
    Mitch Joel

    Technology can be highly intrusive. That I feel is one of the downsides being a digital nomad. On the other hand hooking into social networks is invigorating and opens up a new world.
    All in all the digital nomad is a nomad in a physical sense.

    Reply
  • Posted by Elisabeth
    Mitch Joel

    Wow. I'd like to work at what you all are doing, sounds like fun. The thing is, not one of you is a project manager responsible for delivering technically complex and fully integrated hardware and software deliverables. For example: an airplane, a process control system or a process simulator, a paper roll-wrapping system. Try doing any of these things with "digital nomads" on your team and I say "good luck with that". (I have and there were more failures than successes.) Integration testing will be a failure and you'll overspend your budget after one week. For some things you really need the team to be together face-to-face and in the staging area with the hardware/software to make it work and this from the early design stages.
    But, if I made a living writing a blog or a magazine or books or doing copy or designing web spaces where my work was fairly independent of others then, yes, being a digital nomad would be interesting and maybe even fun.
    As for this being the only mode of work? Ummm...no. You're missing entire sectors of the economy.
    Nice thought though...

    Reply
  • Agreed Elisabeth - this is not an "all or nothing" idea. Yes, people will still meet, connect and collaborate. That being said, the tools will improve (have you seen Cisco's telepresence?), and we will see a general untethering from physical locations while meet-ups and collaboration will continue to take place.

    Reply
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