Lately, I have been thinking a great amount about what it means to be a digital nomad. The proliferation of high-speed internet in all corners of the world, combined with low-cost air travel and the ubiquitous YOLO attitude has sprung a small army of tech entrepreneurs, digital marketers, copywriters, bloggers, photographers, and other virtual what-have-you-nots who take pride in being location-independent and still able to somehow pull 5- or 6-figure salaries.
At a first glance, these people have it made, as their one mission in life seems to be the online documentation of their entire daily globe-trotting routines for the sole enjoyment by their community of fellow-minded, beach-bumming, cocktail-sipping, selfie stick-flailing, Instagram-dominating hipsters. Sure, I am a digital marketer myself and I find the 9-5, office-bound lifestyle incredibly restrictive, counter-creative and just plain boring. I’d love to be able to work from anywhere in the word, not because I want to live out of a suitcase for the rest of my life but because freedom is a high priority for me.
However, I find myself wondering if any of us are creating real, tangible value for society by generating enough income to support our wanderlust via completely virtual means of serving our target audiences and customers. Yes, blog and social media posts, marketing collaterals, graphics, videos, code, search engine advertising, etc. bring companies eyeballs, prestige and (hopefully) revenues, and it brings us the funds we desperately need for our next trip or adventure. But how many of us, freelance digital ninja nomads, are creating real value by solving actual offline problems or tangibly improving people’s lives? I would argue that it’s probably less than 5%.
In his book on startups, Zero to One, Peter Thiel argues that businesses should strive to create value by solving real-life problems and building structures that create new ways of accomplishing goals or producing results. While that’s certainly possible by online means today, I would challenge us, the digital nomad community, to reflect on this and choose our next projects with this very thought in mind, rather than simply generating more terabytes of content for the sole purpose of generating more visits, clicks, loops, plays, shares, and likes.
Let us consider the impact that our work does have the ability to bring to the world by asking ourselves who we are ultimately serving – corporations, causes or people? We all do have to eat, scuba dive, hot-air-balloon-ride and bathe elephants but we also have a choice and I dare say, a responsibility, in how we dedicate the hours spent selling our skills and expertise. Digital professionals today are finally able to imprint just as much impact as some, if not most physical fields and professions out there and it’s up to us to dedicate our time and passion to worthwhile projects with an extension into the non-virtual world, whose impact can be quantified for years to come. The alternative of not doing so can be easily fathomed in a hardly imaginable but not unthinkable internet apocalypse, in which every word, link, piece of code, image, photo and url we’ve created gets obliterated by a The Day After Tomorrow-esque definitive power outage and plunges into the abyss forever.