The digital nomads are now looking to replace the nation-state
In one instance, a “virtual country” is in the process of being created. Lauren Razavi, a coworking worker in a busy coworking area, tells me via Zoom that “the nation state is outdated. It’s based upon 19th century thinking. We aim to overturn all of that.”
Razavi is executive director of Plumia. She has a self-proclaimed “moonshot” mission to create an internet nation for digital nomads. Razavi, a British-born Iranian immigrant who grew up in Britain, sees herself as untethered and borderless and compares national citizenship to a subscription that’s hard to cancel.
We’re all automatically enrolled in this subscription based on our coincidence of birthplace or heritage. That doesn’t work in the 21st Century.
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Lauren Razavi, executive director of Plumia. Photograph: Barbara Jovanovic, Author provided
Everyone should have the right to freedom.
Since 2007, I’ve been an anthropologist who has chronicled the digital nomad life and its complex relationship with the state institutions. Before the pandemic, popular stereotyping was that of a carefree millennial escaping the daily grind and working from a beach café with the only restriction being the quality wifi.
Even as far back as 2015, these nomads were complaining about the friction between nation-states and their ideologies. They just hadn’t organized themselves into a group.
COVID-19 put a stop to the nomad dream for a time, forcing many to return to their home countries, where they could enjoy the security of the healthcare system. The remote work revolution, triggered by COVID-19, has now given this “project” of a borderless lifestyle a fresh impetus.
This article is part of Conversation Insights.
Insight is a team that produces long-form journalism. It also works with academics who come from diverse backgrounds and have worked on projects to address societal and scientific issues.
Before COVID struck, 12% of workers in the US worked remotely full time, and 5% in the UK. However, the pandemic quickly proved remote work was possible for many more people. Workplace norms toppled like dominos: the office, in-person meetings, and the daily commute fell first. Countries such as Barbados, Estonia, and Portugal started issuing remote work visas to encourage geographically flexible employees to relocate to their territories. “Zoom towns” are another trend, with towns such as Augusta, Maine, in the US offering financial sweeteners to attract remote workers.
DNX Conference wristband. Dave Cook, the Author, provided
Digital nomads are very different from tourists and backpackers. One nomad said, “I would be bored to tears if I spent the day on a beach getting stoned.” However, these two tribes collide in places like Ko Pha Ngan and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The word “freedom” was often used in the talks at the conference. Freedom to work and live anywhere, freedom from a rat race, and entrepreneurial freedom. Themes that were also well-worn included “life hacks,” which enable nomadic businesses on the go to operate efficiently, as well as the role of coworking spaces and inspirational travelogues.
The video, entitled “The Rise of Lowsumerism,” was shown during the introduction of the conference by DNX co-founders Marcus Meurer (also known as Sonic Blue or Yara Joy, respectively). The video claimed excessive consumerism is being replaced by an improved sharing economy that “prioritises access over ownership.” Razavi calls this subscription-based living.
The video was a critique of “mindless consumption,” but it had a style that looked like it could have been used to sell luxury apartments. All of it sounded expensive and fun. The video concluded with the phrase, “Earth isn’t a giant shopping mall.” The conference took place in a shopping center.
Some talks went into surprising detail about global living. Natalie Sissons – whose The Case Entrepreneur is her brand – used her presentation slot to discuss her digital productivity techniques, projecting her annual schedule on the large conference screen. She described how her digital calendar, Calendly, automatically translated timezones and flattened national time differences, allowing for global, bookable, and productive meetings and projects. She was also an expert at frisbee and enjoyed doing handstands.
Fabian Dittrich gave the keynote. He was described as a traveling tech entrepreneur and appeared on stage in shorts and T-shirts. His presentation was intense and sincere. He recalled how his school career adviser had told him that he should “fit in” like an “adjusted citizen.” But he rejected the system and a well-paid job in London “because it was not a way of life but a workstyle.” He linked his dissatisfaction with office life with his rejection of national identity.
Dittrich, like Sissons, seemed to embody the lifestyle that Tim Ferriss extolled in his seminal self-help 2004 book The Four Hour Work Week. They viewed the office as a threat to freedom and the nation-state as a danger.
Dittrich directed his anger at the nation-state at the closing of the conference. He selected a PowerPoint slide that was 25 feet wide and parodied The Ascent of Man. His visual showed the evolution of a human from an ape into a digitally freed human who took flight. He presented digital nomadism as a future path for humanity.