I've just attended the DNX (digital nomad) conference. It attracted hundreds of digital nomads and aspiring nomads all packed into the Lido Cinema, Bangkok for a full schedule of talks and presentations.
The strap-line for the conference was ‘I Choose Freedom’ and the presentations covered a range of topics from the practical use of tools to enable nomads to run successful businesses on the road to personal inspirational stories.
As an academic conducting research in this area, I was asked the ‘what is a digital nomad?’ question quite a few times. I wasn’t sure what the term precisely meant before I came to the conference and it’s still too early in the research process for me to have any meaningful insight. Watch this space!
I can report that the people I encountered were an interesting and diverse bunch. I met:
- Freelance IT specialists/app developers/consultants
- Entrepreneurs creating start-ups from co-working spaces
- Travel bloggers
- Backpacking video bloggers
- An expat living in Asia who trains wedding MCs
- Fundraising adventurers with amazing stories to share
- Life coaches
- and best of all a reviewer of beaches and a travelling piano player
Although I don’t have any deep insights to share at this stage. Nor should I because the trip was more about networking and looking for people to join the study. Some key themes from the day did jump out.
Freedom came top of the list. Closely followed by: overcoming fear, work life balance, self-motivation, productivity, the power of positive thinking and the importance of connecting with nature. The contrasting themes of individuality and community were also raised.
Steve Munroe cofounder of Hubud, a co-working space in Bali, posed the question: what responsibilities do digital nomads have to local communities? He argued that if ‘digital nomads’ in his co-working space don’t engage locally, then Hubud would be “just be another serviced office."
It was nice to see speakers like Steve reflect so deeply about the impact of his own nomadism. He shared an infographic (pictured below) showing varying degrees of cultural immersion in the countries he’s lived in. It was a refreshingly frank and rather anthropological moment.
Then there were the superhuman stories of Dave Cornthwaithe. A man who has redefined what it means to be a ‘yes man’. ’The last time he said no, was to his boss as he walked from his ‘devastatingly boring’ graphic design job and started to say yes to almost any challenge. So far he’s skateboarded across Australia and swam the Missouri river, amongst many other challenges. If that sounds a little unattainable there were specific masterclasses into setting up an educational video business.
Natalie Sisson, the suitcase entrepreneur educated us on how to streamline our lives and time with an impressive laundry list of productivity tools, and her preplanned yearly calendar was a sight to behold. I thought my Google Calendar was packed. I need to up my game!
To end the proceedings, Fabian Dittrich shared an anecdote about the terrible advice given to him by his school’s careers adviser. The advice went something along the lines of “become and stay an adjusted citizen."
Naturally he ignored this advice and his stories about escaping the rat race to sing and play guitar as he drove across Africa were both heartening and inspirational. But his most important words were: “if we engage with the world and the people in it, the world becomes infinitely less dangerous" and infinity more rewarding!
As the old saying goes: there is nothing to fear but fear itself.