This may sound profoundly self-evident, but you really need the internet in order to be a Digital Nomad.
In the olden days – before 1995 – you could still work remotely, but it was a hassle. You had to send discs with data by physical mail or courier. Faxing was useful then, too. You would print out a document and have it faxed to your client or boss. Of course, you could even use physical mail to sent the printed document. This assumed, of course, that you had access to a printer, wherever you were in the world.
Today, we need the Internet. The old systems are simply too slow, such as physical mail, or don’t exist anymore, such as with faxes, which are almost all gone. The digital world works very fast, requiring us to be online for at least an hour a day to respond to emails, post updates, and manage our personal and professional business logistics. If we start to skip days we get “out of the loop”, and will start to fade from the minds of key people in our circles who are geographically bound – professional contacts, colleagues, and social contacts. Even family and close friends will start to forget us as we are not part of their immediate geographic and cultural life experience.
This leads us to a paradox: We need the internet wherever we go to stay connected with our professional and personal worlds, but at the same time, that very same internet connection binds us to places where it is available and commits us to spending time every day linked in.
And the paradox is deeper: By having our minds engaged for some time every day on the internet, we are dividing our focus between the physical life we find ourselves in and the virtual life we are engaged in on the internet. This split focus can mean that we are not really experiencing our geographic locale fully and therefore not allowing ourselves to learn and grow from the experience as much as if we were entirely immersed there.
This is not a problem if you have no need or intention to learn much about where you are geographically and culturally. So, if you are staying in a nice little condo in Hawaii, for example, who cares if you are dividing your attention between the internet and your life in Hawaii? You can do your work online and then go for a walk on the beach in the afternoon. Only good things happen in this case: You are a Digital Nomad and at the same time you are delighting in all the warmth and beauty that Hawaii has to offer.
But what if you are in Guatemala – as I am while writing this – in a small town that speaks half Spanish and half Maya? And you are surrounded by a thousand years of poverty and strife, while staying in a small hotel in the midst of embedded historical chaos. And where your $15 per night room is the same $15 that a family of 6 here can live on for 2 days; in fact, they must to live on this amount for 2 days. Should you be dividing your attention between the internet and the amazing learning that could take place if you were solely focused here?
Ultimately, the decision on where you go as a Digital Nomad, what you choose to experience there, and how you spend your time in a day, is yours to make. You can judge yourself, but you know that would be silly. This self-judgement can slip into your mind without constant vigilance and reminding yourself of why you are digital nomading in the first place, however. Likely you will connect with other tourists and expatriates who are on various personal journeys and it can be easy to unconsciously compare their path with what yours looks and might sound like. I have had to practice this mental vigilance on this trip: I am in Guatemala for a month to try out being a Digital Nomad, enjoy the warmth, practice Spanish, and get to know a bit about this wonderful country. That’s all. I am not here to feel guilty about anything. Or to feel I have to run around visiting every Mayan pyramid. Or to worry about how I spend my time – online or offline.
I know why I am here and I am living this experience exactly as I intended. Perfect.