Are digital nomads one of the first signs of post-materialism?

23. March, 2015

We live in a great time. Never before has the world seen so little war, we have never been better at curing deceases and the population has better living standards than ever before. Extremely many people around the world have more than enough money, a prestigious job and all the safety, options and material things they want. Having “everything” makes people search for other things, which are not monetary; such as meaning and freedom. At the same time technology is changing how we do almost everything.

One of the results of this development are digital nomads. People who are breaking free from the normal way of living and defining a new way by working on their dream project while traveling. In other words, many of the digital nomads are combining doing something meaningful with living exactly as they want. Digital nomads are mostly entrepreneurs and freelancers who are defining a new way of working, traveling and living. But normal employees are also starting to break free and make special agreements with the companies they work for, to live a life that makes sense for them.

We have had multiple digital nomads join our trips and I consider myself a digital nomad. The last couple of years I have been living longer and shorter periods in China, Spain, Morocco and Chile, while running my business. I find this development in how people are working and living extremely interesting, because I see it as one of the first steps towards what people call post-materialism.

Post-materialism is described by philosophers, socialists and others as a “the transformation of individual values from materialist, physical and economic to new individual values of autonomy and self-expression.” (Wikipedia). This is very much in line with digital nomads, who define their own living and skip the normal way of having a career and living, focusing on experiences instead of old school materialism.

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The rise of the digital nomads

People have always traveled and lived like digital nomads. The difference now is that it’s getting normal. By the way, is it a coincidence that people started searching for this shortly after Tim Ferris published “The 4-Hour Work Week”? I don’t think so!

Digital nomads

New services for digital nomads is such as blogs, foras etc. pop up all the time. This is really becoming normal and I only see this trend continuing in the future. We already mentioned some of the reasons why people are changing to this livestyle, but another one is that more and more people are working freelance or working multiple smaller jobs. In the US one in three is freelancing, which is completely changing the way we work and it will also change how companies recruit.

The rise of digital nomads: One out of three in the US is freelancing and how we work, travel and live is changing. CLICK TO TWEET


Could big companies have digital nomad programs?

With  work changing, old school companies will be challenged. Before talent could be recruited and retained by salary and titles, but with digital nomads and freelancing becoming the new normal, more and more will not be satisfied with just money or a title. Their work has to be meaningful and it has to be on their own terms.

There are already popping up startups that runs completely with remote teams having employees spread over a lot of different countries and time zones. But will the same happen in old school companies?

I hope and think that some companies will start offering digital nomad programs of some kind. My idea is that it could be implemented in the agreement between the company and the employee, that the employee could work remotely for example 3 months per year. This would give the employee a chance of living and traveling in a way that 3-4-5 weeks of vacation could never do. At the same time the company would have an competitive edge towards attracting the best talents. Who knows, maybe they would even get more productive employees making better results for the company.

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Post-materialism will not happen anytime soon, but could happen sooner than we expect

The thought about post-materialism, a new time where money and material values are a thing of the past, is extremely difficult to imagine. Bu if we look back the shift from a world based on agricultural work and knowledge to the industrial world and again to a society focused on knowledge og technology went extremely fast and we don’t have to look that many years back in the history books. When considering that and that development is happening faster and faster, post-materialism could happen sooner than we expect.

But this is actually not really about a complete change of our world, but about a good change in the way we see work and life in general. Digital nomads are for me a sign, that people are valuing living a life that they define more and more. And I think that’s the way to become really happy. To define how you want to live life.

In all modesty, I think Refuga is an example of this. I could have done projects or work for clients that would pay a lot more. I could build other startups that had better business models. But Refuga makes sense for me and it gives me much more than money. It gives me a life where I can travel wherever I want whenever I want and I get to meet some extremely cool people.

I couldn’t be more positive about the time we are living in now and the future ahead of us.

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Nikolaj Astrup Madsen I am the founder of Refuga. I'm danish, but I'm traveling the world while building Refuga and whenever I have time I go for a run in the mountains. I hope you will join me on this journey!

4 responses to “Are digital nomads one of the first signs of post-materialism?”

  1. cpb says:

    I can’t see companies adopting digital nomads to service their needs, unless its purely on a outsourced contractual basis. As always gigs are based on price and more importantly for companies, reliability and ease of access. I would be hard pushed to contract gigs out to someone who openly sits on a beach in Thailand, especially if I didn’t know them extremely well, or that they had an outstanding reputation already in the industry.

    I also don’t think the whole movement of digital nomads is a new model. You are basically working your way around the world which is how generations traveled before the internet. During the 90s, thousands of people traveled around and worked in orchards, vineyards, cafes, ski hills, all earning money while traveling. Digital Nomads are using mostly the cheapness of a location to work, rather than actually working specifically in that country on a local need basis.

    I’m not knocking the whole movement as I know many people with a whole lifetime career behind them, who are working remotely but typically they are living in cities and not on a beach. But then I can’t imagine they would even call themselves digital nomads anyway. Most of the digital nomads I have come across build basic blogs, or make money from telling other people how to set up a blog, sell the dream, and then rinse and repeat…. Its almost like the envelope scam of putting an ad in the newspaper saying “make thousands of dollars a week. just send me $10 in an envelope and i’ll tell you how.” So you send the money and they respond “just put an add in the paper saying “make thousands of dollars a week, just send me $10…”

  2. Haha, I agree and disagree.

    I understand that people have traveled and worked before, but it’s other times now and digital nomads do it with more freedom than people moving around from job to job. There is a big difference between self-employed and then working short term in fx hostels etc. But yeah, human kind have always moved around.

    The most inspiring business people that I meet, that are traveling around / living where they want, don’t know about the term digital nomads I really agree on that point. It’s the same with growth hackers. The best “hackers” I know, really don’t know this term.

    It’s an interesting debate, that I also asked in some Facebook groups and that I’m working on a blog post about. Is it even possible to be a succesful entrepreneur / in business while being a digital nomad? I haven’t really seen any examples.

    I don’t agree that companies couldn’t have digital nomad programs. I think we will see something like this in the near future, letting normal employees work remotely for just a part of the year.

  3. Shayna says:

    Keep in mind that there are many different ways to be a digital nomad. You can…

    – work in local places as you travel (as first comment mentioned)
    – have a full-time remote job for a company
    – do freelance work (writing, editing, web design, programming, consulting, etc.) remotely
    – own an offline business, but manage it remotely while you travel or live elsewhere (read “Work the System” for an example of this)
    – sell physical products online
    – sell digital products (e-books, courses, apps) online

    None of these necessarily involve selling products that teach other people how to sell products, which I agree is annoying like the envelope scam. There are far too many people trying to do this before they’ve had any sort of financial success outside the “make money online and be a digital nomad” niche!

    @Nikolaj, you wrote, “Is it even possible to be a succesful entrepreneur / in business while being a digital nomad? I haven’t really seen any examples.”

    I’m one. Although I prefer to call myself a location independent entrepreneur rather than a digital nomad, since I tend to stay in places for long periods of time instead of hopping around from place to place. My experience has been that I need to stay put somewhere in order to grow my business, but I can certainly maintain it easily on the road.

    There are plenty of people who are very successful in business and are location-independent… but most of them don’t have blogs/sites telling the world about it!

  4. Boaz says:

    There is probably some crossover between the digital nomad and onebag subreddits. I’m one example, a need to simplify my life and reduce possessions seemed to go hand in hand with jumping of the grid and going nomad.

    It may look like post-materialism, and I’ve thought of it that way (in my own terms), but this lifestyle would not be possible without a hyper-materialist bounty of solutions I can buy, and have shipped to me almost anywhere, or source locally via global apps (the internrtz).

    Having said all that, I do personally reject the idea of too many possessions and everything I “own” fits in two bags (trying to become a onebagger, but the road is proving long).

    Maybe we’re like a manifestation of materialism that is alternating between joyously chasing its own tail and licking its wounds in 5 star restaurants.

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