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!

Interest in Google searches for "Digital Nomad"

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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