My trip around the world has left me restless, all because of what I experienced in Asia (and no, it wasn’t boozing with backpackers).
In Bangalore, India, a tuk-tuk took me to a cafe off a dusty road that gave me a ringside seat to watch the mass of humanity parade past: cows, dogs, and no doubt several call centre salespeople rushing to get to work to cold call you in Australia.
Ordering a beer and firing up my laptop to begin writing my column, I quickly realised that nearly everyone else in the cafe was: (a) a foreigner; (b) young (but without the backpacker smell) and (c) tapping away on their laptops.
Okay, I thought, maybe it was the cafe’s free wireless broadband, allowing travellers to post their pictures in peace. Yet as one beer became many, I struck up a conversation with a young couple sitting close by. They explained that because their work could be performed remotely via the internet, they were able to effectively combine their employment with travel.
True global economy
I was gobsmacked at such a proposition. Well, until they pointed out that I was essentially doing the same thing. Spending (very few) rupees while earning Aussie dollars is a great arbitrage opportunity. You get to live like a king and for what it cost to fill up my car at home, I could take a train from one side of India to the other.
Technology has long allowed people to “dial in” and access their work files remotely. This has led to flexi-time and the option of working from home becoming commonplace in corporate Australia.
Alert to the situation, I soon started seeing these “digital nomads” as I passed through different countries. The meeting spot in Asia was Starbucks. Before the company came a cropper, the bad brewers built their empire on catering to a more mobile society.
Specifically, Starbucks set out to become a quasi office-away-from-home. Regardless of whether you were in Shanghai or Sydney, you could drop in and get wireless internet, comfy couches and really bad coffee.
Throughout Asia, young digital nomads can be found tapping away at their work, then logging off and exploring the real world.
Wi-fi gives us the ability to do all the things that those Intel ads a few years ago promised we could do, like get out of the office and work from the park, the beach or perhaps more likely as you watch your son’s football match on a Saturday morning.
Of course, that’s the downside with technology. As any stressed out crackberry-carrying executive will tell you, being able to work from anywhere means that you’re soon expected to work from everywhere.
The work-life balance definitely takes a hit when technology effectively moves your office into your front pocket.
Whatever the pros and cons, this trend shows no sign of slowing. The smart money is betting that the device that will make the most use of the impending wireless world will be the mobile telephone.
With 3.3 billion phones in use worldwide in both impoverished and wealthy countries, the stage is set for mobile telephones to become the main way we access the internet. Bring on another buzzword “cloud computing”.
More freedom, less privacy
This is the fast approaching situation where all our data is stored in cyberspace (rather than on our personal hard drive) and can be accessed anywhere in the world via an internet connection.
Increasingly, this will be by mobile phone rather than a personal computer.
Even today the digital nomad can travel the world with simply a smart phone, only having to access a computer when some hardcore typing is required.
New face of ‘career’
The days of a job for life are long gone. There’s no such thing as job security, only opportunity. My friends in the cafe in Bangalore are perfectly attuned to the new ways of the workforce.
Technology will continue to rapidly evolve and, with it, change not only the way we work, but also the very way we live (and if the kids at Google have anything to do with it, it’ll happen sooner rather than later).
These young digital nomads scattered across the globe are definitely ahead of the curve but they give us a sneak peak into what is possible for the next generation of web savvy workers.