August 18, 2008
thoughts on being a digital nomad
I’m writing this from an outside table at Jo’s Cafe on South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas.
I spent part of the morning having a good look at Digital Nomads, the new Dell blog. It seems Lionel Menchaka, one of my pals over at Dell is helping to run it. Also, I find to my delight that my old buddy, the uber-smart, uber-creative Phil Torrone, is also a contributor. So yeah, I’m hoping to see great things come out of the enterprise.
A “Digital Nomad” is roughly defined as someone who, thanks to the internet, can and does work anywhere he or she likes. Thanks to the internet, last February I was able to move from London, England to Alpine, Texas without changing jobs, so I guess it’s not surprising that this new Dell blog caught my attention. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Though the blog was created by Dell, it seems they don’t want the blog to be all “about” Dell. I think that’s a smart move. As I’m fond of saying, if you want to be boring, talk about yourself, if you want to be interesting, talk about something other than yourself. Of course, in the comments there were a few “This is just a cynical marketing ploy by Dell to sell more laptops” remarks. This is to be expected, I suppose. If Dell tries to have a conversation online, some bloggers are going to have a problem with it. If Dell says nothing, some of the very same bloggers are going to have a problem with it. I call this, “Having Your Cake And Eating It 2.0″. I find this phenomenon increasingly common in the blogosphere. Maybe it was always thus, maybe once I was better at not noticing it.
2. I remember when I had a god-awful office job I had to commute to every day, how appealing the idea of being “digitally nomadic” appealed to me. You mean I can hang out in cafes all day and still get paid? No more commuting? No more paying high, big-city rents? How cool is that?!! But being a digital nomad has a dark side. There’s something unhealthily addictive about being “Always on”, “Always online”, “Always connected”. Reading Clay Shirky, it seems than whenever Society takes huge cultural shifts, mass addiction sets in as a coping mechanism. Clay pointed out that in 19th Century England, the addiction of choice was drinking gin. In postwar United States, the addiction of choice was long hours vegged out in front of the TV. In today’s world, I’m guessing our new mass addiction of choice– the Internet– means not even being able to go to the bathroom without bringing along your laptop. They call it “Crackberry” for a reason.
3. Yes, the Digital Nomads blog is “marketing”. Then again, so is the sentence preceding this one.
4. The Digital Nomads blog is what I call “indirect marketing”. People aren’t supposed to read it and go, “My, what a lovely blog. I think I’ll go out and buy me a couple of brand new Dell laptops”. This is more of an “Alignment” play. In other words, by “aligning” themselves more with the digital-nomad crowd, they hope it’ll help them in time to create products that are more compelling and relevant to them. If you were in the computer business, you’d want to have the same alignment. “The Porous Membrane” etc. The good news is, Alignment plays can be extremely effective. The bad news is, they take FOREVER to gather momentum.
5. The blog is still in its early days. I can see it still struggling, like all new blogs do, to “find its voice” [Hey, if a blog can find its voice in under twelve months, I consider that good going]. Of course, it’s going to have the same problem that ALL corporate blogs do i.e the problem of balancing BOTH the needs of the perennially kvetchy, perennially skeptical, perennially dissatisfied blog-reading public, and the commercial interests of the company. Harder than it looks. The fact that they are giving it a go AT ALL I find encouraging.
6. As someone who has been lucky enough to actually become a professional digital nomad, not just dream about it just happening one day, I can honestly say that yeah, it’s a tremendous privilege. Big-city wages with small-town overheads is a damn good business model, and I simply could not do it without an internet connection. I also believe that yes, there’s a lot of people out there who are not really digital mavericks, though they would very much like to be some day. With these folk in mind, I guess my advice to Dell would be, forget about trying to get the digital mavericks to read your blog. If your stuff is any good, they will happily come of their own accord. Instead, ask yourselves what can YOU do to help MORE people become digital mavericks, themselves. If you play a tangible part in shaping this part of their lives, they will love you and your products forever. And recruit their friends to your cause. It’s all good. Rock on.
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