A Digital Nomad in the Artificial Savannah
“Folks, it looks like there’s a communications instrument malfunction on the plane. It doesn’t affect the flight of the plane, but it is required to talk to air traffic control. We have to replace the part before we can take off. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
A collective groan rises from cabin. Passengers grumble about schedules and missed connections. But nothing will change the fact that this plane is not taking off on time.
The crew allows us to disembark and roam about the terminal. I will not be roaming. This is an opportunity for work, but first I need an electrical outlet to charge my laptop and finish some assignments.
The abundance of outlets in airports is unpredictable. I’ve been in airports that furnish ample outlets and wifi, catering to the digital nomad. Others hide them with the secrecy of pack rats. That’s the case in Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.
After zeroing in on a potential outlet, passengers stalk through the rows with a paranoid vigilance, scanning the modern savannah for competition. They stride with purposeful, carefully measured steps, strategically maneuvering to box out interlopers.
The scene heightens at the outlet, the airport’s version of the water hole. Dry season is coming to an end. Water is scarce. Antelopes, water buffalo, lions, crocodiles, and hippos jockey for dissipating resources in a precarious balance that can erupt into existential violence at any point.
Despite following all the rules of the hunt, I find myself beat to the outlet by a fellow traveler. Rather than fight for dominance, I surrender. My laptop battery is at 34 percent, enough for my current needs. So, I abandon the hunt and settle in for a few precious hours of work. At least the wifi is free.
As I look around the terminal, I notice there are other digital nomads, pouncing on this opportunity to get some headway on work, respond to emails, do research, and generally get busy at a moment’s notice. Sometimes confused with the amateur computer user, digital nomads are noted for the laser focus of their gaze, the intent pounding of keys interrupted by thoughtful, silent recitation of a few lines, or the occasional shake of the head as they dismiss passersby.
If they look as if they’re in an office, it’s because they are. The digital nomad needs little more than a computer, a little electricity, and an assignment. So long as they have those ingredients, their office is anywhere.
As work becomes less location dependent, digital nomads are recognizing the freedom to make work conform to their lives, not the other way around. They shuffle work and personal pursuits to suit their dreams and accommodate the movement in their lives.
Many people picture digital nomads setting up shop in a beautiful Paris café, channeling inspired visions into beautiful poetry. Or photographing divers on the Great Barrier Reef and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Plunging into the jungle like some modern Indiana Jones to do stories on newly discovered ruins.
That might happen for some folks. I think the reality for most digital nomads is far less romantic. We’re web designers, writers, graphic artists, personal assistants, transcriptionists, audio engineers, and just about anything you can do with a computer. Digital nomads put in long hours, just like everybody else. We just take our office with us.
The consequence is that you sometimes can’t escape the office. You might have to drop everything in the middle of a vacation to handle an emergency assignment. The digital nomad also has immense control over their schedule, and might work long hours for a month to go on a dream trip.
If that’s the price, the rewards are greater. We have the freedom to take on the projects that speak to us, work a non-traditional schedule, travel, and make time for family and friends. All on our own schedule.
Which is why a five hour plane delay isn’t disruptive. It’s just a few more hours in the office. I just wish I had beat that lion to the watering hole so I could charge my laptop.