Let’s stop selling the digital nomad lifestyle as a miracle cure and instead expose its reality

I want to show people this another way of living. That’s the reason why I started this digital nomad documentary project.

I don’t want to say “you should be a digital nomad” or “this is so cool, awesome, hip, and better life!” in this film. We already have those enough in this world and I don’t think it’s telling the truth.
I want to show what is actually going around this emerging scene, to people who still think being physically in an office is the only way they can work and live. To people in this scene digital nomadism seems to be exploding. Yet, it’s still in a very early stage of development. One thing I’m sure about is, living as a digital nomad has become a more workable choice for lots of people:

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2013 Work-Life Fit survey

 

  • According to a recent study by Gallup, 39% of US companies allow their employees to work remotely.
  • According to the 2013 Work-Life Fit survey, “almost one-third (31%) of full-time workers in the U.S. do most of their work from a remote location, such as home, business center, or other location.”
  • A study conducted in 2010 by software company Intuit, claims that by 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be so-called contingent workers,. That’s more than 60 million people.

The internet makes it possible for an increasing number of people work anywhere (even at the office, you talk to your coworkers through messengers or emails, don’t you?). To attract talented people and cut out the cost of maintaining an office, more and more companies changed their policies to allow their employees to work remotely. Considering this dynamic, this movement is bound to grow exponentially. I can’t predict the future of this phenomenon, but it certainly is the present reality.

Contrary to a very common misconception – digital nomadism is not about a fancy way to escape normal life. It is the creation of normal life where one has access to more options, flexibility and freedom to choose where you live and work, because there’s really no reason to be tied to a single location for most of your life.

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These images are what you can see when you search digital nomad on Google. Laptop at the beach (seriously, surfboard?). Let’s be honest, how many nomads are actually doing that every day? Productivity and proper work environment are critical to sustain their nomadic life. I’m pretty sure you will get pain on your wrist soon with working for hours with that posture, or the beach sand will destroy your laptop in the matter of days.

 

The reaction to what I write in my Korean blog about digital nomads is frustrating

I’m the only person who is talking and writing about digital nomads in South Korea, my home country. The readers of my Korean blog constantly ask me to tell them how they can become digital nomads and where they can start. I feel there is something wrong with that.

All the questions and feedback made me realize that many of them believe this digital nomadism can change their life like a magic pill. It was frustrating. I struggled to understand the reasons behind these beliefs and that’s when my friend told me:

“If receivers accept it in a wrong way, it means there is also a problem from the teller’s side.”

That was pretty harsh, straightforward, but it made me think. I started to explore different ways of talking about digital nomadism – ways that will help me break the chain of wrong beliefs about what it truly means to live a nomadic life. I realized that the first step to crack down on those beliefs is to show real people living their nomadic lives without a permanent home address, and let them speak for themselves on the realities of their lives. This is how the idea to film the documentary was born.

 

I got paranoid about becoming a person who sells “the lifestyle”

In the beginning, it was simple. I already knew some people who live as nomads, so what I needed to do is to simply interview them with my camera, edit the footage and ta-daa! As it turned out – it was not as simple as that.

I was afraid I was going to be seen as a person who sells this lifestyle. This image was not something I wanted to attach to myself. I realized that it would be really easy to veer off in the wrong direction. Most of digital nomads destinations look so beautiful on camera. Also, people say and will say only positive stuff in front of the camera unless I try to push them to expose some of the more realistic aspects of their nomadic life.

I started worrying whether I can deliver this story the way I wanted to. I kept saying to myself, “You should be as objective as you can, otherwise the whole thing will be garbage.” This thought kept pushing me forward.

I started adding the issues I wanted to address in the storyline. For example, gray area related to visa issues, sexpat (check out the documentary named “Father Figures, a story about a Canadian filmmaker and her 73-year-old father’s romantic relationship with a 23-year-old woman living in the Philippines), prostitutions (especially some countries in SEA), conflicts between nomads and locals etc. At this point, I felt totally lost about dealing with all the deeper aspects of the stories I planned to work with.

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The attacks on this project from some people in the scene are expected

There are certain interesting similarities between well-experienced digital nomads. Many of them believe in what they are doing, they have strong and clear opinions on many issues, and they do love heated debates on the topic. This is one of things I like about, but this also makes some people close-minded purists or ruthless critic. I can understand their concerns, because they are worried that this movement could be perceived in the wrong way by the public.

If I turn the direction of this documentary to talk about all the issues that only experienced nomads are aware of, there is an endless list of questions:

  • Who can be considered as digital nomads? People who think this is for a short term, not permanent thing are also included in this film?
  • Should I talk about the beginnings of this movement? For example, the 4-hour work week or Tropical MBA. Are those true pioneers or the blast from the past?
  • What is the use of covering famous nomads’ stories?
  • Should I talk about controversial issues such as ratio of gender, race, and privilege of being born in a developed country?

I know there are people who won’t be satisfied unless I deal with these issues deep enough in this film. Some of them would say “This is so superficial. I can talk about that better than this” (sounds terrific, please do).

I started to doubt myself and ask myself, “Am I qualified to do this?”. That feeling was not fun.

 

Why am I doing this?

What helped me to get through this were people around me. They encouraged me to think why I started this project.

I like this movement. I really like meeting all the people on the roads and getting inspired from them and explore new remarkable places. I love the fact that every place where I go is my home, even though I don’t have a place I can call “home” in my country. As one of my friends said, “the place you charge your laptop is your home”. And I believe people deserve to have the right to live anywhere they want. Luckily, things are moving toward that direction.

I think one of the reasons I got lost was the fact that I’ve seen and heard many things in this scene, including all the discussions about many controversial things and skeptical concerns.

My audience of this documentary would be people who are waiting for Friday and counting every day how many paid vacation days they can get for this holiday season, and spending a large part of their life to pay back their mortgage loan. Not the people who already know almost everything in this scene as an experienced nomad.

Experienced nomads are people who can help this project out with their insights and sharing their honest, inspiring stories. I will spread out those stories and show that there is another way of living and it’s not crazy or fancy as they think, to people including my Korean friends who work overtime every day without extra payment to not to get fired.

 

For the last,

I should be thankful for having this opportunity to think about all those matters and to struggle with them. I’m lucky enough to create something instead of spending my life with doing things I don’t have any passion with, only to get paid.
And this is such an amazing experience. I know these times make my documentary (and even me) better and better, and I appreciated it.

 

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