Posted by: patenttranslator | July 8, 2018

Digital Nomads Are a Reflection of Our Random, Chaotic World

The world is neither cruel nor joyous. It is simply random, full of particles hurtling, chemicals mixing and reacting. There is no real order. There is no preordained cursing of the evil and protecting of the righteous.

Chaos, baby. It’s all about chaos.

Harlan Coben, The Innocent, page 36.


I have been thinking of myself as what in modern parlance is referred to as a digital nomad for at least the last 30 years. Except that unlike modern digital nomads, I don’t travel very often, I usually stay put in one place for quite a few years …. but then I have to move again.

My occupation of a freelance translator made it quite easy to live like that for a long time, although I am not sure if things can still work the same way for freelance translators in the age of “translation industry” (2.0), which to me is just one, relatively recent and quite repulsive facet of corporate fascism.

Because I tend to spend a relatively long time in one place, I don’t really live like a typical nomad who moves all the time. I settle in one place and pay the taxes there for quite a few years.

After I moved to the United States from Germany 36 years ago in 1982, I moved first from San Francisco to Tokyo in 1985, then from Tokyo back to San Francisco in 1986, and from San Francisco to Petaluma, California, in 1992.

Then there was another very short move from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California, in 1994, and then, after a total of 19 years in California, a long, weird trip of 3,000 miles with a wife, two kids, three dogs and one snake (just kidding, it was really just a big lizard that kind of looked like a snake) from Santa Rosa, California, to Chesapeake, Virginia, in 2001, where I have been sitting on my derriere, working and paying taxes ever since then for the last 17 years.

(I am planning another move again, but that’s not the subject of this post.)

So that would be seven moves in thirty six years, which as I read somewhere is about how many times an average American moves in a lifetime – namely seven times. For the purposes of this blog I am ignoring how many times I moved when I lived in Europe. I don’t know how exactly it works in other countries, but I think that an average American moves quite a bit more often than for example an average Japanese person or an average European person, if there is such a thing.

Based on my experience, Americans will move thousands of miles for a slightly higher salary, or a slightly bigger house in an area where real estate prices are slightly lower without thinking twice about it, while people in European countries, for example, are more likely to stay where they are, or move just a short distance from the place where they grew up and where their family and friends live. One reason is of course, that most European countries are so small that you can’t really move too far unless you emigrate to another country.

Another difference between average persons and digital nomads is that while your average American or European has to first find a job before moving, or find it rather quickly after moving, digital nomads don’t need to worry about such annoying details.

Things can get complicated if a digital nomad gets married, because if you are married, you have to persuade (or cajole) your spouse to agree to your plan. This could get quite complicated and in fact, so messy that it often turns out to be impossible.

But there is a way to go about it that has been working for me very well.

You have to put the germ of the radical idea that the best thing to do now would be to move into the unsuspecting head or brain of your spouse or partner – without, of course, making her or him aware that this is what you are doing – and then you acquiesce, after a while, when they tell you that they came to the conclusion that it is time to move.

The idea of moving is even more complicated for the digital nomads among us who are married and have children. Children tend to go school and have friends, and it is clearly an awful thing that you are trying to do to them if all of a sudden you tell them that they may never see their friends again.

So basically, you can do something as drastic as that only if the children are still very small and have no say about anything, approximately before the age of ten, before they realize that they too have rights, including the right to disagree with your stupid idea and the power to make you feel so guilty about it that you will have no choice but to give up on the whole idea. But even if you go ahead with the plan while they are still quite young, keep in mind that they may blame you and possibly hate you for it once they are a little older.

So tread carefully. It gets really complicated if you want to share your nomadic life experience with your children!

There are so many disadvantages to living the nomadic lifestyle, even if you move only every few years or so, that most digital nomads should probably ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing.

Especially as we are growing older, we become attached to the creature comforts that come with living in a comfortable place that we know well and where our friends and family live too.

An equally and possibly even more important disadvantage is that creature comforts that are generally available only to people who can live in one comfy and familiar place for a long time, such as a spacious bathtub, the calming view of a pond and green trees from our window, or our favorite pillow, become much more important to us than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

Well, of course, the reasons for why we do what we do depend on the person.

My theory for why I have the need to keep moving from one place to another is that I am trying to make sense out of a random, chaotic and nonsensical world.

If you stay in one place all or most of your life, you don’t have any other place to compare it to.

If you move at least half a dozen times, preferably more than that, you have many samples to compare them to the world where you happen to be living at the moment.

And if you keep your eyes open, you may even discover that the world is not really as chaotic as it may seem at first to the casual observer who is bound to one place and one place only, and that, as Horatius put it “est modus in rebus” (there is a meaning in all things.)

And what is life about if it is not about discovering the hidden meaning in all things?

Well, then it probably is about having more money than other people when you die.

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