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Ongoing discussions of the gig economy have focused on the critical aspect of digital mediation, and in particular the role of applications and platforms such as Uber or TaskRabbit. We extend this discussion by considering more decentralized contexts of gig economy, in which individuals do not rely on a single dominant, central intermediary, but rather exercise a higher degree of agency in arranging and aligning multiple digital platforms to support relevant work practices. We employ the concept of information infrastructure to describe the emergent configuration of heterogeneous digital platforms leveraged by digital nomads as a community of location-independent, remote workers. Using both forum analysis and in-depth interviews, we examine how the digital nomad community dynamically brings together and negotiates digital mediation in the form of an information infrastructure.
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97
The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure: The Case
of the Digital Nomad Community
WILL SUTHERLAND, University of North Carolina, USA
MOHAMMAD HOSSEIN JARRAHI, University of North Carolina, USA
Ongoing discussions of the gig economy have focused on the critical aspect of digital mediation, and in
particular the role of applications and platforms such as Uber or TaskRabbit. We extend this discussion by
considering more decentralized contexts of gig economy, in which individuals do not rely on a single dominant,
central intermediary, but rather exercise a higher degree of agency in arranging and aligning multiple digital
platforms to support relevant work practices. We employ the concept of information infrastructure to describe
the emergent conguration of heterogeneous digital platforms leveraged by digital nomads as a community of
location-independent, remote workers. Using both forum analysis and in-depth interviews, we examine how
the digital nomad community dynamically brings together and negotiates digital mediation in the form of an
information infrastructure.
CCS Concepts: Social and professional topics Computer supported cooperative work;
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Gig economy, digital nomads, information infrastructures, digital platforms
ACM Reference Format:
Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi. 2017. The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure:
The Case of the Digital Nomad Community. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 1, 1, Article 97 (January 2017),
24 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3134732
1 INTRODUCTION
The term ‘gig economy’ has developed in academic and business discourse as a description of a pro-
fessional space which espouses micro-entrepreneurship, self-employment, and computer-mediated,
peer-like exchanges [
23
,
71
]. These exchanges are enabled by a large number of sophisticated digital
intermediaries, applications, or platforms, which can rapidly match workers to employers, facilitate
transactions, and establish trust [
7
,
13
]. Because the essential benets of the gig economy model
are supported by digital mediators, an understanding of the gig economy requires an examination
of its underlying technologies and mediation mechanisms [26, 48, 50, 71].
There are a host of technologies and organizations involved in the gig economy, representing
many dierent business models and organizing logics. The classic examples of these technologies
include transport and travel services like the ridesharing app Uber and the handiwork-on-demand
site TaskRabbit, as well as freelance work marketplaces like Upwork. However, the essential
characteristics of the gig economy, which set it apart from traditional employment arrangements,
are a set of organizing paradigms which expand further than these specic technology-driven
business models [
49
,
72
]. Research has characterized the sharing economy, and more specically
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©2017 Association for Computing Machinery.
2573-0142/2017/1-ART97
https://doi.org/10.1145/3134732
Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact., Vol. 1, No. 1, Article 97. Publication date: January 2017.
97:2 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
the gig economy, as a broad trend in how peer-like exchange or sharing has entered into various
contexts [
15
,
61
]. In this characterization, gig work might be facilitated and conducted on a digital
platform organized by a central player, but it may also enter into more distributed, community-
driven contexts [5, 21, 72].
Much of the discourse surrounding the gig economy and other peer-like systems has focused
on exchanges facilitated by a dominant third-party intermediary, such as Uber, Taskrabbit, Fiverr,
Kickstarter, or Mechanical Turk [e.g.
7
,
27
,
34
,
40
,
45
,
50
,
69
]. In this model, individuals are more
interested in lower costs and convenience than social interactions with other transactors [
15
].
Transactions are often anonymous, decentralized, and facilitated by matchmaking mechanisms
through the intermediary rather than through a foundation of social ties [
20
]. The organizing
paradigm of this form of gig economy is often intertwined with the concept of digital platforms, in
which the platform is a locus for users to take advantage of the scaling and organizing potential of
a network [
9
]. However, while the platform is open and allows its user base to grow and interact
exponentially, its architecture follows and reinforces the specications of an individual designer or
particular business model [11, 29].
A broader conceptualization of mediating technologies would expand our understanding of
digital mediation in more distributed contexts of the gig economy. There is a need for empirical
studies that go beyond the interactions of people with single digital platforms by integrating
instances of the gig economy wherein individuals engage with a distributed assemblage of digital
platforms as a community. Ertz et al [
21
] describes this paradigm as “empowerment,” a state in
which people “are empowered to collaborate directly with each other. They organize, arrange and
negotiate informally the terms and conditions of the exchange” (p. 1). As opposed to more common
research contexts of the gig economy in which activities are mediated by a central third party
(single digital platform), empowerment means people enjoy the liberty to develop, navigate, and
negotiate various digital platforms, and to decide about their aordances as a whole in accordance
with the needs of the community.
In order to explore more distributed aspects of the gig economy, we investigate a specic
community of remote, location-independent workers known as digital nomads. Digital nomads
are workers whose work does not tie them to any specic place (or to a specic itinerary), and
who therefore travel while working. The length of their sojourns in any given place and the length
of their nomadism varies, as does their age and profession. They are similar, however, by specic
norms and practices of nomadic work, such as maintaining productivity, nding work, developing
their skills, and hunting down WiFi [
30
,
32
]. As discussed in the section on related work, the digital
nomad community is unique for its level of departure from location and organization-based work,
for its strength of self-identity and web presence, and for its active adoption of various digital
applications and platforms which support digital nomads’ work [
51
]. Digital nomads are mobile,
technologically savvy, and entrepreneurial, making them a fruitful context for the study of digital
mediation in gig work [10].
The primary contribution of this work is towards describing the role of digital mediators in
facilitating work practices in community-oriented, distributed gig work. The current description of
the digital platforms in the gig economy is predominantly focused on individual platforms with
centralized design and control, and is therefore incomplete precisely because it does not accommo-
date the distributed, decentralized aspects of the gig economy. We reconceptualize this mediation
as an ecosystem of heterogeneous applications and platforms, which are together infrastructural in
enabling gig work. In order to explore this concept, we present empirical observations of the work
practices of the digital nomad community and examine how digital nomads make use of dierent
technologies to support their exible, nomadic work arrangements. Further, we look at the ways in
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:3
which digital nomads leverage a multitude of digital platforms and services to innovate and carry
out practices for nding work, developing skills, and conducting transactions.
To explain the integration and mediation of various digital platforms in the work practices of
digital nomads, we draw on the literature of information infrastructures (II). The concept of II
directs attention to the ways in which a community of workers engage in bottom-up practices and
fashion a large diversity of digital platforms into evolving, emergent information infrastructures
[
16
]. IIs are not designed from the top down, but rather emerge from the complex interactions
among many technologies and participants [
28
,
31
,
75
]. This perspective allows for digital platforms
to be considered in relation to other technologies and situated as they are in broader sociotechnical
systems [67].
2 RELATED WORK
2.1 The Gig Economy and Digital Platforms
The term ‘gig economy’ has developed in recent economic discourse to describe a system of
exible, on-demand, and transient work arrangements [
24
,
48
]. Organizations increasingly prefer
to hire large numbers of short-term workers for specic projects, keeping only a small sta of
permanent employees. The impermanence of these work relations enables (or demands) a great
deal of independence, exibility, and entrepreneurialism on the part of the gig worker [
23
,
25
].
Relying heavily on digital platforms, gig workers must continually arrange short-term gigs, as well
as acquire their own resources and training [
23
,
71
]. The gig economy has a number of closely
associated concepts, including the sharing economy [e.g.,
72
], collaborative consumption [e.g.,
21
], the collaborative economy [e.g.,
41
], and peer-to-peer economy [e.g.,
77
]. While these terms
describe dierent phenomena, they all involve a move away from hierarchical organizational models
and towards a population of freelancers, crowds, or peers that engage in economic transactions in
a more distributed fashion and with a more attened structure than conventional consumption
markets [15, 21, 72].
Employment in the gig economy involves a variety of digitally-mediated relationships ranging
from semi-permanent employee relationships to anonymous crowdsourcing or on-demand labor
relationships. Trust and reputation, as social resources, play a key role in facilitating reliable
transactions [
26
], and gig economy platforms are sensitive to the way in which social connections
are maintained in the digital space [
61
]. Specically, reputation and trust have been identied as key
factors in supporting exchanges between anonymous or semi-anonymous peers. Users of digital
platforms must have trust in digitally-arranged exchanges if they are to hire workers or collaborators
based on a prole or rating [
72
]. Ikkala and Lampinen [
34
] connect the establishment of trust to the
dynamics of the digital platform, which facilitate exchanges between users by mediating monetary
transactions (making sure that everybody gets paid) and by resolving client and provider disputes as
an authoritative third party. The platform is in this way a “broker” between users, and orchestrates
transactions on a market-like basis, with compensation as the assumed driver of exchange [
2
,
9
].
Community-based forms of gig interactions with underlying grassroots mechanisms are similarly
empowered by digital platforms. As an example, Time banks (e.g., TimeBanks USA and Just in Time)
provide virtual and local vehicles for connecting and strengthening communities of interested
peers (with less focus on transactions and revenue generating business models) [5].
Digital platforms are a critical mediating unit in gig economy systems because they provide
a digital space, where essential aspects of the gig economy take place [
13
,
48
,
50
]. Following
Cusumano [
9
], the platform is a digital mediating system which creates value through the network
eects of component and associated products and services. The platform has become a crucial
element in the rapid development of sharing and crowd-based work, and has consequently become
Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact., Vol. 1, No. 1, Article 97. Publication date: January 2017.
97:4 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
a central point of study in CSCW [
12
,
13
,
60
]. In this framing, the problems of coordinating work
between people is comparable to distributing work amongst computer processors [
39
]. Similarly,
research has observed that the success of platforms is dependent on a certain scale, due to the
benet (or requirement) of platforms for network eects between users [
70
]. A key aspect of
platforms is therefore the fact that they support the network eects and scaling needed to make a
peer-like gig economy system ecient, and also provide the service elements, such as payment
processing or screening which enable individual peers to carry out exchanges across a network
[72].
The technical aspects of the platform are also engaged in negotiation with work practices and
social ties, or as Raval and Dourish [
62
, , p. 97] describe it, “the way in which algorithmic processes
insert themselves into a labor relation.” The somewhat secretive algorithmic processes of peer-
to-peer systems have even been the object of “algorithm audits” [
27
]. A bounded platform can
provide a space for the creation of trust between actors, and itself promote greater social ties [
7
,
45
].
Trust is developed in direct relation to material aspects built into the platform, such that the social
space created by a platform is brought into line with its designed features. As an example, Raval
and Dourish [
62
] examine the motivation of ridesharing drivers to meet rating requirements and
maintain work exibility, aspects of a larger development of normative work relations surrounding
the structure of the platform.
Discussions of the gig economy, along with terms including the sharing economy or collaborative
consumption, have highlighted a number of abstractions of the organization of exchanges between
people, but despite the breadth of these concepts, most previous investigations of the gig economy
have focused on a specic model in which peer-like actors make exchanges through a single third
party. While some studies have examined the eects of other applications, such as social media
sites, in conjunction with a platform, the emphasis has usually been placed on the relationship
between workers and the dynamics of a central platform [e.g., 7, 27, 34, 40, 45, 50, 69, 73].
A broader conceptualization of the gig economy, however, allows for an investigation of more
distributed technological paradigms. Working from the concept of collaborative consumption, Ertz et
al [
21
] describe exchanges mediated by a central platform as a form of “quasi-empowerment” because
the exchanges represent collaboration between peer-like actors, but a mediator exercises control
over the organization of transactions. This describes a large number of gig work arrangements,
such as driving for a ridesharing app like Uber, or performing on-demand labor through Taskrabbit.
Ertz et al [
21
], however, outline another model of exchange in which empowerment is accomplished
by allowing users to collaborate directly with each other, and to wield a great deal of agency in
coordinating and organizing the exchange. This model presents a population of agentic users
engaged in the bottom-up denition of social exchanges. By contrast, the established model of the
platform, despite being generative of various uses and aordances for a large user base, is commonly
organized by one organization or a consortium of organizations, so the control mechanisms are
often centralized [
11
,
29
]. In order to capture the bottom-up quality of the distributed gig economy
model and various digital platforms that are brought together and aligned to support it, we next
describe the concept of information infrastructures.
2.2 Information Infrastructures (II)
Information infrastructures (II) have come about in the literature as a way of understanding “systems
of systems” [
16
,
59
]. Due to their size and complexity, IIs escape the frame of traditional theories of
information technology or design which are encapsulated within any single organization [
75
]. As
technologies have become increasingly interconnected, in large part through the internet, many
discussions of individual applications or IT implementations have graduated to discussions of
expansive systems and infrastructures that are shared and used by a larger community [
29
]. IIs are
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:5
generative, [
31
,
75
], meaning that they are exible systems, and open to local adoption. As such
they are “never fully complete ... they have many uses yet to be conceived of” [
78
, , p. 43]. The
exibility of infrastructure supports varied and dynamic modes of membership across distributed
teams and groups [43].
As heterogeneous, emergent, and bottom-up sociotechnical systems, IIs embody interconnected
technological and human elements [
17
,
75
]. They are recursively constructed of simpler but anal-
ogous platforms and applications while human actors and communities of interested parties or
practitioners are essential arbitrators and intermediaries in distributed environments [
65
]. Where
platforms incorporate a specied set of IT capabilities, information infrastructure is composed of
other infrastructures, platforms, and applications [
29
,
75
]. Interconnected platforms and applica-
tions are navigable and recongurable as II, and benet from the self-reinforcing mechanisms of
network eects. This tendency of infrastructure towards continual organic reconguration is a
basis for infrastructural growth and extension [31, 65].
To examine II, we draw on the well-established literatures of information and cyber infrastructures
which direct attention to reexive relationship between sociotechnical congurations and micro
practices. Rather than being a static structural force, IIs are seen as a verb, ‘infrastructuring,’ and as
mutable and extensible entities which exist fundamentally in the realm of practice [
59
,
65
]. These
conceptualizations allow for an investigation of how practices manifest new macro congurations
as well as how infrastructural elements facilitate practices. We adapt this model by considering it
through a practice lens and consider structure to be the contextualizing form taken by the practices
of individual contributors.
A practice-oriented perspective features both designers and users as agentic builders of II. Pipek
and Wulf [
59
] break down the designer/user boundary, for which there is understood to be a
“design time” and a “use-time,” which are separate operations. They posit instead a “design-in-use”
model, in which the exibilities and boundaries of the infrastructure are altered at use-time. As
assemblages of heterogeneous sub-systems, IIs contain internal seams and disconnects [
14
]. A
major obstacle in IIs, and also a signicant point of innovation, is the persistent gaps between
dierent technologies [
19
], but these breakdowns are also a prompt for adaptation and innovation
as they open up opportunity for users to infrastructure [
65
]. In particular, actors may work around
the impediment of multiple applications or platforms, aligning their dierent aordances in order
to accomplish tasks.
To explore the role of digital mediation in distributed, community-driven gig economy, we apply
the concept of II to the community of digital nomads and the extended array of digital platforms
they use for accomplishing gig work. These technologies are highly decentralized in that there is
little centralized guiding specication or policy, but the community of digital nomads bring them
together into a functioning II.
2.3 Digital Nomads
As a surging community of location-independent workers, digital nomads have received relatively
little attention from academic researchers but have been covered to some extent in business
journals and other publications interested in emerging work arrangements. It is necessary to
understand digital nomads in relation to similar types of work previously studied in CSCW research.
Digital nomads can be described as digital workers [
55
] in the sense that their work primarily
involves the manipulation of digital knowledge [
74
], and requires constant negotiation with digital
services, protocols, and algorithms. Furthermore, digital nomads exemplify some of the concerns and
characteristics described in studies of nomadic work, freelance work, and exible work. Specically,
they can be characterized by their nomadicity and by their uid, independent work practices.
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97:6 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
Nomadic work has been a subject of many CSCW research studies [e.g.,
4
,
35
,
44
,
57
,
58
,
68
]. Su
and Mark [
68
] dene nomads as workers who travel for most of their working time. Nomadicity is
not limited to situations of working while moving or while traveling, but rather encompasses the
problem of preparing, arranging, and maintaining access to resources from changing, inconsistent
locations [
36
], leading Ciol and de Carvalho [
8
] to characterize nomadicity as “a mobility of
resources.” The length and breadth of travel in the nomadic situation is greater than other types of
work, and nomadic workers often also must provide and manage their own work-related resources
rather than relying on a stable setup or desk-space [
4
,
56
]. A common challenge amongst nomadic
workers, then, is assembling or accessing resources for work from many dierent locations.
Nomadic workers cross geographic boundaries in the navigation of spaces, as well as organi-
zational boundaries, in that many have uid aliations with larger organizations, or are entirely
freelance and self-managed [
44
]. Boundaries are also virtual, presenting themselves as gaps and
seams between technologies or protocols, or in individual or organizational patterns of usage, or
loyalty towards technology [
19
]. An upshot of this dynamic navigation of boundaries is exibility,
or the ability to transition or transport between contexts through specic strategies for mobilizing
resources and spaces [
54
]. Following the discussion provided in de Carvalho et al [
58
], we consider
nomadicity as a set of practices or “nomadic strategies” for working and mobilizing resources from
disparate locations (p. 9).
The phenomenon of digital nomadism can be grounded in this literature of nomadicity, as digital
nomads can be understood as an emerging sub-population of nomadic workers with a distinct
motivation for world travel adventure and independent remote work. The motivation most often
associated with the digital nomad’s mobile lifestyle is travel adventurism and an escape from the
oce atmosphere [
32
]. As one of the rst academic forays into the term “digital nomad,” Dal Fiore
et al [
10
] highlights the motivation towards adventure in travel and an intentional separation from
traditional oce work. A large part of the conversation about digital nomads surrounds dispelling
or qualifying the idea that digital nomadism is a constant vacation, however [
30
,
32
]. As Thomas
[
74
] notes, digital nomadism distinguishes itself from previous forms of mobile or nomadic work
by combining endless leisure travel with remote work. Many of these workers have given up a
permanent house and present themselves as “wanderlusting internet entrepreneurs” who may work
from a coee shop in Bali in Indonesia and the next month may be working from a co-working
space in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
In addition to their geographic mobility, digital nomads also must be exible in moving between
dierent jobs and positions in order to make a living remotely, often working as freelancers or
self-employed “internet entrepreneurs” [
33
]. While freelance work has changed rapidly in last
few decades, it is clear from previous studies that freelancers have a close reliance on ICTs to
maintain professional exibility and adaptability [
64
]. These IT-enabled work arrangements provide
workers with control over schedules and task selection [
73
]. Digital nomads, much like many other
emerging classes of freelancers, are socially and professionally entangled in the algorithmic and
material aspects of digital marketplaces and platforms where they nd work [
27
]. Additionally, as
on-demand workers, they have a complex set of motivators for working exibly and for selecting
particular jobs, including their current location and their evaluation of employers [
73
]. Previous
research has documented the prevalent potential downsides of freelance arrangements and other
kinds of exible work such as the conation of personal and professional lives [
1
] or social isolation
[63].
Recent studies of labor mobility associated digital nomadism with vocational-related concepts
such “professional nomads,” “posted workers,” “expatriates,” or “expatriates” [
47
, cited in
51
]
However, a distinguishing feature of the digital nomad is that these individuals have presented a
strong appeal for establishing a community identity around the term ‘digital nomads.’ Müller [
51
]
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:7
argues that the term “has already become established in the jargon within this social group and is
used as a self-description” (p. 346). MacRae [
46
] presents digital nomads as an emerging community
of online entrepreneurs with cosmopolitan lifestyles that are constantly self-represented online
and with strong appeal for exotic places like Ubud, Indonesia or Chiang Mai, Thailand. Therefore,
even though the digital nomad community exhibits diversity across several dimensions (e.g., type
of digital work, industry, form of mobility), these workers share similar practices as exotic travelers
by combining perpetual travel with work. These common practices go beyond the core work of
digital nomads, and correspond to what bring them together: digital work, an extreme form of
mobility and travel, and independence from organizations. Because of these practices, as well as
challenges and opportunities of the “lifeworld” of digital nomads, these workers can be viewed as a
community of practice (with visible social interactions), who draw upon a similar patchwork of
digital platforms. There are a number of digital nomad conferences and programs, such as the Digital
Nomad Conference , as well as travel programs like Hacker Paradise through which nomads work
and travel together. Another sign of a congealing community identity is the presence of websites
like Nomad List , which provide a variety of resources curated especially for the digital nomad.
Through these programs and spaces digital nomads have access to a community not associated
with an organization, but with a work situation.
This understanding of the digital nomad community and its boundaries is consistent with previous
research on the interplay between communities and IIs, where a community can be formed by
those who share similar practices “but do not necessarily work with each other or even know each
other because of geographical or organizational distance” [p. 547
76
] or by practitioners that “share
a certain degree of similarity in their practices without necessarily sharing material contexts and
specic situations” [p. 550
76
]. A community in this sense emerges out of common interest and
shared practices (addressing common work challenges), and aords its members opportunities to
collectively decide upon and grow II [66].
Finally, the growth of the population of digital nomads is intertwined with the prevalence of
digital gig work that is enabled by online platforms [
42
]. The gig economy has enabled digital
nomads to work anywhere in the world by matching online supply and demands activities [
12
].
Traveling to new cities and countries (every few weeks) involves inherent uncertainty about where
they can live and work. Gig economy platforms provide crucial information as well as aordable
accommodation and other physical resources for digital nomads [
33
,
42
]. Because their lifestyle
involves a great deal of traveling, digital nomads prefer to exchange access to resources rather than
ownership of resources [
30
]. This is most apparent in their use of coworking spaces or coee shops
rather than permanent oce spaces.
More importantly, digital nomads must seek out direct connections with clients, professional
contacts and collaborators in order to conduct transactions and accomplish work. As independent
workers, digital nomads always face the risk of sliding into “precarious work” situations [
37
] with
uncertainty of nding more work, feeling loneliness, and confusion around how to contract [
53
].
Many digital nomads turn to gig economy platforms to nd answers to these common challenges
[
74
]. Working remotely and with few long-term relationships with specic organizations requires
digital nomads to rely on online communities and gig economy resources such as online pools
of clients and digital matching and trust-building mechanisms [
48
]. Because of their extensive
mobility, social and professional connections also often occur through digital marketplaces or
match-making systems [18].
3 METHODS
The empirical base of this research involved analysis of online forums and interviews with 16
self-identied digital nomads. Data were collected from three key forums which were specically
Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact., Vol. 1, No. 1, Article 97. Publication date: January 2017.
97:8 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
Table 1. Posts collected from three digital nomad forums.
Forum Population Posts Collected
/r/digitalnomad 39,377 1,088
Digital Nomads Around the World 38,987 917
nomadforum.io 7,001 866
focused on the digital nomad community: /r/digitalnomad, a subreddit of reddit.com for digital
nomads with 39,000 members, “Digital Nomads Around the World,” a Facebook group for digital
nomads with 38,000 members, and nomadforum.io, a subsite of a data aggregation site Nomad List
with 7000 members. We selected the three forums for breadth of content, similarity of focus, and
their relative openness. Because the II is large and heterogeneous and therefore dicult to consider
as a whole, we identied the forums as points of entry, certain applications or platforms through
which the internal operations and linkages of the broader information infrastructure can be seen.
Analysis of the discussion forums provided a broad context of the community. To generate a
depth of understanding about the mutual relationship between key elements of the gig economy
and the evolving II of various digital platforms and tools, we conducted interviews with 16 remote
workers who self-identied as digital nomads. Therefore, the forum analysis and the interviews
oered two complementary views of the research problem. The forums served as an entry point
into the communities, providing an overview of the digital nomads’ concerns, their interests, their
professions, and their technologies. The interviews provided a more focused view of the individual
digital nomads’ perspectives, allowing us to ask individual digital nomads more specic questions
about trends observed in the forum analysis. While all of the interviewees were familiar with
the forum communities, a number of them did not use the forums regularly and so provided
insight on how digital nomads operate outside of the forum groups. Specically, the participants
shed light on more personal modes of interaction which were less observable in the forums,
such as personal narratives or perceptions about specic digital platforms. These included more
personal relationships, such as that between digital nomads and professional mentors or long-time
collaborators. Finally, the interviews were conducted privately (and the identity of interviewees
remained undisclosed), while the forum posts represented public interactions.
The forums were browsed chronologically, and posts were excluded from collection using two
constraints: 1) the post had no connection to work or practices relevant to work, and 2) they had
no responses. A post could be considered relevant for the content of the initial post or for content
in the responses. Posts and their comments identied as relevant were scraped from the relevant
forums (see Table 1 for more details), and coded using Dedoose, an online application for qualitative
data analysis.
Recognizing a range of professions and styles of nomadism within the digital nomad community,
we sought interviews from nomads in a variety of dierent professions. We initially identied
potential participants through purposive sampling of digital nomads from a number of dierent
industries, and from dierent positions in the community. Some of the digital nomads we contacted
were active, well-known members of the community, as indicated by activity in the forums, content
posted on other websites, or by the number of referrals to their content from the forums. Others,
however, were intentionally contacted because they did not have such a signicant presence but
indicated that they did in fact live and work nomadically. We also varied this group by the source
of referral, such that participants were discovered through dierent forums or blogs. The coding
process focused on identifying a set of key practices that dene the gig economy in the context
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:9
of the digital nomad community and their relationship with various important digital platforms,
applications and tools. Open coding [
6
] started with analysis of forums, followed by focused coding
of content from both forums and interviews. The coding process was iterative, beginning with the
selection of forum posts, and iterating through rounds of coding and repeated selection of posts.
Codes were combined and separated as new posts and themes were encountered.
The interviews were semi-structured, beginning with a set of guiding questions about participants’
work style, travel, use of several of digital platforms and the aspects of their work related to
gig economy, but developing along the lines of the interviewee’s knowledge and interviewer’s
discoveries. All interviews were conducted via web conferencing software, and took between 50
and 70 minutes. The interviews were transcribed verbatim for coding.
Data collection and analysis were conducted concurrently, such that iterative coding of the
forum content informed the selection of new posts as well as the interview process. As coding
proceeded, the researchers collected new posts which challenged or expanded existing codes. In
this way, the codes were saturated and stabilized. Similarly, emerging themes were emphasized in
later interviews, and interview questions allowed for a more directed investigation of developing
codes. All data collection for this study of digital nomadism occurred between January and April
2017. The process resulted in 104 separate posts, consisting of 2,871 separate comments. The dates
of these forum posts ranged from March 17, 2014 to March 26, 2017. Overall, the coding process
resulted in 4 primary and 11 secondary codes (see Table 2).
4 FINDINGS
All of the interview participants were highly mobile, with some variation in the timeframes of
their movements; some moved from place to place in a matter of weeks, whereas others stayed in
a single place for as long as six months. They were nomadic in that they moved their work and
life from one country to another, often without a permanent residence. By extension, they also
practiced nomadicity, in that they had to maintain access to resources and establish workspace in a
variety of remote locations, such as temporary apartments, coee shops, coworking spaces, or in
transit, such as on a train. In almost all cases, locations were not chosen for professional reasons,
but rather work was conducted from those locations the digital nomad wanted to visit.
The participants belonged to a variety of professions, but their work can be described by a couple
of common attributes. Many of the participants worked in creative professions [
22
], such as writing
or journalism, digital media production, blogging, digital marketing, web development, software
engineering, or user-experience design. Almost all the participants worked as independent workers
and collaborated with remote teams (often comprised of other contractors). These professions
included a variety of professional relationships which were maintained remotely, including rela-
tionships with clients, coworkers, temporary collaborators, mentors, other digital nomads, and
informal professional connections. The extent and type of these networks of contacts varied slightly
based on the digital nomad’s profession, but more signicantly, it depended on the digital nomad’s
professional situation. Some digital nomads who had moved into nomadism after establishing a
stable professional situation had large networks of professional contacts. They were also less reliant
on the help of the community surrounding the term “digital nomad” on forums and on social media,
as they had already established themselves as professional digital workers. Other digital nomads,
especially those who had recently entered the lifestyle, relied more on those forums and social
media communities for both tangible (e.g., new contracts) and intangible benets (e.g., sense of
identity).
In every case the digital nomad’s work was performed almost entirely digitally, through a suite of
mobile devices, laptops and (mobile) applications. Most worked from a laptop at various locations,
and some had more sophisticated setups involving a computer mouse, portable batteries, or laptop
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97:10 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
stands (See Figure 1). Digital nomads’ location independence obliges them to rely extensively on
work-on-demand online platforms. Most participants are not necessarily able to engage in local
work, and so rely on remote gigs, which provide them with a unique exibility to work while
traveling. Despite the diversity of digital work they engage in, our participants share a set of
common practices that enable them to a) promote, secure, and conduct independent digital work as
a form of non-standard employment [
38
], and b) accomplish work while traveling. These practices
allow them to eectively utilize online platforms, nd projects under ‘exible’ work arrangements,
and complete projects in a dened time (what is considered key elements of the gig economy [
23
]).
Analysis gives rise to an array of related work practices of participants that dene the key aspects
of the gig economy in the context of digital nomads (See Table 2), and serve as a focused and
persistent view into the enabling role of II. Even though the community shares a broadly dened
work context and set of demands, the observed practices were understood as common tactics
used by digital nomads to accomplish tasks associated with important aspects of the gig economy.
Through these practices participants take advantage of the gig economy while also contributing
to its sociotechnical infrastructure. Four of the practices (outlined in Table 2) build upon the gig
economy to address demands of independent digital work. The “making place” practice concerns
the use of II for addressing challenges of nomadicity, such as nding places for conducting work
practices [44].
Most of the digital nomads interviewed, as well as on the forums, took on the weight of business
operations as individuals. They often perform not only the task they are hired to perform for any
given project, but they must also carry out negotiations with their client, arrange for their own work
resources, and actively shop for new work and curate their professional prole, functions often
provided for workers embedded in more traditional work contexts. The freedom (or responsibility)
each worker has for their own exchanges means that they rely on various digital platforms (as
indicated in Table 3).
4.1 Branding and Marketing
An important and common work activity for digital nomads was managing the digital facets of their
professional reputation over the web, an activity which we describe as managing web presence.
For digital nomads, web presence took the form of easily deployable façades or proles which
represented their skills and experience, or as informal posts and interactions across social media
like Twitter. Many digital nomads had proles on social media networking sites like LinkedIn, but
in many cases they built personal websites in order to create more customized proles, and, in the
case of designers and web developers, to show o their skills by example. A photographer and
web marketer on nomadforum.io, for instance, created a joint website in which they described
their skills and oered free work in exchange for free room and board. The specicity of the oer
and the combined prole of their respective skills was only possible through the exibility of a
personally developed website.
Dierent venues provided dierent aordances for publishing oneself and many digital nomads
used these venues in conjunction for their dierent benets. Participants 6 and 13 described
how Instagram provided a direct channel for publishing photographs and stories to their readers,
while other networking sites allowed for more professional connections. Participant 13, a blogger,
described how sharing her media on twitter led to a large amount of publicity for her blog: “Twitter
has probably been the most useful social media for me other than Instagram...the New York Times,
the BBC writing about my site all of that traditional mainstream media came via journalists that
have followed me on Twitter.” (P13)
Similarly, participant 14, who works as a journalist, described how retweeting the work of other
writers became a means of professional interaction between people in the industry and also a way
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:11
Table 2. Key work practices connecting digital nomads with the gig economy.
Work Practice
Description Sub-practices
Branding and
marketing
Using the online space to publicize, create, brand,
catalogue talents or services, and market oneself.
Advertising
Promoting web pres-
ence
Transacting
and
contracting
Carrying out the practicalities of professional
interactions online. The concrete acts of engaging
with clients, and nding, hiring, and paying
subcontractors.
Recruiting
Payment processing
Screening contrac-
tors / clients
Making place Identifying and leveraging multiple places and
available technologies to conduct nomadic work.
Finding space
Harnessing technol-
ogy in place
Professional
mentoring
and
knowledge
sharing
Giving and receiving knowledge and know-how
online. Sharing experience, information, and
professional advice.
Sharing on daily
problems
Keeping abreast of
developments
Professional develop-
ment
Peer-to-peer mentor-
ing
Community
building
Developing and dening the community as
foundation of the gig economy, its values,
purpose, exclusionary or inclusionary
delineations.
Creating and aug-
menting community
ties
Consolidating the
digital nomad
identity
of publishing other journalists he supported to his followers. By making connections with other
journalists and publicizing their work to his social media followers, he and they can mutually
benet from promotion to a larger audience. While some participants explained that they did
not use their Facebook pages to promote themselves because of its primarily personal context,
personal and professional interactions were carried out together on other sites such as Twitter
and on personal websites (e.g., participants 1, 5, 6 and 10). In this way professional reputation
was established by public interactions and through publishing content in various digital spaces
according to their aordances.
The management of personal and professional digital identities directly supported the adver-
tising of services. Conducting work remotely, many digital nomads had to advertise and network
dynamically across a number of dierent platforms and through networks of remote acquaintances
and colleagues in order to publicize their services to potential clients. In some cases this took the
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97:12 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
form of direct marketing on forums or on social media. However, advertising also involved more
nuanced referral and linking techniques aorded by the web space, and in many cases hinged
on personal brands and established personal sites or blogs. Participant 16 described how his blog
gained attention for both his primary business, and, more signicantly, for his legal consulting
work. Readers of the blog would transition towards subscribing to the consulting service, and
in this way, the personal web presence of his blog served as a stage from which to advertise the
legitimacy and value of his consulting service. In this way advertising was closely connected to
personal web presence and branding, similarly benetting from both standardized channels and
extensible digital spaces.
4.2 Transacting and Contracting
The transacting and contracting practice represents digitally mediated exchanges carried out
between workers in order to conduct business. The most straightforward example of this was
payment processing, which concerned how to transfer money in a remote and often international
context. This involved navigating and evaluating a large selection of transaction applications,
involving the discussion of particular properties of the applications, including hidden fees and ease
of use. A discussion on nomadforum.io, for instance, covered the various benets and drawbacks
of dierent payment methods. As one user asked: “How about the volatility of bitcoin rate -
will that aect you personally. I have opened my bitcoin account but haven’t convinced any of
my clients to use it because it is fairly new concept for them. Just want to know your thoughts
or experience on that?” The problem of transacting, then, was a problem of determining the
best application for nancial eciency and which best tted the established technological and
professional practices. Multiple applications could be used together in order to avoid fees or to
interact with clients or employees in dierent countries or under dierent currencies. Some payment
processing applications worked between currencies while others had low fees. These applications
were modular and could be easily paired with interactions carried out on forums or on social media
rather than necessarily being built into the application on which the exchange interaction occurred.
Digital nomads take advantage of both the digital nomad forums and other freelance marketplaces
for exploring and maintaining dierent elements of contractual relationships that dene their work.
Contracting here is a formal arrangement organized through a digital platform, and are often uid
arrangements with freelancers. Participant 15 reported that she used a task service called Fancy
Hands to outsource small tasks and used the service as an integral part of her startup business. In
this case, the problem of contracting was outsourced to a third party service, but others contracted
more directly through freelancing markets (e.g. Toptal and Upwork) and also hired directly in
the comments sections of forum posts. A number of interview participants also described nding
contractors and clients in the population of people following their blogs. Through these methods, a
portion of the labor involved in digital nomad projects was not hired and kept on sta, but was
instead persistently and remotely accessible as a resource through the various organizing logics of
digital platforms.
Included in the process of contracting was the ltering and evaluating of potential contractors
and clients. This should be considered separately from the act of contracting itself because it
involves its own array of digital mediation protocols and practices. There were two main modes of
digitally-supported ltering which were used in conjunction: ltering algorithmically and ltering
by word of mouth. Algorithmic ltering was implicit in the use of freelance marketplaces which
recommend and search available clients and contractors. Filtering by word of mouth was more
complicated and more entangled in social-digital practices. Sometimes this was accomplished in a
very straightforward fashion, as in the case of one digital nomad on nomadforum.io, who asked
for suggestions for a good accounting oce in Bulgaria, and received a contact from a fellow
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:13
nomad: “I’ll send you a private message with the details of my accountant, I think they can help
you.” Digital nomads also reported asking prior associates or other people in their industry for the
names of reliable professionals to hire. Digital nomads in fact used these two modes of ltering in
conjunction as part of a comparison and evaluation of freelance marketplaces and their respective
aordances for ltering and nding reliable workers.
4.3 Making Place
The term “making place” is inspired by the work of Brown and O’Hara [
3
] and reects the act of
merging the digital nomad’s repertoire of digital work practices with varying places and available
infrastructures in order to erect an ecient mobile workplace and to maintain an eective profes-
sional life across disparate locales. Digital nomads nd or make spaces which support their essential
work practices and also leverage local resources and infrastructures for work. These practices can
be characterized as bringing local situations, and whatever resources they might provide, into
harmony with nomadic work practices.
As an important aspect of making place, the “nding space” practice refers to the digital nomads’
activities in establishing places from which to carry out their work [
44
]. While this involved nding
literal workspaces, it also involved nding places for living and places for socializing, both of which
had uid boundaries with the digital nomad’s professional spaces. Participants often work from
home and need access to WiFi, making their living arrangements also, in part, work arrangements.
Similarly, as remote workers, social events and meetups facilitated in-person social networking
and the creation of relationships which were uidly personal and professional.
Finding space practices were intertwined with gig platforms and resources. These spaces were
often located, recommended, or rated algorithmically through web applications such as Airbnb,
NomadList, meetup.com, or coworkingmap.org. Participant 18 described using meetup.com in
order to nd events nearby where they could meet locals, other travelers, or expats. The social
spaces they found, such as digital nomad meetups or a motorbike trip to a waterfall in Bali, yielded
long-term social connections with other nomads and locals. Similarly, they described frequenting
coworking spaces in order to make social connections with local startups who were often working
there. These professional spaces were found or organized in a makeshift manner through digital
coordination.
By “harnessing technology in place,” we refer to the digital nomads’ activities in adopting and
leveraging both local infrastructures and other digital technologies in order to make a workspace
functional. The most salient aspect or obstacle of local infrastructure is of course internet connection.
Most of the interviewees use generic online resources (e.g., Yelp) or more specic websites (e.g.,
coeeandwi.com or workfrom.co) to examine WiFi networks before choosing a place to stay or
visit. The overall quality of the Internet in a city or country is a topic of discussion on the forums
and is a primary feature of NomadList’s travel planning application.
On these forums, navigating local infrastructure was in fact a complicated socio-technical
problem, and discussions ranged from how many coees it is polite to buy when working in a coee
shop to methods for bypassing local or national rewalls using VPN software. Given internet access,
however, digital nomads are able to mobilize a large array of web services and platforms which
provide them with access to essential resources, such as information, collaborators, or web-based
workspaces such as Google documents. These technologies and gig economy resources allow the
digital nomad to access much of their professional life from anywhere, but they also require that the
digital nomad nd an internet connection in almost all of their workspaces. This made it essential
for the digital nomad to bring local infrastructural aordances into sync with more global, broadly
accessible infrastructural elements [67].
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97:14 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
4.4 Knowledge Sharing and Professional Mentoring
Digital nomads turned to the larger, remote community of digital nomads for help, and themselves
helped others in the community, on both specic technical or work-related problems and broader
professional topics. A user on the Facebook group, for example, oered to give advice on how to
develop a particular kind of app: “I used to work for AppYourself in Berlin and still work for them
on a digital nomad basis. I can probably answer any questions you have if you want to Skype?” As
in this case, collaboration occurred through applications which allowed direct interaction, such as
Skype or the team discussion site Slack, but it was often coordinated through more public channels,
such as the forums, in which people could publish their problems to a group. Problems focused
on topics or focused on issues specic to the digital nomad work situation, and would percolate
through public digital spaces, such as topic-based blogs or nomad-specic forums towards personal
interactions.
Keeping abreast of developments refers to the ways in which digital nomads would benet
from each other’s experience and knowledge of dierent industries in digital venues. Through
direct discussion, they traded rst-hand knowledge of technological or business trends with other
semi-anonymous users. This information included which skills would continue to be in demand,
which cities had good startup scenes, patterns of employment, and specic technology trends such
as app development. In many cases these surrounded changes in industry which were relevant to
workers and employers. In a discussion about computer automation on reddit, for instance, users
discussed the situations in which automated translation might replace human translation, and a
user gave his experience as a translator: “I’m a translator, and I don’t know of anyone working
above the ProZ-enabled low end of the business who believes they will be replaced by computers
soon.” Discussions like this provided digital nomads with access to the kind of informal knowledge
exchange necessary to keep up with their dynamic work context; these took place on sites accessible
either through the digital nomad community or through industry-specic sub-communities. This
included forums and blogs, where individuals gave descriptions of their experiences in dierent
elds, but a number of interview participants also highlighted collaborative software like Slack, on
which a large group, dened by a shared professional interest, could exchange information in real
time.
Digital nomads also used digital platforms in order to engage in career development knowledge
sharing and peer-to-peer mentoring. Specically, this often took the form of coaching or advising
relationships between digital nomads and mentors or mentees through which some more experi-
enced members of the community acted as professional coaches on dierent grounds for a fee or for
free. As an example, participant 14 related how he had come in contact with a professional mentor
through his website and contacted him regularly for advice about how to promote a web tool he had
developed. In a somewhat similar manner, participants 4 and 13 ran a number of in-person or online
events on topics of professional developments with digital nomads who had signed up through
their blog or personal website. Participants 5, 8, and 10 presented similar types of knowledge to the
digital nomad community using weekly podcasts.
Digital nomads also mentored each other on general business strategy and the mechanics of
setting up organizational ties as a remote, location independent worker. On a reddit post about
how to develop as a remote worker, one contributor described how to turn freelance work into a
career: “Your job from here on out is twofold. 1. Find new clients 2. Find contractors to complete the
projects for you. Rinse and repeat. 1, 2 . . . 1, 2 . . . You’re on your way to building your global empire
from the comfort of your laptop and smartphone. Congratulations, you’re no longer a freelancer.
You are a real life business owner.
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:15
These kinds of interactions over digital platforms provided access for digital nomads to in-person
coaching, despite their remote and organizational disassociation. Digital nomads also engaged
in web-organized meetups and events particularly aimed at professional development. Some of
these were simply social events arranged through event planning sites like meetup.com whereas
other were coordinated work-and-travel events specic to digital nomads, which aimed to provide
nomads with both social networking opportunities and opportunities for professional collaboration.
A user on nomadforum.io described the benets of the remote work program Hacker Paradise:
“Pros: having awesome people around all the time, collaborating professionally with people, learning
from people, having other people around who are serious and working during the day and aren’t
just there to travel and party.
In this way, connections were established across the network of remote workers that were qualita-
tively professional and related to the furthering of individual’s careers and the closer integration of
potential collaborators. These groups formed digitally, in professional circles of associated nomads,
but also through coworking groups like Hacker Paradise, which bring typically dispersed nomads
together to travel and work together.
4.5 Community Building
The eorts of the group of nomadic workers was supported by the creation of a shared identity and
under the banner of the term “digital nomad.” Establishing an identity for many digital nomads is
crucial, because as a porous and budding community, digital nomads are constantly challenged to
dene their position, work style, and exposure in relation to the larger work context [
51
]. Critically,
the digital nomad identity is not oriented along organizational or professional lines, but rather along
a particular state of personal and professional mobility and displacement. Online forums served
as spaces for the denition and development of the identity, and the identity was in fact directly
connected to the support of the digital nomad’s profession. These include both nomad-specic
technologies and more general web resources like Facebook or Upwork, which digital nomads used
for their own means and for supporting various work practices (See Table 3). The identity of digital
nomads as a community of location-independent digital workers co-evolve with the general web
resources that are brought to bear and those digital platforms, application and IT capabilities that
are specically designed for and used by digital nomads such as Nomad List or NomadBase. In
these spaces, digital nomads discussed trends in freelancing, the reputation of remote workers and
digital nomads amongst hiring organizations, how to get started as a nomadic worker and nd gigs,
and how to manage work, personal life, and travel while staying productive. In a discussion on
NomadList, a digital nomad who managed a remote team described his perspective as a manager
in order to indicate a particular cultural mindset implied by the digital nomad identity: “hiring
nomads is hard because nomads all want to work as freelancers etc. Whenever you try to discuss a
role or work they are like ‘let me send you my proposal’ etc. I feel that nomads have a mindset that
they will be freelancers / entrepreneurs and not part of a team.” These discussions, then, surfaced
issues of work culture and identity, and the term “digital nomad” served as a locus around which
issues of nomadic, independent gig work could gather.
This identity was reinforced by an active and social population of digital nomads, who made
eorts to connect with other digital nomads and build the community as an informational and
technical resource. Many digital nomads put signicant eort into connecting with other digital
nomads, and more generally into solidifying channels of communication for connecting with each
other. In some cases this was as simple as arranging meetups through forums or other apps, or
determining which cities have the most active digital nomad populations, but it also included
developing channels for more professional interactions. A reddit discussion, for instance, covered
the ground rules, format, and limitations for advertising jobs to other digital nomads on the site.
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97:16 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
Table 3. Both general and nomad-specific digital platforms supporting various practices of digital nomads.
Work Practice
Technology Examples
branding and
marketing
personal websites e.g. personal websites
forums
e.g. nomadforum.io, Reddit, and Facebook
social media
e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Instagram
professional
mentoring
forums
e.g. nomadforum.io, Reddit, and Facebook
freelance marketplaces e.g. Toptal, Upwork, and Guru
job boards e.g. dice.com, Remotive, and Remoteok
online mentoring services
e.g. nomadcapitalist.com, and digitalno-
madacademy.com
transacting
and
contracting
payment processing applica-
tions
e.g. Payoneer, Transerwise, and Paypal
freelance marketplaces e.g. Toptal, Upwork, and Guru
forums
e.g. nomadforum.io, Reddit, and Facebook
making place
lodging, coworking and col-
iving websites
e.g. airbnb.com, cowoli.com, coworker.com,
and desksnear.me
work-friendly place nders
e.g. workfrom.co, coces.co, and
workhardanywhere.com
forums
e.g. nomadoforum.io, Reddit, and Facebook
cloud services
e.g. Google Drive, One drive, and Dropbox
knowledge
sharing
forums
e.g. nomadforum.io, Reddit, and Facebook
personal websites e.g. blogs, and personal websites
cloud services
e.g. Google Drive, One Drive, and Dropbox
social media
e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, No-
madmessenger, and Nomadbase
community
building
forums
e.g. nomadforum.io, digitalnomadsfo-
rum.com, Reddit, and Facebook
nomad communities
e.g. The Dynamite Circle and nomadpro-
ject.io
Other channels were facilitated by dedicated commercial applications or web platforms aimed at
digital nomads specically, including NomadBase and the #nomad channel of the team collaboration
software Slack. Digital nomads used these applications to communicate with other digital nomads,
and would engage with the developers of these applications on forums or over social media in
order to suggest features or criticize the application’s services or speed, sometimes providing
specic technical suggestions for improving the application. Developers of applications such as
NomadBase and Sailo entered the forums to announce new features or discuss the application
with the community. In this way the digital nomad community, spanning a set of social platforms,
cultivates a digital space of incubatory social interactions and collaborations.
5 DISCUSSION
Given the distributed nature of the gig economy in the context of digital nomads’ community and
the diversity of technologies that support it, it is useful to explore these technologies and their
mediational role through the concept of information infrastructures (II). The II enables digital
nomads’ work practices, and it is in turn shaped by infrastructuring practices undertaken by digital
nomads. We rst discuss the dynamics of the II’s support for nomadic gig work. We then explore
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:17
the ways in which the professional needs of digital nomads, their entrepreneurial ventures, and
their innovations in practice construct, maintain, and extend the II.
5.1 Infrastructural Support for Gig Work
Our investigation of the digital nomad’s repertoire of technologies (Table 3) shows deep connections
to the digital nomad’s conventions of practice, specically to those nomadic and freelance work
practices necessary for the digital nomad’s brand of gig work. Their ability to nd work, communi-
cate with others, and complete projects is dependent on their ability to access these technologies
from coee shops, coworking spaces, apartments or elsewhere, on demand. These technologies
are essential and ubiquitous for the digital nomad’s work, and perform many of the functions
often supplied to traditional workers by an organizational information system. In this regard
these technologies are assumed, transparent, and infrastructural. Learning to work as a digital
nomad means learning to navigate and leverage this information infrastructure. Furthermore, the
II contains applications and platforms which are specically designed for the digital nomad’s work
situation, and the community of digital nomads collects and shares strategies for making use of
the infrastructure’s more generic applications for nomadic work. These strategies and applications
are, of course, embedded in existing work infrastructures and markets, allowing the digital nomad
to participate in larger business spheres and communicate with clients on technologies they are
familiar with.
Much of the benets of the II come from its scope, both in variety and in scale. The II does
not support a single work practice, or a single aspect of business, but rather supports almost all
aspects of the modern digital worker’s professional needs. Self-promotion, nding work, conducting
transactions, and making professional contacts are all supported by some aspect of the II, and often
they occur across the same set of social media platforms and communication applications. The
II benets not only from variety, but also from scale. The gig worker can take advantage of the
network eects of large sorting and matching platforms in publishing themselves, looking for work,
or getting advice. This is an essential aspect of the gig economy in that it allows the gig worker to
rapidly make new connections and new work arrangements and therefore work independently
in a more sustainable way. The II then comes into alignment with the gig economy’s tendency to
benet from expansive networks mediated by digital or algorithmic matching.
The II is not only very large but also internally modular. Structurally, the II is constituted
recursively of scalable, interacting parts, allowing for dynamic use and reconguration. It is
comprised of many dierent kinds of platforms and applications, which compete or complement
each other with various aordances. Together these technologies cultivate a synergetic relationship
within the II. All business ventures carried out by nomads, for instance, benet from the presence
of popular payment processing applications such as Paypal or Transferwise, because it means
that their specialized systems do not have to process payments. Similarly, the nomadic worker
can recruit temporary or specialized labor from on-demand or freelance labor markets in order to
complete a project. This allows for the digital nomad to oat business ventures which outsource
many functions to other existing applications. The dierent roles and technologies in the II benet as
a holistic system. The array of web services allows for quickly-built, minimum-eort constructions
which aid or congure searching and navigating across the II. Standalone applications can be
enhanced with complementary resources, even if only through locating and organizing them, and
II could be directly enhanced by introducing new applications.
The dynamism of the II as a mediator lends itself to the exibility of independent gig work.
An aspect of the II which underpins its role in the gig economy, and distinguishes it from the
organizational model of the information system, is its emergent, generative qualities. Lacking a
centralized designer or design logic, the II is able to undergo innovations and extensions at the
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97:18 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
practice level. Digital platforms exhibit ‘generic functional specications’ that meet the needs of
heterogeneous user base, but their design framework is inherently semi-closed and well bounded,
reinforcing the control mechanism of the primary organizer (e.g. Google or Microsoft) [
29
, p.
4]. In contrast, control in II as an ecology of various platforms is distributed and a function of
negotiation and shared agreements among the community of users. This means that digital nomads,
as independent gig workers, are not constrained by the conventions or installed IT systems of
an organization or platform, but rather they are able to pick up new technologies and practices
in a highly exible way, selecting those which complement their specic situation, their current
location, or their current client. There are some ‘key players’ in the digital nomad community
who contribute directly to the II, such as the founder of NomadList, Pieter Levels, but the II is not
centrally controlled and hinges upon the contribution of a large number of available digital platforms
(e.g. social media or online forums) and those developed by many digital nomads themselves (e.g.
nomad-specic applications and personal websites). In this sense the II is open to the exibility
and entrepreneurialism demanded of the gig worker.
5.2 Growing Information Infrastructure through Infrastructuring
The II constantly evolves due to recurrent and continuous infrastructuring practices of digital
nomads, which reect their evolving need. The digital nomad community contributes to the II
through two key forms of infrastructuring practices: 1) extending materiality of the II by building
new platforms, and 2) constantly negotiating the II, its components, functionality, and norms of
use.
The most straightforward method of infrastructuring is the extension of the materiality of existing
technologies, and the building of new platforms. Preceding moments of direct infrastructuring
are moments of breakdown, stumbling, and theorizing about new applications or work strategies.
In these situations digital nomads identify breakdowns in current systems or seams in the base
information infrastructure which are considered problem points. As described in Pipek and Wulf
[59], breakdowns prompt innovations, and while specic problems are addressed by dedicated
designers, the upkeep and evolution of the information infrastructure is carried out by an active
population of users. In many cases these innovations occurred through the aordances of existing
applications, such as group les on Facebook groups, Google spreadsheets, and code repositories
on Github. As in the process of infrastructuring described by Pipek and Wulf [
59
], these channels
allow for the enhancement and extension of infrastructure by users. These more accessible channels
of contribution are simple but should not be underrated as means of infrastructural change, as
they are indicators of breakdowns and are themselves potentials for larger constructions. Nomad
List, for instance, began as a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet. In this regard the availability of
malleable, user-design oriented elements fosters generative design-in-use practices across the II.
These design-in-use examples of building II are paralleled by the digital nomad community’s
prociency for extending infrastructure in a professional way. Because of the prevalence of web
designers and developers within the community and the entrepreneurial culture of the community,
digital nomads are not limited to existing platforms, but rather can build their own websites, web
tools, web-based business models and even community-based forums in order to mediate their
access and exchanges. This has resulted in a number of nomad-specic applications and digital
spaces dedicated to the digital nomad’s specic nomadicity and needs in the gig economy. This
gives digital nomads an empowered position in navigating technologies and performing gig work,
and a direct line into their digital mediators.
In a more sophisticated way, digital nomads extend the II according to their professional needs
by evaluating and innovating on existing infrastructural congurations. A clear example of this is
the selecting or ltering of applications. Nomads want to know where to nd particular resources,
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:19
or rather how to use resources or a conguration of resources for a particular function. Through
forum discussion or through blog post or implicitly in collaborating, digital nomads select, recom-
mend, and lter the technologies available to them in order to overcome seams and gaps in the
current conguration of II. This often appears as posts in the forums where digital nomads ask the
community which technologies to use for a particular task. Signicantly, these technologies were
often not specic to a digital nomad’s profession. Rather they were often generic to the problem
of conducting remote work, such as money conversion applications with low rates or reliable
and easy-to-use web conferencing software. Digital nomads also pick up the technology used by
a collaborator, client, or mentor, and sometimes use particular applications because their client
is familiar with them. Similarly, digital nomad blogs provide ltering functions through curated
lists and reviews. Freelance marketplaces or technologies might be recommended from one user
to another or through a list, thereby propagating usage of that service through the network and
facilitating its attachment to established practices and services. In this way, the II is congured
through the process of digital nomads recommending and sorting through the available technolo-
gies in order to nd those which best support their nomadic, independent professional situation,
and which best complement the array of technologies they already use, or that their clients and
employers already use.
Digital nomads also congure the II by experimenting with new ways of using existing tech-
nologies. Building on understanding of the aordances of dierent applications, new practices are
constructed which take advantage of certain services or take advantage of certain congurations
of services. By comparing the dierent functionalities of particular platforms and coming up with
innovative means of tying them together, digital nomads make use of dierent platforms as modular
parts of an II [
29
]. Here the community is a site for the development of protocols, such as how
to collaborate across time zones, how to best collect payment, how to select projects to work on,
or how to market oneself through various digital channels. A pattern or culture of usage, and a
relationship with extant mechanisms is posited and potentially recreated or reenacted by other
digital nomads. Given digital nomads’ agency in choosing between applications and in combining
applications, it is possible to see that the protocols or routines, which are the standardized forms of
the II across platforms, are malleable to peer-like actors.
From the interactions of digital nomads in nding resources, it is clear that community interac-
tions are important spaces for arranging systems across platforms. A salient aspect of the Web 2.0
paradigm is that value is generated by a community of users. However, the typical platform controls
(and often monetizes) user interactions to some degree. In contrast, the community of digital
nomads carries out its interactions across many platforms and even builds its own unique platforms.
Through discussion on these platforms nomads share tactics for integrating new applications into
their workow as well as how to make the most use of an applications or platforms benets. This
shows that social interactions, both peer-to-peer and across a community forum, are key vectors for
both facilitating navigation and discovery of relevant applications but also in shaping interactions
and relationships around systems. As a space for sharing, learning, and for the incubation of new
strategies for conducting freelance nomadic work through digital platforms, the community extends
the materiality of the II. This is a mode of social engagement and contribution that is foundational
for peer-like systems in the sharing and gig economies. Large-scale, open resources can benet from
the contributive practices of peer-like actors, given the agency of those actors within an expansive
sociotechnical system [31]. Through points of “use innovation,” in which the user appropriates,
adapts, or works around the aordances of the infrastructure in order to complete a task, the user
reconciles the infrastructure with localized practice [59,67]. The social engagement and agency
of the digital nomad, and the larger digital nomad community, are therefore key facilitators of
infrastructuring.
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97:20 Will Sutherland and Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi
6 CONCLUSION
The growth of the gig economy will see a greater number of workers operating professionally as
independent workers and using technology to mesh their work life into the movements and places
of their personal life. Increasingly, workers may nd themselves as members of remote teams,
and organizations will have to nd and coordinate remote, exible workers to complete projects.
Here, we present empirical evidence from the community of digital nomads which sheds light
on recent developments in the use of technology by gig workers and which may pregure future
modes of work, and new collaborative contexts. We also present II as an analytical perspective for
investigating digital mediation in the distributed form of gig economy. The concept of II directs
attention to the emergent collection of technologies leveraged by the community of digital nomads
as independent, mobile gig workers.
Technology has a critical role in the new benets and also the new demands presented by the gig
economy. This research highlights the role of technologies as a collection of complementary systems
for conducting gig work and for mediating between workers. These technologies, in the form of
a broader II, provide a robust support structure for digital nomads and their gig work practices,
facilitating many aspects of their professional development, including training, marketing, job
searching, and collaborating. The digital nomad community shows that it is possible for community
building eorts to cross platform boundaries and make use of the dierent aordances of a variety of
platforms dynamically. In this context, decentralized workers show signicant agency in conguring
II from the bottom up. They are able to negotiate the fulllment of remote work practices across
established technologies and patterns of use by building new resources (either with programming
skills or without) and by enacting new norms and practices of use.
We recommend information infrastructures as a highly-developed perspective and robust frame-
work for investigating this model of the gig economy technologies, especially given its focus on
expansive systems and distributed technological arrangements. Specically, II literature provides a
means of discussing work practices across platforms and considers clusters of platforms as highly
complex, emergent structures. It also presents infrastructural change as originating from within
the II, from users innovating around or circumventing breakdowns. This perspective would allow
CSCW research to account for interconnected nature of digital technologies, to go beyond a dom-
inant “here and now” focus [
52
], and to extend the discussion of gig work in order to examine
digital mediation in a distributed context, in which mediation is dynamically rearranged from the
bottom up by the community with a high degree of agency.
This study has implications for the design of information systems which enable gig work, specif-
ically concerning their interaction with a larger ecosystem of relevant applications and platforms,
and their adoption by communities of users. While the design of platforms and applications typically
takes a top-down control model, designing a system which meshes with the digital workers’ array
of other tools requires an ecological understanding of digital mediation. Also, platforms must keep
a careful balance between empowering users, and maintaining centralized organization, a balance
which weighs the openness of the platform’s organizational logic, its relationship with supporting
and competing systems, and the agency its users have in carrying out their work. By focusing on
the community of digital nomads, this paper describes a variety of digitally-mediated, dynamic
work practices, and an array of professional relationships between remote workers, providers,
consumers, and collaborators. Together, these practices and relationships outline an emerging
professional sphere and have important implications for the design of digital platforms supporting
non-traditional work arrangements.
II also presents a promising tool for future studies of cooperative work and the gig economy.
Considering the IT system as an II fundamentally shifts the research angle from the perspective of
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The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure 97:21
the singular IT system, which is bounded by technical and proprietary boundaries, to that of the
worker, who faces an array of complementary and competing systems with which to accomplish
his/her work. This is applicable not only to the most distributed examples of cooperative work,
but also to more centralized examples in which the worker uses an outside application to support
his/her work with a centralized platform, or switches between platforms, as with drivers who
switch between Uber and Lyft to get the best fares. This perspective on contemporary work is
promising because it will become more valuable as work arrangements become more exible, and
workers rely less on organizational IT systems maintained by their employers.
Finally, this research has also uncovered a number of areas for future empirical research. While
this study focused on the digital nomads’ use of II, it is clear from this investigation that the
digital nomad community itself represents a particular kind of free-agency which may have some
important implications for the future of work, organization, and technology use. This warrants a
more focused empirical investigation of digital nomadism, including the digital nomad’s core work
practices, livelihood, nomadicity, and unique combination of work, personal life and travel.
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... The last step of the methodology is critical to our goals. In order to facilitate the transition between the emerging concepts in our empirical study and the existing literature, we developed a conceptual framework of the digital nomad phenomenon [28] to synthesize the main theoretical frameworks [4,9,10,11,13,16,19] found in the digital nomad literature in a single artifact. Such an artifact is organized according to a three-layer data structure, as illustrated later in Fig. 2, after adding the new 1st-order concepts that emerged from the empirical study. ...
... The analysis of the concepts expressed in the framework [28] gives us clues about how the existing ecosystem around DNs is organized. In the technological dimension of the framework, concepts related to the use of temporary work platforms [16,20] by some DNs to obtain a source of income emerge. In the same technological dimension, we found evidence in the literature of the use of other platforms to meet the demands of the DNs in serving their customers, such as means of payment [20,23], communication [3,20], and artifact sharing through cloud computing [20]. ...
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The purpose of this paper is to reveal a set of new results obtained from an ongoing investigation focused on the way that the particular characteristics which are inherent to "wannabe" digital nomads' activities contribute to the sustainability of the whole digital nomad ecosystem. In line with the premise of this research, we assume the importance of understanding the impacts that are being felt in the personal knowledge management ecology practices and routines of digital nomads as experienced by a specific online population (i.e., Reddit user base), together with a deep and wide examination of their preferences and expectations regarding the technology-mediated work-life issues that exert a direct influence on the digital nomad community. To this end, we gathered and further processed text posts and comments from users in the '/r/digitalnomad' subreddit. From a sociotechnical standpoint, the empirical data extracted from this sample population about the wannabe/how to be digital nomad symbiotic ecosystem can provide insightful information for researchers worldwide about future design-level interventions.
... Gig ekonomisi terimi, mikro girişimcilik, serbest meslek ve bilgisayar-mobil cihaz aracılı işlerin değiş tokuşları destekleyen profesyonel bir alanın tanımı olarak akademik ve ticari söylemde gelişmiştir (Sutherland, Jarrahi, 2017). Gig kelimesi İngilizce dilinde 'kısa süreli işler' anlamında kullanılmaktadır. ...
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... Gig ekonomisi terimi, mikro girişimcilik, serbest meslek ve bilgisayar-mobil cihaz aracılı işlerin değiş tokuşları destekleyen profesyonel bir alanın tanımı olarak akademik ve ticari söylemde gelişmiştir (Sutherland, Jarrahi, 2017). Gig kelimesi İngilizce dilinde 'kısa süreli işler' anlamında kullanılmaktadır. ...
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Abstrak Penelitian ini dilakukan untuk ekplorasi model Knowledge Management (KM) dengan aspek Knowledge Creation (KC) dan aspek Task Technology Fit (TTF) dalam konteks Digital Nomadism (DNs) terhadap Gig Economy (GE). KM dengan kategori Discovery, Organization, and Sharing. DNs dengan dimensi Personal, Social, and Technology. GE dengan kriteria Employers, Gig Workers, and Digital Platform. Aspek KC menggunakan model Socialization, Externalization, Combination, and Internalization (SECI). Aspek TTF menggunakan model Task Characteristics, Technology Characteristics, Task Technology Utilization, and Performance Impacts. Hasil penelitian menunjukkan bahwa model yang dibangun mampu menghasilkan model KM adaptif. Hal ini dengan implikasi pada DNs dalam sharing, collaborating, and learning melalui KM yang me-revolusi cara baru bekerja dan berinteraksi dalam aktifitas GE (a new way of living, working, and organizing). I. Research Problem Digital Nomad (DN) merupakan istilah yang dipakai untuk orang yang bekerja menggunakan teknologi informasi dan media digital pada tempat yang berbeda (berpindah-pindah atau nomaden), tidak terikat dengan jam kerja (seperti mulai pukul 08.00 WIB selesai pukul 16.00 WIB), dan bekerja dalam suasana informal, bahkan sambil liburan (sebagai gaya hidup). DN adalah orang atau pelaku dalam aktifitas bekerja dari rumah, bekerja dari ruang terbuka/bukan kantor dengan tempat yang berpindah pindah atau kegiatan yang disebut Digital Nomadism (DNs). DNs sebagai pilihan gaya hidup mempertimbangkan faktor psikologis sebagai aktualisasi diri (sudut pandang dari sisi psikologi). DNs juga merupakan cara baru dalam bekerja dan organisasi kerja (sudut pandang dari sisi perilaku organisasi). Berdasarkan interpretasi, DNs dikelompokkan dalam 3 bagian yaitu: DNs sebagai aktifitas ekonomi, DNs sebagai aktifitas budaya kerja, dan DNs sebagai aktifitas media teknologi. Aktifitas DNs dalam melakukan pekerjaan seperti: pemasaran digital, mentor daring, layanan konsultasi daring, kreator konten digital, dan pekerja harian lepas secara daring. Dalam melakukan pekerjaannya, aktifitas DNs sangat tergantung pada multiple digital platforms. Ada tiga aspek DNs yaitu: personal, sosial, dan teknologi. Interaksi sosial antar personal pelaku DNs menggunakan teknologi internet untuk aktifitas self-manging and reflecting (personal website, social media, forums), reinventing (individual absorptive capacity), making sense of information (digital note-taking), knowledge sharing (cloud services, social media), and community building (group, forums, nomad communities). Aktifitas tersebut merupakan aspek penting dalam membangun Knowledge Management (KM). KM dalam interaksi tersebut sangat penting karena knowledge is asset yang memberi dampak pada Gig Economy (GE). GE merupakan aktifitas ekonomi pada ruang micro-entrepreneurship (SMEs) dan self-employment (digital workers) menggunakan multiple digital platforms (digital intermediaries, applications, or platforms). Dampak dari pertumbuhan GE adalah berkembangnya aktifitas DNs dalam bidang ekonomi, sosial, budaya dan teknologi. Knowledge Management (KM) atau manajemen pengetahuan menggabungkan pembentukan pengetahuan baru, pelestarian, pembaruan, dan berbagi di antara pengguna. Tujuannya adalah untuk menciptakan nilai, mengontrol, dan memperbarui aset pengetahuan organisasi untuk m encapai tujuannya. Penggunaan manajemen pengetahuan dalam berbagi informasi dengan karyawan internal maupun eksternal dengan pelaku Digital Nomad (DN) dalam aktifitas Digital Nomadism (DNs) yang bekerja dari lokasi mana saja. Pengetahuan yang dikelola membantu menciptakan nilai bagi proses bisnis Gig Economy (GE) dan individu DN. Namun, bagaimana model Knowledge Management (KM) untuk aktifitas Digital Nomadism (DNs) terhadap Gig Economy (GE). Oleh karena itu diperlukan Knowledge Creation (KC) dan Task Technology Fit (TTF) sebagai model KM. II. Literature Review Penelitian tentang DNs diusulkan oleh banyak peneliti dalam artikel publikasi ilmiah. Artikel [1] tentang How theoretically frame digital nomadism (DNs) as a new way of living, working, and organizing? Artikel [2] membahas What are the core personal knowledge management activities that enable digital nomads to leverage digital technologies in order to construct a functioning knowledge ecology? Artikel [3] fokus How to explore the construction of the knowledge management model for engineering cost consulting enterprises? Artikel [4] dengan topik How digital nomad community negotiates digital mediation in the form of an information infrastructure and the gig economy? Artikel [5] mengusulkan How to digital nomads participate in the market economy? Berdasarkan pada karakteristik problem, teknologi, metodologi, interpreatasi, dan temuan yang dihasilkan secara ringkas, artikel tersebut ditampilkan pada Tabel 1.
... 38 Hamilton-Smith (1992), Müller (2016), Paulus (2018). 39 Thompson (2018), Sutherland and Jarrahi (2017), Orel (2019). 40 Müller (2016), Thompson (2018). ...
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This chapter offers a new, brief yet cohesive introduction to travel across Mongol Eurasia. It is usually assumed that this period resulted in the movement of relatively large numbers of people across vast distances. However, previous studies of this period have not adequately distinguished between different types of movement within the wider Mongol sphere. This essay seeks to develop a thorough discussion of the different forms of movement in this period, by interrogating texts of travel accounts through the lenses of curiosity, motives and redefinition of the self within a description of geographic and social spaces. It critically reconsiders the amount of trade carried out during the so-called Pax Mongolica , and it explores an array of examples of travel writings, penned by both European and intra-Asian authors.
... 38 Hamilton-Smith (1992), Müller (2016), Paulus (2018). 39 Thompson (2018), Sutherland and Jarrahi (2017), Orel (2019). 40 Müller (2016), Thompson (2018). ...
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The article explores German encounters with East Asia in the rise of German nation-state building and imperial ambitions since the Revolutions of 1848 until the inner consolidation of Imperial Germany in the 1880s. It focuses on the scientific explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen and his curiosity and knowledge creation in his writings in relation to the German public debates on Asia. In physically travelling through Asia, Japan, and China in particular, Richthofen observed and constructed a transnational German image of Asia that went beyond crude racial stereotypes or sweeping assumptions of exclusive Eurocentric superiority while drawing upon his own identification of scientific observation and Prussian Kultur . Curiosity even under the guidance of Eurocentric imperial assumptions was open for social observations to construct differentiated images of Asia as spaces of interaction and change.
... 38 Hamilton-Smith (1992), Müller (2016), Paulus (2018). 39 Thompson (2018), Sutherland and Jarrahi (2017), Orel (2019). 40 Müller (2016), Thompson (2018). ...
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The chapter discusses the perceptions and constructions of Asia in the Mongol period, focusing on two travellers going eastward in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: William of Rubruck and Ibn Battuta. By reconstructing the context and motivations for their voyages, the author traces European and Arab perceptions of East Asia and Inner Asia as they emerge from two key travel reports. Particular attention is given to the scope and limit of their curiosities, exploring similarities and differences in both mental attitude and perception of Asian spaces. The scholarly concept of othering so often applied to travellers entering the East is here questioned and problematized. Interestingly, social imageries of Asia often went beyond quoting ancient authorities and repeating known tropes of classical and holy texts. This finding in turn sparks questions about the relationship between changing narratives, mobilities, and agendas behind the production of knowledge.
Chapter
Digital nomadism is a relatively recent tourism segment associated with the generalization of information and communication technologies (ICTs), having increased notoriety and relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. This public is characterized by professionals who exclusively work online, while having an independent lifestyle, balancing work and leisure. This research aims to understand if the Trás-os-Montes Lands (a small region in the northeast of Portugal) hold the necessary conditions to position itself as an attractive destination for digital nomads. To this end, a macro analysis of the characteristics of this territory and the tourist accommodation in the region was carried out. In view of the results obtained it was found that although Trás-os-Montes Lands have touristic potential ability to meet the particular needs of the digital nomads segment, it is necessary an action plan to enhance the attractiveness of the destination for this audience.KeywordsTourismDigital nomadismTouristic destinationTrás-os-Montes landsCase study
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