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Digital Nomadism and the Market Economy: Resistance and Compliance

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Digital nomadism is a growing phenomenon wherein technology enables new forms of resistance against the norms of the market economy. However, digital nomads inevitably also comply with the market economy. In this paper, we synthesise literature about the complicating role of technology in the market economy throughout history, to develop a research framework for an empirical study of digital nomadism and the market economy. Based on this research framework, we have conducted some preliminary fieldwork, observing the emergence of five trends in how digital nomads participate in the market economy: collaborative creative consumption; self-driven and self-disciplined work; reimagination of work materials; interjurisdictional prospecting; and unregulated de-facto citizenship. These trends have a range of theoretical and practical implications that we will continue to uncover in our ongoing research.
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Digital Nomadism and the Market Economy
Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 1
Digital Nomadism and the Market Economy:
Resistance and Compliance
Short Paper
Blair Wang
UNSW Business School
Sydney, Australia
blair.wang@unsw.edu.au
Daniel Schlagwein
University of Sydney Business School
Sydney, Australia
schlagwein@sydney.edu.au
Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic
UNSW Business School
Sydney, Australia
dubravka@unsw.edu.au
Michael Cahalane
UNSW Business School
Sydney, Australia
m.cahalane@unsw.edu.au
Abstract
Digital nomadism is a growing phenomenon wherein technology enables new forms of
resistance against the norms of the market economy. However, digital nomads
inevitably also comply with the market economy. In this paper, we synthesise literature
about the complicating role of technology in the market economy throughout history, to
develop a research framework for an empirical study of digital nomadism and the
market economy. Based on this research framework, we have conducted some
preliminary fieldwork, observing the emergence of five trends in how digital nomads
participate in the market economy: collaborative creative consumption; self-driven and
self-disciplined work; reimagination of work materials; interjurisdictional prospecting;
and unregulated de-facto citizenship. These trends have a range of theoretical and
practical implications that we will continue to uncover in our ongoing research.
Keywords: digital nomadism, market economy, digital work
Introduction
Digital nomadism is emerging as one of the latest technological advances in the history of technology
accompanying changes in how societies and economies are organised. Digital nomadism is characterised
by a lifestyle of perpetual international travel enabled by digital technologies and digital practices
(Schlagwein 2018). Those who live this lifestyle are known as digital nomads. Digital nomads leverage
digital technologies in all their forms: highly-portable hardware, cloud-based software, and modern
online platforms and ecosystems for communication and collaboration (Nash et al. 2018).
The broader socioeconomic context for digital nomadism is the market economy, to which it has an
ambivalent relationship. We observe that digital nomadism is a product of the market economy and yet in
many ways exemplifies resistance to the market economy. However, this resistance is muted by an
inevitable outcome of compliance when such resistances are explored in further depth.
In this research-in-progress paper, we present our empirical study that aims to understand this apparent
paradox and thus reveal an under-explored aspect of the digital nomadism phenomenon. What we have
found so far is that that this resistance-compliance paradox occurs in five areas that we present and
elaborate upon in this paper: collaborative creative consumption; self-driven and self-disciplined work;
reimagination of work materials; interjurisdictional prospecting; and unregulated de-facto citizenship.
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 2
The remainder of the paper is structured like so: The second section presents a literature review that
unpacks the state of current knowledge about digital nomadism and its economic conditions; and explains
the historical evolution of concept of the market economy. The third section presents our research
framework developed from the synthesis of existing literature. The fourth section presents our research
design for an empirical study for inquiries based on this research framework. The fifth section presents
preliminary findings from our fieldwork, wherein the resistance and compliance seen in digital nomadism
is framed as five emerging trends in how digital nomads participate in the market economy. The sixth and
final section presents our contributions and future directions for our research.
Literature Review
Digital Nomadism and Its Economic Conditions
We adopted a hermeneutic approach to literature review and literature search (Boell and Cecez-
Kecmanovic 2014). This is because research about the emerging phenomenon of digital nomadism is
characterised by a relative scarcity of literature and by studies clustering around a few major recurring
themes (Wang et al. 2018). Specifically, existing research about digital nomadism seems to be clustered
around the individual digital nomad’s trajectory and quest for a better life (Reichenberger 2018; Hall et al.
2019; Büscher 2013; Czarniawska 2013; Müller 2016), or the technical aspects of the infrastructure used
by digital nomads (Jarrahi et al. 2019; Nash et al. 2018; Sutherland and Jarrahi 2017). Yet these micro-
level practices are shaped by, and in turn shape, macro-level circumstances such as the economic
conditions. Research addressing the economic conditions of digital nomadism has largely mentioned it
only in passing when generally discussing macro-level circumstances such as sociological and cultural
concerns. However, the economic conditions in the form of both resistance and compliance emerge
from within this literature, as discussed below.
Firstly, resistance and compliance emerge in relation to work practices in the labour market. Due to their
rejection of secure employment and ‘9 to 5’ work hours separated from leisure hours, digital nomads are
said to gain freedom, but exist in a “conflation of perpetual travel and work” (Nash et al. 2018). However,
these work conditions are highly precarious and subject to the conditions of the market economy (Ens et
al. 2018), therefore requiring each digital nomad to have comprehensive entrepreneurial and business
skills (Bartosik-Purgat 2018; Bancilhon et al. 2019) while committing additional effort to overcome
institutional gaps between digital nomads and their sometimes very traditional clients (Kong et al. 2019).
Secondly, resistance and compliance emerge in relation to the format of economic production. Due to
their status as knowledge workers, digital nomads have many opportunities in an increasingly knowledge-
based economy (Moravec 2013; Wood 2005). As digital workers, digital nomads also enjoy the
opportunities afforded by the digital age including highly efficient work tools and online services (Wang et
al. 2018). However, such opportunities undermine productivity since “digital nomads are permanently
anxious and stressed because their labour productivity is not high enough comparing to the opportunities
they have” (Kuzheleva-Sagan and Nosova 2014, p. 136).
Thirdly, resistance and compliance emerge in relation to governments and their economic policies. Due to
their ability to easily move between different economies and nation states, digital nomads are said to be a
new type of “extraterritorial elite” (Dobrinskaya 2016), which seems to challenge the dominance of the
nation state. However, such conditions have their origins in the nation state. Due to their backgrounds,
typically young professionals from developed nations who choose digital nomadism to escape “downward
mobility, shrinking governmental safety nets, and raising rates of debt” (Thompson 2018, p. 23), digital
nomadism seems to be a response to governments’ inability to bring equal opportunity to all.
In order to specifically address the concerns surrounding the economic conditions, we proceeded with the
established theoretical lens of the market economy to inform our further investigation of such concerns.
The Complications of Technology in the Market Economy
The concept of the “market economy” was first articulated by Adam Smith (1776), who asserted this
economic model as the most efficient allocation of resources. Today, the market economy is the
international system in which goods and services are produced, exchanged, and consumed in allocated by
the forces of supply and demand, emerging naturally from the populace without central control. This
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 3
system is also referred to as ‘capitalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ (though there are historical and theoretical
nuances outside the scope of this paper differentiating these terms). The forces of supply and demand
emerge from the effort required for production, and the desirability of goods and services for
consumption. A society’s allocation of scarce resources to various sectors e.g. agriculture,
manufacturing, healthcare, creative arts, scientific research is thus arranged by the forces of supply and
demand. In order to produce value in the market economy, some work must occur. This work involves
human effort and skill applied to some natural resources. Smith (1776) referred to this as the ‘factors of
production’: ‘labour’ applied to ‘land’ (from which the natural resources were acquired). For labour, one
must pay ‘wages’, and for land, one must pay ‘rent’. Additionally, Smith (1776) observed that there was a
third such ‘factor of production’, the ‘capital’ the equipment used by the labourer. This equipment is
technology for which to pay ‘investment’. Even prior to the proliferation of digital technologies, these
relatively simple agricultural technologies introduced complications to the ideal of the market economy.
The first such complication is the inequitable distribution of new technology in the market economy. In
the midst of the accelerating Industrial Revolution, Karl Marx observed that one segment in Western
societies, the ‘bourgeoisie’ of capitalists (entrepreneurs and owners), seemed to be leveraging their
ownership of the material factors of production (resources and equipment) to exploit the human factors of
production, the labourers. Not only did the bourgeoisie control the land, but they also possessed the
newest and best equipment t0 extract natural resources from the land (Marx 1867). Meanwhile, the other
segment, the ‘proletariat’ of labourers (workers), seemed to provide the most strenuous human efforts in
production, but at relatively low wages due to their limited bargaining power against the well-endowed
bourgeoisie. While there have been historical cases of uprisings intended to put the proletariat in control
(e.g. the former USSR), Marx’s critique of the market economy have emphasised the importance of
addressing inequitable distribution, which is now achieved in modern liberal democracies to some degree
through a combination of collective labourer bargaining enacted through trade unions, and welfare
programmes enacted through progressive taxation systems (Deeming 2014).
The second such complication is the uncertain potentiality of technology in the market economy. A
historical example is the Great Depression (1929-1939). During this economic turmoil, John Maynard
Keynes observed (Keynes 1930; Keynes 1936) that, contrary to Marx’s views, entrepreneurs are not always
exploitative freeloaders. Entrepreneurs, Keynes argued, contribute to society by allocating some of their
profits towards investments in new business ventures leveraging new technologies, despite their uncertain
outcome. Failure to do this, Keynes argued, had exacerbated what he termed the “technological
unemployment” of the post-war era that had led to the Great Depression, characterised by
“unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at
which we can find new uses for labour” (Keynes 1930). Combined with later work by Friedman (1968),
these ideas developed by Keynes have inspired economic policy wherein governments, to be successful at
managing their economies, do not merely ensure equitable redistribution of wealth they also ensure that
wealth circulates towards new investments, through both the manipulation of interest rates and currency
value (monetary policies) and direct payment for new technological infrastructure using taxation revenue
(fiscal policies). Such regulatory and interventionist policies are ubiquitous in modern nation states.
The third and most recent complication comes from the post-scarcity conditions introduced by digital
technology. The concept of post-scarcity comes from the concepts of excludability and rivalry. In
economic theory, a product is non-excludable if it is difficult to deny access to those who do not pay for it,
and non-rival if access by a new user does not diminish usage by existing users. Such a product is a ‘public
good’ (Samuelson 1954). Prior to the proliferation of digital technologies, information and knowledge
existed in physical forms that were indeed by their nature both excludable and rivalrous. However, digital
information is in fact a natural public good (Mihet and Philippon 2018; Benkler 2002), since it can be
instantly replicated for use by an unlimited number of parties, and thus non-excludable and non-rival
(copy prevention technologies exist, but are often circumventable). The market economy, then, is a
potentially unsuitable paradigm in an increasingly information-based economy. Consequently, to avoid
sudden and potentially destructive structural changes to the status quo, the market economy is kept in
place through legal interventions such as the concept of intellectual property, a form of artificial scarcity.
Combined with the reduction of scarcity even in non-information products due to increased automation,
humanity is therefore said to be approaching a ‘post-scarcity’ paradigm: although scarcity still applies to
certain sectors of the economy, scarcity-free sectors working with information-based value creation are
increasingly more relevant (Chernomas 2016). By extension, this is said to be a ‘post-capitalist’ paradigm,
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 4
in which “the nation state is not going to ‘wither away’ … but it will no longer be the indispensable one; it
will share power with other organs, other institutions, other policy makers” (Drucker 1993, p. 9).
Research Framework
Synthesising from our above literature review of (1) macro-level socioeconomic concerns in digital
nomadism and (2) the evolution of the market economy, we arrive at our research framework in Figure 1.
We arrive at this framework by identifying how key concerns in the literature about economic conditions
surrounding digital nomadism (bottom panel) have their origins in the downflowing effects of the pillars
of the market economy (middle panel), which have been shaped by the downflowing effects of the
historical evolution of the market economy (top panel).
Figure 1. Research Framework, synthesising from prior literature
To ground our inquiry in the theory of the market economy, we derive research questions from the pillars
of the market economy (middle panel), each addressing how digital nomadism resists and complies with
not just the concerns already identified in the literature (bottom panel), but indeed, all pillars of the
market economy (middle panel). These are Research Questions 1-5:
How does digital nomadism resist against and comply with the market economy’s established …
1. … practices of consumption and trade? (RQ1)
2. … organisation of the human factors of production? (RQ2)
3. … configuration of the material factors of production? (RQ3)
4. … implementation of monetary policies by governments? (RQ4)
5. … implementation of fiscal policies by governments? (RQ5)
Research Design
Research approach: To answer our research questions, we adopt an interpretivist epistemology (Klein
and Myers 1999) seeking to remain sensitive to the richness and depth of human experiences.
Accordingly, compared to more positivist approaches, we seek to remain receptive to what may be
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 5
considered ‘biasas the basis for generating new categories of discourse. However, compared to a
historical-materialist approach, we do not assume technological determinism (Shaw 1979), but rather, an
open-ended set of potentialities (Feenberg 2005). Accordingly, although we have cited Marx (among other
economic thinkers), we do not adopt Marx’s historical materialism (Marx 1867; Shaw 1979).
Sampling approach: We conduct fieldwork expeditions in locations that attract a significant number of
digital nomads. To date, these have included Ubud (Indonesia) and Taipei (Taiwan). Our field studies
involve observations and interviews with digital nomads and other stakeholders involved in digital
nomadism. So far, we have conducted open-ended in-depth interviews with 8 current digital nomads, 4
service providers to digital nomads, 1 ex-digital-nomad, and 1 aspiring digital nomad (14 in total). Both
the choice of fieldwork locations and the selection of interviewees are purposive theoretical samples. In
our observations (Oct.-Nov. 2018) of the rankings on the digital nomad community website
nomadlist.com, Ubud and Taipei are both digital nomad hotspots. However, they attract different types of
digital nomads (i.e., those seeking a ‘tropical paradise’ vs. those seeking a large cosmopolitan city), and
different types of stakeholders have different perspectives about the broader phenomenon of digital
nomadism. Both these locations is managed by a government that facilitates a market economy model of
consumption and trade (cf. RQ1) and production (cf. RQ2, RQ3), yet with a non-trivial but also not
limitless extent of government intervention with respect to monetary and fiscal policies (cf. RQ4, RQ5).
Data analysis: Each interview was recorded with the interviewee’s permission and transcribed into text
data files. We are currently in the process of analysing the interviews through a hermeneutic approach
(Gadamer 2004; Klein and Myers 1999) involving multiple cycles of iterative understanding,
operationalised by open and axial coding facilitated by the NVivo 12 Pro software package.
Preliminary Findings
Our findings so far are characterised by five emerging trends in how digital nomads participate in the
market economy. These involve both resistance against and compliance with the market economy, as per
RQ1-RQ5 (see Table 1, and the details presented thereafter).
Table 1. Five Emerging Trends, in how digital nomads participate in the market economy
Resistance
Compliance
Emerging Trend
Seeking transcendentalism
instead of consumerism
Still need to consume,
esp. for physical projects
Collaborative
creative consumption
Seeking flexibility instead
of fixed regimented routine
Still work long hours as
labourer-entrepreneurs
Self-driven and
self-disciplined work
No need for physical
resources and assets
New need for workspaces,
both online and physical
Reimagination of
work materials
Evading the business cycle
and government regulation
Still influenced by
monetary policies
Interjurisdictional
prospecting
Evading local taxation due
to ambiguous legal status
Still contribute, and still
use public infrastructure
Unregulated de-facto
citizenship
Table 1. Five Emerging Trends, in how digital nomads participate in the market economy
Emerging Trend 1 Collaborative Creative Consumption (re. RQ1)
Digital nomadism resists the market economy’s call to sustain high levels of consumer demand. This trend
emerges not only from the pragmatic concern of having fewer physical goods to carry from place to place,
but also in a deeper gravitation away from consumerism and towards transcendentalism. This is well-
captured by the endpoints of one digital nomad’s journey “I left [my job in large company], sold my
furniture and my stuff in San Francisco. I went to India, I travelled around … I was starting to really love
yoga more and more, it was helping me quiet my mind a bit” – from a city life filled with material
consumer goods, to a nomadic life defined by the transcendental value of spiritual practices.
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However, digital nomads cannot completely negate the inevitable need for consumption. They may limit
their purchase of physical assets, but they must consume services ranging from transportation and
accommodation to workspaces and paid community memberships. In particular, in our fieldwork in
Taipei, we discovered the emergence of two types of digital nomads: (1) those producing purely digital
goods and services, and (2) those producing digital goods and physical goods, particularly physical goods
that enable digital production (i.e., electronic equipment). The latter have greater consumption needs for
their work. We were reminded that many travelling entrepreneurs, expats, and digital nomads gravitate
towards Taipei and similar cities due to the proximity of these cities towards the electronics
manufacturing process, which is essential for producing the very tools that digital nomads must
necessarily consume. As we heard from one coworking space owner in Taipei, about how he came to
create his coworking space:“if I get the tools, get the space, and then I share it, you know, basically this
new model of sharing equipment and manufacturing facilities, turning it into like a gym so you pay a
monthly fee and you have access to all the tools and then you can prototype, you can make small volumes
… a lot of them were foreigners, because they didn’t know where to find these resources”.
Overall, digital nomads may resist the general sentiment of consumerism, but they must still consume.
However, this consumption takes on a creative nature. It is creative in that it enables creativity in the
work produced by digital nomads, whose work is closely related with the concept of creative consumption
(Page and Pitt 2011). It is also creative in that it takes on creative and innovative formats such as the gym
model, which is the concept of collaborative consumption (Ritzer 2013). Thus, we arrive at the emerging
trend of digital nomads participating in the market economy through collaborative creative consumption.
Emerging Trend 2 Self-Driven and Self-Disciplined Work (re. RQ2)
Digital nomads speak extensively about their resistance towards a fixed regimented routine of a ‘9 to 5’
job. This is not only as a matter of personal liberty, but also as a matter of economic efficiency and human
dignity. As one digital nomad recalled: “Having to go into an office at 8:30AM to 6PM and be seen to be
doing work when you might go through two hours of ‘I've finished my work for the day, you know, I want
to bust out’, it's like ‘no no, you've got to be seen, you've got to be here’, and then when it comes to End of
Financial Year, I've got to do a month worth of twelve hour days … so this is just treating people more like
adults, rewarding them f0r the work that they do as opposed to the amount of time they sit at the office”.
While resistance against the fixed regimented ‘9 to 5’ routine enables such improvements to working life,
it also results in precarious work that is insecure and uncertain, open to market volatility. The ‘9 to 5’ is
not automatically replaced with a mere ‘four hour work week’, despite how Ferriss (2007) seems to have
inspired digital nomads to pursue such an outcome. Digital nomads are indeed a new class of
entrepreneurs, but these are labourer-entrepreneurs who work even longer hours than the standard ‘8
hours a day’. Digital nomads must work both for their clients and for their own business development. As
one digital nomad described: “I’m working the weekends now, but we work more during the week for our
clients, and on the weekend usually we do our marketing, so, we work for us … If the digital nomad is like
the dreamer that works few hours, and then spends the rest of the day travelling, … then I feel more like a
slow traveller. You change location, and you stay there maybe six months, but you still have to work. The
four hours a week is bullshit in my opinion. If you want to build something that gives you stability and is
good, you have to work”. Thus, we arrive at the emerging trend of digital nomads participating in the
market economy through self-driven and self-disciplined work.
Emerging Trend 3 Reimagination of Work Materials (re. RQ3)
Digital nomads resist the typically high barriers for new entrepreneurs to enter the market economy. No
longer does a new business venture require at the very least an office space for employees to collaborate
and clients to visit; instead, all of this can be achieved through networking events and subsequent digital
communications. For the initial meeting, we discovered that digital nomads often pick up new clients
during their travels. As one digital nomad described: “the main thing is still direct networking. You meet
people, you talk with them”. Thereafter, they can continue the relationship from the initial momentum, as
another digital nomad described: “you can still build a relationship with people even if everything is
digital. With my clients, I always have at least one phone call with my client. It doesn’t have to be video,
audio is fine, but I need to have at least one phone call with a client before I accept their job … that’s how I
establish the human connection with them, and I kind of get a sense for who they are, then the rest of the
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 7
time, everything’s electronic, that’s fine when they’re just writing messages to me, based on what I’ve
gotten from their personality, I can still get a feel for what it sounds like if they’re saying it to me”.
However, there are still providers that must be paid for these services; even those that are, at face value,
free of charge. Firstly, digital nomads have observed that the owners of online platforms such as
crowdsourcing and freelancing websites now have substantial power in their work practices and profit
from their work. As one digital nomad described: “Freelancers and clients have disputes and in those
situations, [the platform] always sides with the client. If I were a freelancer in that situation, I would be
pretty pissed … [and the platform] takes a huge cut of every project, which is 20% right now. It used to be
a lower rate”. Secondly, digital nomads often gravitate towards paid memberships in coworking spaces,
even if they do not need a workspace beyond a hotel desk. Such workspaces’ owners offer explicit benefits
towards digital nomads, providing an overall so-called ‘soft landing’ for such ephemeral travellers. As one
coworking space provider described: “We have a lot of events here, not only the learning event but also the
social event, also a brainstorming event. The last one we had, one of our members needed some help
finding a good name for his booking flight tickets website, and we just brainstormed together … and for all
the people who want to start their digital nomad life, we have this programme where we provide people
with accommodation, coworking membership for a month, we organise everything for them starting from
the airport pickup, even SIM card for them, because we want them to soft-land here in Bali. If they need a
motorbike, we also arrange for them”. Thus, we arrive at the emerging trend of digital nomads
participating in the market economy through the reimagination of work materials.
Emerging Trend 4 Interjurisdictional Prospecting (re. RQ4)
Digital nomadism emerges as form of refuge from the market economy’s business cycle of booms and
recessions. Monetary policies’ attempts to manage this cycle have often failed or exacerbated problems, as
was the case of the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s. We heard from one expat who did not seek a
life of digital nomadism but found himself there due to the business cycle: “The financial crisis hit pretty
viciously. My plan was to move to London and then base myself in Europe, but everything was sour, really
sour. I put out feelers to Australia, to London, and to the Cayman Islands. Australia said, don't even
bother because we've got so many people coming back from overseas who had lost their job, really highly
qualified finance people coming in and that's where I came up here. Ubud was never a kind of place I
wanted to focus on, I always wanted to be near the beach, but up here was a better entrepreneurial vibe”.
However, this form of resistance is neither complete rejection nor complete isolation from the market
economy and its associated monetary policies. This resistance is, rather, a nuanced response to the
realities therein. Digital nomads are in fact influenced by such things and are electing, to the best of their
abilities, to respond on their own terms. We were given the example of ‘offshoring’ by one digital nomad:
“People think of offshore jurisdictions as tax havens but they serve another purpose, which is asset
protection. All my clients were moving part of their wealth outside of the grasp of corrupt
governments”. As such, digital nomads are prospectors, who move between jurisdictions seeking to
optimise their conditions. Thus, we arrive at the emerging trend of digital nomads participating in the
market economy through interjurisdictional prospecting.
Emerging Trend 5 Unregulated De-facto Citizenship (re. RQ5)
Digital nomadism emerges as a form of circumvention around certain aspects of fiscal policies,
particularly around taxation and border control. Digital nomads typically do not pay income tax to their
host nation states because they are typically travelling on tourist visas with no work permit. It is what one
digital nomad in Bali described as “a grey zone, because we are working but we are not working in
Indonesia because we have clients all over the world”. However, this form of resistance does not
completely prevent digital nomads from contributing to public revenue. In particular, the same digital
nomads also pay for local services such as coworking space membership, and coworking spaces, being
local businesses, do in fact pay taxes. Such coworking spaces also arrange for non-monetary contributions
to the local community such as pro-bono charitable work through what one coworking space provider
labelled as a “co-giving programme let’s say, if we saw some local businesses that need some help in
marketing, or website, not a lot of people know how to start on it. So, we try to connect the members that
we know, to help the local businesses to grow”. Hence, through improvement to the local business
environment and consumption of local services, digital nomads still contribute to the host nation.
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Fortieth International Conference on Information Systems, Munich 2019 8
Digital nomads also benefit from the infrastructure paid for by nation states and their fiscal policies.
These are easy to take for granted, but their occasional breakdown causes particularly severe problems for
digital nomads who are, compared to other kinds of workers, relatively more reliant on mobility as part of
the way they do business. For example, as previously mentioned, digital nomads often conduct initial
relationship-forming meetings during physical travels and sustain the relationship thereafter through
digital communications. One digital nomad spoke about how the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in
Iceland disrupted transportation infrastructure: “the volcano in Iceland erupted and Europe was shut for
a month, there were no planes, people I was supposed to work with stuck in New York, so the deal
couldn't go through”. Therefore, the digital nomad is in many ways much like a citizen, essentially a de-
facto citizen, but unregulated due to their ambiguous legal status. Thus, we arrive at the emerging trend of
digital nomads participating in the market economy through unregulated de-facto citizenship.
Concluding Remarks Contributions and Future Directions
This research-in-progress paper has described five emerging trends in how digital nomads participating in
the market economy, based on the fundamental pillars of the market economy. The trends are identified
based on the voices of digital nomads and stakeholders whom we have interviewed in our fieldwork. The
trends illustrate digital nomadism resisting against the established norms of the market economy but also
inevitably, in some way, complying with the established norms of the market economy.
Through the development of the five emerging trends, we contribute to understanding of digital
nomadism and its implications for the market economy. In doing so, we intend to also contribute to
understanding of the market economy and its changing structure in an increasingly digital and mobile
world. For practitioners, including digital nomads, stakeholders, and policymakers, this is an important
space to learn about, since the latest trends will impact how their business is conducted. For researchers,
each of the trends in how human beings work and organise themselves represents an area of research
which is emerging and hitherto under-explored. However, given the exploratory nature of our research,
our contribution is the identification and framing of the issues at hand, rather than a complete theoretical
explanation for the antecedents of each trend, which could be an opportunity for future research.
Our research is currently being expanded to new locations seeking further interviews with digital nomads
and observations of their work practices and lifestyles, as well as online sources such as blogs and forums.
Both our data collection and the resulting analysis are still being actively developed and the trends that we
have described in this paper are tentative depending on what we discover in further stages of our research.
Acknowledgements
One of the co-authors of this paper is conducting this research with the assistance of the Commonwealth
of Australia through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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... The term "digital nomad" has developed in academic discourse and gained momentum within the IS [9,19,22,23] and CSCW [6,13,16,30] communities as a modern lifestyle which foundational characteristics are intertwined with the notion of mobility in the sense of "fluid work" or "mobile teleworking". Aside from the "liquid" nature [36] that characterizes this workforce in constant movement across locations and occupations as an integral part of their work per se [6], the "work-from-home" imposition brought by pandemic has resulted in an increased focus on aspects like work-family boundaries and leisure [5,11], trust and motivation [16], and work overload [8] experienced by individuals in remote work settings whilst on the move. ...
... In the Social dimension, topics related to professional and business relations developed in the marketplace segment niche [16,19] are addressed taking into account the underlying characteristics of communities [19], cultural and traveler tribes [6,9,10], production and commercialization of digital content [24], and socioeconomic aspects [17,18,23,24]. ...
... Finally, in the Technological dimension, aspects of IT platforms [17,20,23] built to provide human resources to the labor market [16,22], means of payment [23], communication [3], and artifact sharing through cloud computing [20] are treated. This dimension also comprises IT resources that are specific to travelers but also generally used by DNs, including "assembling actants" [4], coworking spaces [4,25 ] and other IT infrastructure resources [4,13]. ...
Conference Paper
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In this paper, we report on new findings about the results of an empirical study which aims to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic has been shaping nomadic work practices and also challenging the lifestyles of digital nomads (DN). To do this, we collected textual data from posts in a Reddit community. We argue that, in order to understand how to design technical solutions for the so-called ‘new normal’ working conditions, one way to approach this is to understand how digital nomads are being impacted in their work practices and routines, and also how they are seeing the future of their technology-mediated work-life space. Finally, we show how evidence collected from DNs about their experiences and difficulties perceived during the pandemic period can inform CSCW researchers worldwide about future design-oriented strands.
... Extrapolating to the economic context, more specifically in the case of gig/shared economy, some works (e.g., [9,23]) have argued that digital work has transformed the factors of production in order to create digital goods and thus challenge the traditional economy. They also claim that DNs regularly deal with novel technologies that are difficult to regulate, their finances leave no trace for governments, and they consume and produce services in what some economists usually call 'gray-market'. ...
... They also claim that DNs regularly deal with novel technologies that are difficult to regulate, their finances leave no trace for governments, and they consume and produce services in what some economists usually call 'gray-market'. As pointed out by Wang and co-authors [23], digital nomads are transforming the market economy through a new set of resistance practices against its established norms and regulations such as local taxation, border control, or fixed regimented routines. As a result, some trends have emerged regarding the active participation of digital nomads in the market economy by means of self-driven work practices and collaborative creative consumption leveraged by interpersonal networking activities and communication mediated by digital environments with no need of physical assets. ...
... In the social dimension, topics related to professional and business relations developed in the marketplace segment niche [16,19] are dealt taking into account the underlying characteristics of community [19], production and commercialization of digital content [24], and their cultural [6] and socioeconomic aspects [17,18,23,24,26]. ...
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Full-text available
We report the first findings of an empirical study aimed at investigating how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the work practices and lifestyles of digital nomads (DN). To do this, we analyzed messages, questions and comments posted by digital nomads in a specific online discussion community of the Reddit social network. Preliminary findings indicate COVID-19 as an opportunity to test DN lifestyle by aspiring digital nomads who want to plan their careers and also present evidence of an overload of online channels for actual DNs. On the other hand, we found that much of the literature on digital nomadism is fragmented and scattered through different disciplines and perspectives, with a strong focus on digital nomads' lifestyles. In order to obtain a holistic and unified understanding of digital nomads, we conducted a comprehensive literature review to further conceptualize the phenomenon under study.
... Extrapolating to the economic context, more specifically in the case of gig/shared economy, some works (e.g., [9,23]) have argued that digital work has transformed the factors of production in order to create digital goods and thus challenge the traditional economy. They also claim that DNs regularly deal with novel technologies that are difficult to regulate, their finances leave no trace for governments, and they consume and produce services in what some economists usually call 'gray-market'. ...
... They also claim that DNs regularly deal with novel technologies that are difficult to regulate, their finances leave no trace for governments, and they consume and produce services in what some economists usually call 'gray-market'. As pointed out by Wang and co-authors [23], digital nomads are transforming the market economy through a new set of resistance practices against its established norms and regulations such as local taxation, border control, or fixed regimented routines. As a result, some trends have emerged regarding the active participation of digital nomads in the market economy by means of self-driven work practices and collaborative creative consumption leveraged by interpersonal networking activities and communication mediated by digital environments with no need of physical assets. ...
... In the social dimension, topics related to professional and business relations developed in the marketplace segment niche [16,19] are dealt taking into account the underlying characteristics of community [19], production and commercialization of digital content [24], and their cultural [6] and socioeconomic aspects [17,18,23,24,26]. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
We report the first findings of an empirical study aimed at investigating how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the work practices and lifestyles of digital nomads (DN). To do this, we analyzed messages, questions and comments posted by digital nomads in a specific online discussion community of the Reddit social network. Preliminary findings indicate COVID-19 as an opportunity to test DN lifestyle by aspiring digital nomads who want to plan their careers and also present evidence of an overload of online channels for actual DNs. On the other hand, we found that much of the literature on digital nomadism is fragmented and scattered through different disciplines and perspectives, with a strong focus on digital nomads’ lifestyles. In order to obtain a holistic and unified understanding of digital nomads, we conducted a comprehensive literature review to further conceptualize the phenomenon under study.
... Flexibility plays a big role in digital nomadism, since resisting routines facilitates changing working structures and schedules (Wang et al. 2019). This kind of freedom has changed the value of time and money (Reichenberger 2018). ...
Chapter
By earning a living through skillful use of location-independent digital technologies while on the move, the concept of digital nomadism has become increasingly popular. Under the influence of digitalization and globalization, people – including entrepreneurs, freelancers, and employees – have started to leave the regular “9-to-5” work structures behind and change their expectations of work, particularly in terms of their balance between work and private life, thereby extending the concept of work-life balance to work-leisure balance. Due to this changing perspective, work is increasingly seen as a part of a lifestyle that encourages workers to choose their environment based on leisure preferences rather than professional circumstances. Within this chapter, we review the existing but still fragmented literature on the phenomenon of digital nomadism, which constitutes an “extreme” form of flexible work. In doing so, we aim to contribute in two ways. First, we provide a comprehensive overview and definition comprising four recurring elements of digital nomadism (i.e., digital work, flexibility, mobility, and identity and community). Second, we analyze the opportunities and risks associated with each of these four elements of digital nomadism in order to spur future research in these directions. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
... In particular, co-living spaces explicitly focus on the social value of living together to help overcome the isolation that urbanity and digital nomadism bring along, in addition to battling the high rent at the destination (Ciolfi and Lockley 2018;Thompson 2018). As Wang et al. (2019) further posits, co-living spaces can help digital nomads build deeper and more sustainable relationships within their limited time at the destination. Co-living spaces thus become an integrative part of a digital nomadic lifestyle. ...
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Chapter
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The enthusiasm around remote and independent working has rapidly gained momentum in the last few years. The digital nomad phenomenon has frequently been portrayed as an exemplar of this pattern and referred to by the media as a highly location-independent form of nomadic work. However, findings from this study highlight the centrality of various spaces in digital nomadic work and suggest finding and configuring these spaces allows digital nomads to accomplish productive work. Building on interviews with 23 digital nomads and analyzing pictures of workspaces from Twitter, this study examines the unique relationship among disparate workspaces, work practices, and technologies that shape nomadic work. Our findings refine the common argument that nomadic workers can work from "anywhere, anytime," by attending to the large roles that space may play in shaping work.
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This paper presents a literature review and conceptual development of digital nomadism. Digital nomadism is characterised by mobile workers indefinitely travelling between different locations while continually fulfilling their work obligations. The emerging literature on digital nomadism is fragmented and primarily focused on digital nomads' lifestyles. There is comparatively less focus on theoretically framing digital nomadism into broader narratives in human history. In order to gain a holistic understanding, this paper reviews the limited literature on digital nomadism and expands to other relevant literatures on economy (e.g. traditional boundaries in business), culture (e.g. lifehacking), and technology (e.g. telework and digital communication). These three theoretical framings of digital nomadism enable this paper to identify the current state of knowledge relevant to digital nomadism and develop a research agenda.
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Much contemporary work, from knowledge to ‘gig’ work, is now digital. While digital work can be flexible and fun, it is not always ‘decent’ according to the United Nations development goal. The increased use of digital technology has the potential to both facilitate and threaten decent work; however, to date no systematic assessment exists of its impact for different types of digital workers. In this research-in-progress paper, we propose a theoretical framework differentiating four types of digital workers: Gig Worker, Digital Nomad, Nine to Fiver, and Travelling Elite. We illustrate the work-life of each with a vignette and discuss how technology can enable and constrain decent work. We propose a research design based on the diary method to outline how the role of ICTs in decent work can be studied empirically, laying the foundation for better work design in the future.
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In 1997, Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners published their future-looking manifesto Digital Nomad that, decades later, would present as a manifesto for a lifestyle movement. At the time, businesses and the US government were interested in looking at tele-commuting, productivity, and work-family balance. Critiques of a neoliberal economy provide insight into understanding the context of freelance and online, piecemeal employment. This article examines the types of employment that digital nomads engage in, based on in-depth interviews with thirty-eight self-identified digital nomads. The participants mostly originate from wealthy, industrialized nations, and have many class privileges, but are underemployed compared to what their socioeconomic status would historically suggest. As most participants are in the Millennial Generation, an overview of the shifting so-cio-economic status of this age-cohort is examined in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union-notably their high educational achievements and increasingly precarious employment status. Many of the nomads were working part-time with their own micro-business, with few able to maintain full-time employment. Few have benefits such as healthcare, retirement, unemployment insurance, or family leave. While "free-dom" is touted as the benefit of gig-work, by both industry management and digital nomad enthusiasts, this lifestyle marks a shift towards precarious employment-itself not a basis for economic freedom, nor security.
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In the domain of digital work, a new phenomenon has emerged that is increasingly referred to as "digital nomadism". Digital nomadism involves mostly Western professionals using a range of information systems (IS) and information technology (IT) tools to work digitally over the Internet while travelling perpetually in typically exotic locations. Existing theories of reasons for IS/IT use seem to have limited applicability to digital nomadism because technological and economic aspects need to be considered jointly with sociological and anthropological aspects for a comprehensive theoretical understanding of digital nomadism. Grounded in the findings of in-depth ethnographic and digital-ethnographic research, the study presented here develops theory and generates new knowledge in regard to the justification used in digital nomadism. It answers to the research question: Why do people engage in digital nomadism? The preliminary data analysis reveals three themes that explain how people justify their engagement in digital nomadism. The theoretical analysis positions these three themes in wider value systems (orders of worth).
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This book explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in Knowmad paradigm.