Finding a place to belong in the world when you can belong anywhere
Does trading traffic and an office cubicle for a life of salami making, organic gardening and oyster harvesting sound like a distant dream?
Or jetting off for years on end, stopping to work and play as you go, for as long or little as you desire? How much of a demand is there for this nomadic work relationship that challenges the traditional 9-5?
We are entering a ‘new economy’ and this era requires new approaches. The employee of the future is the most adaptive to their fast-changing environment and deadlines, and leverages the enabling power of technology to untether them from the shackles of the 9-5. They are mission driven and outcome focused.
With the growing interest and needs of jobs such as Service Design, UX and Agile Project Management, whichfocus on rapid problem solving and virtual orchestration rather than face-to face interaction, there has been a rise in the digital nomad, enjoying a location-less existence where the beach, cafes or even parks become temporary working spaces.
With that in mind, does ‘place’ still shape our identity in a world where people can work and live anywhere across the globe?
Traditionally, we regarded our identity as something coming from where we were born and where we grew up, influenced by family, friends, neighborhood, city and country. The place we were born defined who we were.
Presently there are 244 million people working, living and experiencing cultures alien to their own. Collectively it represents the fifth largest ‘nation’ on Earth. This is driven largely by the opening of borders and large immigration movements, the desire for more urban experiences and a more global tribe defined and developed by mindset, not location.
On the other side of this coin, more and more people work collectively across the globe, without leaving home, or work at ‘home’ from anywhere in the world. Speculation is that there will be one billion digital nomads by 2035.
Davide Giusto, a film producer, who works across Europe and Australia, says the office is wherever his phone and email are. “I think digital nomadism is about transcending the office walls, the 9-5, and proximity tied collaborations, in favour of a more limitless approach,” he says.
He sees it as a way to overcome borders. “Borders limit people, ideas and business opportunities. The Internet Age has allowed us to virtually transcend them, creating global citizens and fostering collaboration and cross-pollination in every field.”
Presently there are 244 million people working, living and experiencing cultures alien to their own.
Collectively it represents the fifth largest ‘nation’ on Earth.
Identity begins to shift as it becomes less connected to the place you grew up in and increasingly shaped by new experiences and cultures.
Giusto reflects, “although I might be Italian by birth, I feel mostly Australian in practice. In Australia I have learnt to take opportunities as they come and not be afraid. Being Italian as well, I am resourceful and creative in overcoming problems and tend to live in the moment.”
As population movement prevails, we are slowly changing from a world where we’re defined by our commonalities of place, to one defined by commonalities of work, goals and interests. How will people find a sense of belonging, traditionally tied to place and home, when those concepts no longer exist?
Marc Dunkelman, author of ‘The Vanishing Neighbor’ outlines how our experience of place and community has changed in the 21st century. He orders our social connections into three ‘rings’. In the first ring are family and close connections, the second or middle ring, is made up of your fellow workers and people in your neighbourhood ‘with whom an individual is familiar but not intimate’, and a third, outer ring includes connections that don’t transmit daily personal information, such as people you know on Facebook.
In a practical sense, Dunkelman sees a shift from the middle ring to a society where people increasingly don’t know their neighbours.
An Aviva study in the UK found that one in eight people don’t know the names of their closest neighbour. Long commutes after lengthy working days, children in day care and both parents at work have an impact. How can you be neighbours when there are no neighbours around?
Professor Jason Byrne from University of Tasmania argues that the design of cities plays an important role in this. “It is possible to be lonely in a crowd. If a city does not support the ability of a resident to build a close network of friends, and to have solid and personable interactions with neighbours, they can become socially isolated.”
He warns that social isolation can be connected to rising levels of depression, anxiety and even suicide.
“To combat some of these problems, urban planners and designers need to create “third spaces” for accidental and informal social interactions, such as community gardens, parks, men’s sheds, cafés etc. We need a high-quality public realm, with safe and walkable streets and opportunities for better social interaction”.
Designing better interactions both online and offline has spurred on a number of new technology platforms that help design community-driven connections. Platforms like Equiem (a property management platform that helps tenants engage with one another) and Happify Health (an emotional wellbeing platform) are some of the many examples of business leveraging the vacuum for a greater sense of connection and wellbeing.
As we strive to make sense of our place in this fast-moving, complex, highly networked world we find ourselves in, we still seek out one of the simple human truths that motivate us, the desire to belong, to connect, to share time with others. But to what purpose? To play? To work to change the world?
So what does this look like in the future? It’s a world where digital nomads create and attract digital neighbours; connected through online experiences and shared interests, no longer limited by shared places.
This article was created by BBC StoryWorks, the BBC’s global commercial content division, on behalf of OFX.
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