in a perfect world of yancies: Nomadic Economist

24 April 2008

Nomadic Economist

So on my way to Chicago I was reading the Economist and I came across this Leader about mobile technology and behavior. Fascinating.

Illustration by Belle Mellor for the Economist.

Some of it is quite wonderful and encouraging:
The car divided cities into work and home areas; wireless technology may mix them up again, with more people working in suburbs or living in city centres.
Huzzah, I say.

Some is less rosy, especially as concerns social interaction.
As for friends and family, permanent mobile connectivity could have the same effect as nomadism: it might bring you much closer to family and friends, but it may make it harder to bring in outsiders. It might isolate cliques. Sociologists fret about constant e-mailers and texters losing the everyday connections to casual acquaintances or strangers who may be sitting next to them in the café or on the bus.

Deeper in, though, in the special report, things get even more interesting.

I won't keep quoting it back to you, but here's one salient bit:
Urban nomads have started appearing only in the past few years. Like their antecedents in the desert, they are defined not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it. Thus, Bedouins do not carry their own water, because they know where the oases are. Modern nomads carry almost no paper because they access their documents on their laptop computers, mobile phones or online. Increasingly, they don't even bring laptops. Many engineers at Google, the leading internet company and a magnet for nomads, travel with only a BlackBerry, iPhone or other “smart phone”. If ever the need arises for a large keyboard and some earnest typing, they sit down in front of the nearest available computer anywhere in the world, open its web browser and access all their documents online.

Pretty interesting to note that, largely because of the prohibitive price of wi-fi at the Palmer in Chicago (booo!), I never used my laptop on the trip. All my emailing, scheduling, even checking the Greek text of Plato's Theaetetus? Cell phone. Quite a liberating feeling, I have to say.

And the whole social interaction thing? Well, Christian insisted that if I joined him for dinner I turn off my phone. I went upstairs to change, checked my email, and then fell asleep. . . . Now, I had been up since 4am, but it makes you wonder, doesn't it?


  1. Not much of a nomad here, no laptop, no cell phone, no ipod.....I guess a low tech score for me.
    I would like to hit a APA meeting that all you kids go to, I usually save the travel money for the International SK Congress and the Core Text and Courses (JW) each year.

  2. You big phony--I know you have a cell phone. You've sent me pictures from your damn cell phone. Probably have an iPod too that you're trying to hide . . .