Is digital nomad living going mainstream?

Who'd a thunk it? A fringe band of crazy working globe-trotters just might be onto something

Sell the house and the car. Put up all your possessions on eBay. Pack your bags and buy a one-way ticket to some exotic location. The plan? "Telecommute" from wherever you happen to be. Earn an American salary, but pay Third-World prices for food and shelter.

The digital nomad, location-independent lifestyle once seemed so impossible, exotic and unlikely that only a few people dared even attempt it. But now, a lot more people are doing it, and it seems like everyone else would like to. Could it be? Is the digital nomad lifestyle about to go "mainstream"?

I was asked to be interviewed last week by the producers of something called the Ideas Project, a Nokia-sponsored site that explores what the "big ideas" are for the future of communications. I could have talked about anything, but I chose to address what I think will be the single trend that will do the most to change how people work: The location-independent digital nomad trend.

I've been writing about the digital nomad trend for a couple of years, but I and a tiny handful of writers have been nearly alone in our prediction. Suddenly, however, it seems that everyone is taking about digital nomad living.

The Washington Post ran a story this week about a new category of digital nomad service where you can rent office space and office equipment, like printers, while traveling. The story highlighted companies like Affinity Lab in Washington, but also talked about how digital nomads mostly gather in coffee shops and other places where wireless access is available. The article tried to dig into the economics and psychology of the digital nomad location-independent trend, calling the lifestyle a "natural evolution in teleworking," and pointing out that people enjoy choosing their own co-workers (by working in public places).

In case you missed it, let me spell that out in another way. One of the biggest mainstream newspapers in the country now agrees with what only a tiny number of us have been predicting for years: The digital nomad trend is inevitable.

I've also noticed a dramatic uptick lately in the chatter about the digital nomad lifestyle on social networking sites, such as Twitter. Digital nomad bloggers are reporting increases in traffic to their sites. Why?

All roads lead to hitting the road

A perfect storm of micro-trends are colliding before our very eyes to facilitate the lifestyle of traveling while working, and working while traveling. These include the usual suspects, such as the declining price of electronics and bandwidth and of an increasingly globalized economy. But they also include trends that don't seem that obvious.

The biggest of these is that the technologies, products and services that digital nomads use to work while traveling are themselves becoming popular among everybody, even those who never travel. Just read the headlines on this news site. Google Voice. Online apps. Netbooks. Apple's tablet. Videoconferencing. E-book readers. Social networking for business. These are digital nomad-enabling trends, but everybody is participating in them. It will get to the point where the only difference between an ordinary white-collar worker and a digital nomad is an airplane ticket.

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