Bashing 4 new myths about digital nomads

The digital nomad honeymoon is over, and the backlash has begun. Here are the new myths — and the facts — about digital nomads.

Some new and potent myths about digital nomads have emerged in the past few weeks. I come to bury these myths, not to praise them.

Myth 1: Digital nomads price locals out of their communities

The most significant new complaint about digital nomads is that, as a group, they're pricing locals out of their communities.

The example location is usually Mexico City. Mexicans are "fed up" with digital nomads, we're told.

Take a closer look. Whenever numbers are trotted out as evidence — people, prices, etc. — they always lump digital nomads together with tourists to make their case against digital nomads, specifically.

The "fed up" article presents the alarming fact: "Nearly two million foreigners touched down at the Mexico City International Airport in the first half of 2022."

Wow. Sounds bad. (Never mind that New York City received more than 6 million foreigners during the same period.) How many of those Mexico City visitors were digital nomads? Very few, in fact.

Journalists and activists who push this myth love to point to Airbnb to make their case. Digital nomads are raising housing prices, they say — just look at how Airbnbs affect housing prices and neighborhoods, driving locals away.

In fact, the percentage of Airbnb customers who are digital nomads is a one-digit percentage of the total.

Airbnb itself revealed the highest percentage of its guests who ever worked at some point during their Airbnb stay: 20%.

That minority includes people checking their email on vacation, bleisure travelers, workcation fans — and digital nomads.

In short, the Airbnb impact on housing prices is being blamed on digital nomads, when the problem is caused almost entirely by tourists.

Digital nomads are actually great for the communities they live in.

They spend money like a local without taking a job from a local. Instead, they create jobs and boost incomes by simply living.

American digital nomads are couriers. They collect money from American employers and deliver it to locals in the communities where they live.

So if anyone should complain, it's the American communities where digital nomads are not spending their income.

Inflation exists everywhere.

The cost of living in desirable places is too high and still climbing; this has been true for decades. Likewise, gentrification has occurred for decades. But lazy journalism that uncritically parrots the anti-Airbnb activists who blame it all on digital nomads is misleading, dishonest, and just plain wrong.

What we need are real studies measuring the total economic, employment, housing and well-being effect of actual digital nomads on local communities. Such studies would show that digital nomads are very, very good for the communities where they live.

Myth 2: Digital nomad visas are the result of business lobbying

A digital nomad critic says that the global contest to attract digital nomads —mainly in the form of so-called "digital nomad visas" shower favorable travel rules on digital nomads. They point out that those perks don't represent the desirability of nomads, but businesses pressure governments to enact these policies.

Again, this is an evidence-free, made-up claim.

Besides airlines, there is no business type commonly frequented by digital nomads with lobbying power. And only a tiny one-digit percentage of international airline traffic apply to digital nomads. It's mostly tourists and business people, and you don't see visas inviting tourists and business people to stay longer.

Governments create digital nomad visas because it's good politics for them.

Myth 3: Digital nomads are more 'remote' than remote workers

This idea is more obsolete than mythical.

In fact, in the old days of office work, where remote workers were rare and digital nomads were rarer still, everything was organized around normal work hours at HQ.

Connectivity abroad was limited, and international digital nomads seemed harder to reach.

In the new workplace, flex work, flex time, asynchronous communication, and Zoom calls mean everybody, from office workers to digital nomads, should all be expected to be equally accessible and available.

Myth 4: Digital nomadism and remote work cost Americans their jobs

The alarmist thinking goes: Once companies are forced to accept remote workers, they might as well hire foreigners in other countries for pennies on the dollar and save money.

This reminds me of the offshoring scare from a few years ago.

Remember when everybody's job was being "outsourced" to India, the Philippines, or China? (The truth was that vastly more work was being outsourced to the US than from it in terms of the dollar value of the work.)

The claim stems from the media's recent discovery of a year-old paper with the subtitle: "On the offshorability of teleworkable jobs."

But specific jobs either have "offshorability" or they don't.

And the desirability of actually offshoring is either there or isn't. If it's there, companies should do it.

Computers were supposed to take jobs. Automation was supposed to take jobs. Robots were supposed to take jobs.

And here we are, sitting at a 3.5% unemployment rate in the US.

Historically, efficiency always resulted in more and better jobs, on the whole.

These four new myths are based on bias and faulty reasoning. Ask to see the evidence whenever someone tells you digital nomadism is a catastrophe. 

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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