Monday, April 28, 2008

Nomads

A special report from economist.com discusses a new tribe of nomads - those unwired mobile users, always connected to each other.
Another big misunderstanding of previous decades was to confuse nomadismwith migration or travel. As the costs of (stationary) telecommunications
plummeted, it became fascinating to contemplate “the death of distance” (the title of a book written by Frances Cairncross, then on the staff of The Economist). And since the early mobile phones were aimed largely at business executives, it was assumed that nomadism was about corporate travel in particular. And indeed many nomads are frequent flyers, for example, which is why airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines and Continental Airlines are now introducing in-flight Wi-Fi. But although nomadism and travel can coincide, they need not.

Humans have always migrated and travelled, without necessarily living nomadic lives. The nomadism now emerging is different from, and involves much more than, merely making journeys. A modern nomad is as likely to be a teenager in Oslo, Tokyo or suburban America as a jet-setting chief executive. He or she may never have left his or her city, stepped into an aeroplane or changed address. Indeed, how far he moves is completely irrelevant. Even if an urban nomad confines himself to a small perimeter, he nonetheless has a new and surprisingly different relationship to time, to place and to other people. “Permanent connectivity, not motion, is the critical thing,” says Manuel Castells, a sociologist at the Annenberg School for Communication, a part of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

I have to admit that I'm not quite a mobile nomad. I avoid my cellphone as much as possible. I get a bit annoyed while eating dinner and a friend checks her text messages. But I'm part way there. I have this blog, I'm on LearningTown, I'm playing around with Twitter and Spaz, I want an iPhone, and I may have even texted a photo or two to a friend.

So, is it me? Or do these articles seem a little off, a bit not there - like hip parents trying to appreciate their son's latest and favorite band, but not really getting it?

Where I see a disconnect is in the lack of Web 2.0 discussion. Or in the idea of weak ties getting weaker while family and close friend ties grow. For instance, bringing Twitter into the discussion, (or even blogs/comments for that matter), would add a new dimension to the worries about not interacting "with the wider society around them" or not gaining from the various viewpoints of strangers. In my opinion, there is probably truth in the changes happening to in person communication. (Answering texts in the middle of dinner, for instance.) But I don't think that it's at the expense of interacting with strangers. What I do think is very relevant and I can't remember it being mentioned is the Digital Divide. What happens to those without computers, the Internet, mobile devices, text/IM plans? Are they left in the lurch?

2 comments:

Jeff Larche said...

One of my favorite writers and speakers on youth and technology, danah boyd [sic] predicts what Web 3.0 will be about place. Here's her post.

Nomads of today are not rooted by a formal "home base," but they're always connected. And place becomes, oddly, more important instead of less ... probably because we still need to meet, regardless of our constant electronic monitoring. It's just in our biology.

I agree that the social effects of this Nomad Effect are fascinating, and yet to be fully understood.

P.S. Why is it The Economist is such a solid source for this type of information? I love the magazine, and rely on it at least as much as some of the major technology blogs for authoritative and timely reporting on how technology is changing our world.

Keep up the great work. I've just subscribed! :-)

Virtually Scholastic said...

Connectivity eliminates distance.

As long as there's an internet connection, it doesn't matter which country I'm traveling through, visiting or living in at the moment.

It's all about having the skills - the scalable and transferrable skills - that enable effective, efficient and flexible use of rapidly evolving technologies. Oh, and don't forget an open mind - that's a critical one!

Connect doesn't have to come from the physical presence of humans. Our nature is changing as a race. We are much more of an energetic society then we realize - and getting less physical by the day.

Education is essential.

Technology is inevitable.

Education + Technology = Connection