Digital nomad, digital homebody, or somewhere in between?


Whether your mobile computing device of choice is a UMPC, MID, smartphone, netbook, or notebook, do you like working at coffee shops? Do you enjoy setting up your mobile office in a public place with free wireless access, perhaps exchanging friendly smiles and engaging in small-talk with other people just like you? If so, then you might be interested in the latest articles about your digital nomad lifestyle over at Computerworld and The Washington Post. You'll probably be able to relate to other nomads who apparently "have begun co-working in public places or at the homes of strangers" because they "want the feel of working with officemates."

And if you can relate to that . . . then I can't really relate to you. Not when it comes to work habits and preferences, anyway.

I've mentioned before that despite my passion for mobile devices, I'm actually an anti-mobile user of portable tech. Although I will work away from home if I have to, I never go out of my way and choose to do so. Unlike the social butterflies that are digital nomads, I prefer to work in silence with absolutely no distractions or interruptions.

In fact, one of the reasons I quit my first job out of graduate school (the only "real job" I ever had) to become self-employed was to get away from my co-workers and reclaim the freedom I had before entering the "real world." I was only at that job, where I worked as an editor, for a little over two years but the office politics (not to mention the micro management and ridiculous elementary school playground mentality) were too much to bear. Even though the pay was good, the benefits were fantastic, and I had my own office, I had to get out of there.

But rather than look for another office job in publishing, where I was certain I would encounter the same type of environment, I decided to become a full-time freelance editor and work from home on my own schedule.

Before taking the plunge, I did a lot of research on the pros and cons of self-employment. Aside from the obvious possibility of financial instability, one of the most commonly cited issues was cabin fever. To combat that, I decided that I would leave the house for a few hours every day and go somewhere (a park, the beach, Starbucks, the library, wherever) to write. My master's degree is in English with a specialization in creative writing and I've been writing fiction since I was in elementary school, so I'm never without a short story, play, or novella to work on. Pardon the tangent, but my love of writing is actually the reason I became interested in mobile computing devices in the first place: I wanted something small to carry around with me everywhere so that I could write anywhere.

Anyway, so the plan was to leave the house every day and work in a public place.

More than 5.5 years have passed since then and though my full-time work has changed from freelance editing to running Pocketables, one thing has remained the same. I have never left the house to work in a public place unless I was traveling out of town or I had all-day plans that wouldn't allow me to get some work done either before I left the house or after I got home.

For me, home is where I work; everywhere else is where I play. Yesterday, for example, my husband and I spent the afternoon at the movies, having lunch, and shopping. I could have easily taken one of my gadgets with me to do some work while waiting for the movie to start, after eating lunch, or maybe even walking down the aisles (thanks, mobile/microblogging). But I didn't. And you know what? I didn't even consider it for a second.

The main purpose of a mobile device is to be mobile with it, I know, but that just isn't the case with me. I'm a digital homebody. I love portable tech and will never lose interest in pocketable gadgets, but I think I like the mobile possibilities of the devices more in theory than in practice. I like knowing that I could get all of my work done at Starbucks or the mall if I wanted to. But I don't want to. When I'm at Starbucks, I want to drink my frappuccino and talk to whoever I'm there with. When I'm at the mall, I want to shop.

I spend so much time being connected to the online world at home that I want to be unconnected and present in the offline world when I'm out.

My name is Jenn and I'm a digital homebody. Who and what are you?

Image from Dell's Digital Nomads website.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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17 thoughts on “Digital nomad, digital homebody, or somewhere in between?

  • Wow…I could not be more different than that. I am self employed and technically work out of my home, but absolutely hate it. The reason ? I hate not only the isolation but I hate the fact that my personal space is forever in my mind associated with work. I also don’t like being pinned down in anyone place for too long (I get bored easily)

    I tend to work in 2 or 3 places each day. A typical day starts at about 6:30 AM (at home) checking the capital market’s disposition. Answering any unanswered emails from the prior day, and making a list of things that absolutely need to get done today take me into 11 AM territory. On alternate days I usually spend the next 2 hours visiting my mom who is nursing home care (yeah, I know I am the good son)and then a quick lunch back at home.

    After lunch it’s off to the public library for about 3 hours of work via what I call “taxpayer WIFI”. It is not my favorite place to work as the chairs are incredibly uncomfortable (think designed by former Nazi scientist) and the constant whispering around you eventually drives you to thoughts of mass slaughter. But some research resources and the ability to check out some books for vids for later viewing offer an additional incentive.

    After the library, a couple of ours down at the local Starbucks seems to be the place where I am most productive during the day. It’s not the people (I think they are mostly pretentious yuppies pretending to be part of the ‘gourmet’ cafe crowd), it’s not the quiet as it is much noisier than the library but maybe because there is also white noise in the form of music in the background it doesn’t bug me. I think what makes it my favorite place to work is that on most days I know this is where I finish my work day….kind of like getting a second wind going into the homestretch of a race I think.

    Other places are Panera cafe (but I avoid except when Starbucks is crowded as the bagels and breads are way to tempting). I also at times rent some temporary office space from a local office center when meeting new clients or running small group seminars. And finally I often need to visit clients at their homes after work hours and often use their WIFI if they are setup that way.

    So bottom line I am just as anti-social as Jen really, the difference may be single and living alone vs married. I need to get out during the day or I would go crazy at night after working all day at home…make sense ?

  • Well first off, I’d like to say, something like this should be posted in an “About Me” page in order for readers to find out what type of perspective you’re writing your reviews and articles on.

    Secondly, I believe I’m a bit of both. When I’m out of the house and I want to be. Mobile tech is usually the last thing on my mind. Aside from boring moments waiting where browsing the net, posting status updates and taking pictures with my phone fill the time. For all intensive purposes, with friends and out of the house, I want to enjoy my company and interact with the world! Not the internet (unless there is absolutely nothing to do).

    At home is where I get my work done. It’s where I do my heavy internet usage. Unless something forces me out of the house (i.e. school, work, appointments, etc) full on internet access does not go with me. In those particular cases, having mobile tech to get work done is a blessing. Shooting a last minute e-mail to a client. Finishing up an important phone call. Typing the last bits of a paper before a deadline. Finish fixing a network or computer issue. Things I would not be able to do if the technology wasn’t there. True I could always wait until I come back, but in the case of deadlines, or where time is worth money, every second you have to work on something becomes important.

    But here’s where I intend to merge social usefulness and the internet. I know you’ve seen my wearable computing article that made rounds in the tech blog world for a little bit, and I present that as a system that will not just allow anti social people to become even more anti social outside of their natural environment, but instead enhance social situations by keeping useful situation pertinent information at fingertips and eyeballs. It’s hard to put in to words my vision about the system, but I believe that it won’t serve only as a more personal interface to facebook or youtube, but rather something that assists instead of impedes daily function.

    I believe the main purpose of mobile devices is to be productive or to aid in our leisure while being mobile, but more and more often I see it impeding social contact. I guess I’m a bit like you in a sense that while I love the usefulness of mobile devices in theory, I limit how much I use them in practice. To that, I must add that the theory needs to be refined. How we use the devices must also be defined. The introduction and subsequent spread and usage of the iPhone would serve as a very interesting study as to how a popular new device is used, and how future devices could be designed to improve upon such use.

  • Avatar of turn.self.off

    i suspect i am fairly similar to you, jenn. I never got into the whole work thing, as i cant stand the interaction with colleagues. Yet at the same time i find the idea of internet anywhere, anytime quite interesting…

  • That’s quite a daily schedule, hazmat! Do you work on weekends as well?

    I’m a bit of a vampire so my work day generally doesn’t begin until about noon. Before this pregnancy, I used to spend at least 12 hours per day behind the computer. Sometimes I swear my only free time was when I took a shower. Now, depending on what I *want* to do, I sometimes call it a day after only 2 or 3 hours! It largely depends on how I feel these days, as this baby has already taken over my life. I can’t imagine how my work schedule will change once she’s born.

    Even when I worked much more, though, I never had trouble separating “home life” from “work life,” even though both happened in the same place. I used to have a proper desk when I was editing but with Pocketables, my office has gradually migrated primarily to the living room couch. When I’m done with work, I have no problem putting my Vaio TZ to sleep, pushing it over to the side, and carrying on in the living room as though I just got home from a day at a real office.

    My husband works mostly from home as well, so that probably plays a huge part in my ability to stay inside for so long. My dad jokingly calls me a gerbil. :-D

  • Good point about the “About Me” page, though I always mention my homebody usage of a device if it’s relevant to what I’m writing. In most cases, though, where something is used doesn’t really impact how it’s used, as I can just as use something standing up (for example) here at home or standing in line at the bank. Same goes for setting up a gadget on a flat surface, using it on my lap, or testing it in handheld mode.

    I’m looking forward to the next iteration of your wearable system. What kind of “situation pertinent information” do you think would be most useful? When you interact with the system, how is it different to others than just pulling out your phone to check something? It seems that you’re still being pulled away from the real-life interaction, though perhaps it’s more jarring because rather than looking away at your handheld device, you could still be looking right at the person. If he/she doesn’t know that you’re really looking at on-screen info, it might just look like you’re spacing out or staring.

  • Well…the reality is that once you become as old and crusty as I am, you will understand that the best time to make decisions is when your energy level is still high….6:30 AM til about 2 PM…after that it’s all downhill.

    Of course what I didn’t mention, this being a family oriented blog, is that much of my ‘public’ space workday is taken up with girl watching, browsing the net aimlessly or snacking.

    And yes, I often work weekends simply because I make investment decisions only with markets closed (one of my core policies that prevents emotion from coloring trading decisions)and clients like to see certain things posted when they have time to review, ie weekends. But it also gives me some latitude during the week…ex…right now I am doing laundry and ‘thinking’ about vacuuming…lol.

  • Haha. Noon actually *is* my morning! It’s almost 3am right now, for example, and I’m on the computer and my husband is cleaning the stove. Bedtime won’t be for a while.

  • I once took a trip to a beautiful, sparsely-populated island in the Caribbean called Saba. I was outside every day marveling in the beauty of the place. I’m hoping you get out every day and enjoy the perfect island weather.

  • For work, I can mostly get by with my PDA phone.

    It has a calendar, word, and excel which is all I need on jobsites.

    The tablet could do manual J calculations, but anymore the supplier will run those for free.

    I really use portables because I am a news and chat junky.

  • No, there are definitely days that I don’t leave the house at all. When my morning sickness was at its first, I literally didn’t even step outside my front door for several weeks straight! Even worse is that I didn’t notice it had been that long. I was born here in Hawaii, so I’m afraid the island weather and scenery have almost become white noise to me. :-O

  • Hi there.. I’m a digital nomad homebody :) I love to travel, to be new places, to work from scenic places with an everchanging office view. And I also love to be at home, work in solitude.

    So, I and my partner, have made a different digital nomadic lifestyle. We’re actually nomadic without a fixed home. Our home is on wheels, is small, solar powered and highly geeked out. We work remotely, and usually ‘from home’. For us, it’s our perfect meshing of embracing the power of ‘and’ :)

    We rarely work from coffee shops and such. We carry our own mobile bandwidth via cellular data and have an onboard booster system to keep us connected. When we’re done with our workday (or evening), then we can go out and explore our new surroundings or meet up with friends/family.

    I love that everyday is travel.. and everyday is being at home.

    – Cherie

  • FYI, Brian:

    The correct phrase is “for all intents and purposes,” not “intensive purposes.”

  • Unlike most of the people commented, I found your story of being your own boss more interesting. And yes, I’m writing this after a very tiring and boring workday. I will be glad if you write more on this subject. Thanks Jenn.

  • Avatar of John in Norway

    Is it also true, Jenn, that the only reason you decided to start a family is to have someone to pass all your unwanted gadgets to?

    I also love mobile gadgets but very rarely use them away from home (apart from my E90). Still, like you say, it’s nice to know that you can! Just in case you should ever need to. :)

  • I don’t understand that kind of crazy talk, John. Gadgets are never unwanted or passed on around here!

  • The only reason I would list “being my own boss” as a self-employment perk is that I don’t like being told what to do. I’m fine with other people’s deadlines, but I like doing things on my own terms and at my own pace.

    The transition from graduate school to the “real world” was very strange for me, possibly because attending class wasn’t ever my biggest strength. So having a real job that involved unofficial timekeepers taking note of how long I stepped outside the office and having to ask permission to do something like go to the dentist/doctor just wasn’t for me. I understand that that’s all part of the real world, but I hated it. I had more freedom as a student/kid than as an adult!

    I suspect that being the youngest child plays a large part in my feelings about authority. I wonder if there have been studies on how birth order affects career choices and whether the majority of self-employed people are the babies of the family.

  • I am so exactly the opposite of you Jenn, it’s sort of amusing.

    I’m actually more transient than traveler, being effectively homeless because I haven’t found a good enough reason to become a homebody. I’m a freelance writer and starving artist, and I basically live online. I mean, I do the bulk of my communication by email. I don’t watch television but do stream anime.

    I can remember when my life fit in a duffel bag, but I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I actually own furniture and dishes, since I only see them about once a season when I have to drag something or other out of my storage… and even then, it’s usually to reference some obscure note I wrote myself a decade ago, and not because I’m throwing a tea party for a friend. I keep a lot of duplicates though… because I tend to wear the things I really like beyond usefulness. There’s some sort of cosmic rule about object failure… if it’s important, it’s going to break when you need it most. So I buy things as they become available and have them shipped to my storage, rather than cart around an entire household, when all I really need is a pair of chopsticks and a toothbrush.

    Oh my god but does it piss my mother off… For a while she decided that she hated my jacket, so she kept buying jackets for every occasion, giving them to me at every acceptable opportunity. I think there were five before she gave up, at least two over 600$. She finally asked why I kept refusing to wear them, to which I replied, I’d already had a jacket and I could only wear one at a time, so why bother owning more than I found useful? I don’t think I’d have ever taken the dishes out of the box… I don’t cook. Eventually everything I don’t find a use for within a reasonable amount of time gets given to somebody who needs it. That usually means that I’m doing some bi-annual organizing and had totally forgotten I owned it… there’s usually a list, but it’s shorter than you’d believe. I don’t actually forget much and I’m not really a shopper.

    But you don’t care about any of that… the pertinent part of this commentary is the part of my life that travels with me, not the part that collects dust in another state. Even before mobile computing was a truly viable option, I never had a problem finding a public use portal to the digital world. Internet cafes were convenient places to grab a quick lunch and shoot off a couple emails. Libraries have always been a favored place to lurk… It’s never difficult to find me if you know what city I’m in, because sooner than later I’m going to be spotted lounging in a corner with a stack of books taller than I am at the largest library or bookstore in town, guaranteed. For some reason I’ve never understood, they make it incredibly difficult to read real books online. Novels, sure. Articles on current events and industry news, no problem. But serious reading you have to go dig up a real book for. And there’s just something about having it in my hands that’s particularly satisfying. Maybe it’s the smell or the texture or the weight or the sound of turning pages… or everything or none of these, but I love books. I always have. That’s why I write.

    My father told me when I won my first awards (plural because I won two, one for each piece I entered in competition) at age twelve that raw talent wouldn’t be enough if I wanted to be great. I never wanted to be great, so I didn’t really listen to him then, but he tried to tell me that being a writer would be a hard life. He’s commented on writers and the nature of writing to me on a number of occasions, once even going so far as to say that he would never survive as a writer of fiction without being driven completely crazy trying to keep track of characters. Strangely, I’ve found that for me, it is not such a hard life being a writer. I’ve tried my hand at a dozen other things and done them well, but I like better being a jack-of-all-trades than a master of one. I don’t crave notoriety or fame as some sort of expert anything. Apparently, it’s supposed to be impossible to thrive without specializing in something.

    I like learning new things constantly and don’t plan to ever settle down to boredom and routine. I am forever walking holes in the soles of the shoes on my feet, looking for theftable wifi and a free outlet to charge my gear, but I wouldn’t trade it for the comfort of familiarity or the luxury of supposed security. Every zombie hunter knows that no place is safe, only safer, so what’s security anyway, really? I don’t mind sleeping in transit and waking up in strange places if it means exploring new places, every day an adventure. Technology paved the way for me to live on the road because this way I am not forced to haul around piles of notes and manuscripts and ledgers and compromise my art. In the beginning I had problems keeping my portfolio from walking away if I didn’t sit on it. Now all my work is digitalized and backed up, so if something goes missing it can be replaced without a huge hassle.

    My tech has to be small and light because I haul it all over Hell and back. But I also demand it be “cuddly”, because I’m one of those rare users who actually uses their laptop in their lap. If it’s too bulky or heavy it’s out, firstly because of mobility issues, but secondly because it’s just awkward to hold or puts my legs to sleep. I’ve used an Apple Powerbook G4 in the twelve inch aspect for years and years, but now even the most underpowered of the netbooks better meets my needs and handles newer software with more grace, so I’m retiring it. I paid a grand for it used, and it was worth every penny, but I’m not a fan of the newer Mac hardware. It’s just not worth what it once was to me. I mean, even the Air is a larger form factor… and there’s just not enough to it to win me over. So… netbooks seem the logical next step for me.

    I’ve got to handle a few and see them used in the wild more often all time, but there are so many to choose from it’s a little overwhelming to decide. I wish Fujitsu would come down on the price for their 8.9″ tablet, 2K is beyond ridiculous for specs that’s only real highlight is the fact that it’s full featured a micro-tablet. Nothing currently on the market comes close to being my perfect ideal, but something like that could replace almost ten pounds worth of electronics with a slender 2.5, and I’m all for that.

    I almost miss my first generation iPhone sometimes, but then I remember the bill and I’m much happier with the 23$ I spend for my prepaid every month, because I almost never used the iPhone to talk on. It was a sweet pocketable computer, but I don’t really need a smart phone… my other fingers get jealous when I use a thumb board exclusively for too long anyway. I need to be able to touch type, because when I don’t I have like… withdrawls where I’m typing in my sleep and end up hurting myself trying to write eight pages at a go when I do get a hold of a full sized keyboard again. It’s true. It’s happened before.

    And holy cow but do I need to shut up now.

    I can completely relate to your “vampire hours” Jenn, being photophobic and diurnally challenged myself. I never could understand why nobody really appreciates a sunset anymore, since I wake up to spectacular views almost every day. And what better way to end the day than with a cup of decafe and breakfast out under the fading sky? Although, I don’t actually wake up at dusk and my day doesn’t often end at dawn. My outings rarely get underway before I’ve said goodnight to someone, and don’t wind down until my friends are talking lunch, but I spend the bulk of my day holed up somewhere reading, writing, drawing, and napping.

    I remember times I’d kept an apartment and a regular day job, when I was working five days and dancing four nights a week, every week, for months on end. Afternoons were often cheerfully lazy, when my friends would come over for tea and we’d lounge around and build costumes or play video games on my days off. I never seemed to sleep back then… maybe because I ate better when I had a solid routine. It’s always been a trade off with me: eat and be hyperactive or diet and just be restless. The biggest deciding factor is that I get to spend the same amount of money on food whether I’m paying rent or paying fares, the difference being that eating in your own kitchen means you can buy in bulk and eating on the road means you have to pay someone else to cook. I’m told I’m less irritating when I’m a little hungry, because I’m easier to keep up with. It’s sort of exactly the opposite of the rest of my family. People make damned sure some of them are well fed, because when they get hungry they’re a surly lot. I don’t get grouchy, so it’s not an issue with me, but I’m banned from having caffeine because I’m kind of obnoxious for hours afterward and I won’t sleep for days.

    So… A heartfelt hello from this gadget loving, vagabond, night owl, former fire performer, and aspiring foodie. I used think that being successful would mean giving up the thing I loved most about my life (travel) to pursue either writing or art more seriously, but it’s travel that’s opened the door for me to realize a career in both. Because I’m a writer I get to do and see all sorts of things that most other people don’t. I can continue collecting trades (everyone needs a hobby, I aspire to be the most useful person on the planet) and taking odd jobs at random, because all experience becomes fodder for my work. “Write what you know”, right? Well, why not?

    Tonight it rained in Tucson. I sat in the back of a pickup truck under a corrugated aluminum carport and surfed the net on someone else’s broadband. It reminded me of being a surf gypsy in Hawaii for six months in 2005, the way the rain sounds on tin roofs walking through sleeping neighborhoods after midnight. How many people get to live like that? Like this… maybe just me.

    I’m really going to shut up now.



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