What is a “global nomad?” If you mistakenly thought the New York Times was publishing an article about Tuareg rock superstars Tinariwen, you would be wrong. Or maybe they are writing about Roma people coming to the United States? No, not that either.
The photo at the top of the article should have given me a clue that I wasn’t going to like the contents. Two young, attractive, wealthy white people lounge by a beach house, one on her Macbook, the other in a hammock on his iPhone. Is it an Apple commercial, I thought? As disappointing as it would be to see an Apple commercial passed off as news in the Times, the reality is sadly much, much worse.
“A global network of live-work spaces is springing up to serve this new breed of millennial wanderer.”
Oh yes, dear reader, this article is about the global 1%, that privileged group of humanity with US, EU, Australian, Swiss, or NZ passports who can enter and leave almost any country at will, visa free, splashing around their Dollars, or Euros, or Swiss Francs in just about any country on earth. Ayelet Shachar calls this group the winners of “The Birthright Lottery, the 1% of people lucky enough to be born with the right kind of passport. The world is literally their oyster. (Full disclosure: I am one of these people. But at least I have the decency to feel ashamed of it.)
Personally, I am ashamed to live in a world where the 1% go through special lines in airports all over the world, visa free, never stopped by border patrol, the top worry of their minds whether or not their Macbook gets stolen. Want to earn a US salary but only pay the cost of living in Thailand? No problem! You have a US passport!
Do most “global nomads” notice the long lines of the global 29% at the airport, waiting nervously to see if their visa will be accepted? Do the “global nomads” even know about the 89% of migrants who don’t travel by plane, who have never had a visa anywhere, who get from A to B on rickety boats, or trucks driving at night, who get into a shipping container not certain if they’re going to ever come out again? Do global nomads realize their passport, that little blue or red book, is more powerful, more expensive and more controversial than Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket?
When I was a young, entitled, western college student, we would inflict ourselves on poor cities for a limited period of time, usually in Asia or Eastern Europe, for a period of a few months to a year, before returning home to become productive members of society. Thanks to computers, the 1% doesn’t need to be at home to be productive anymore. Many of them can do their jobs anywhere. And so the “Global Nomad” movement was born.
My issue is not so much with the phenomenon of global nomadism, which actually makes a lot of sense if you like to travel and you can work remotely, but with the cluelessness of the people involved in the movement and, by extension, the Times article about them. It’s like watching someone eat white truffles while claiming that truffles are “peasant food.” The article is full of killer sentences like this one:
“Traveling the globe became a way for Smith to regulate his cost of living according to how much his various online hustles brought in, a strategy that Ferriss called “geoarbitrage.” If you’re scraping together $1,000 a month, the logic goes, the money will go further in Thailand than in New York.”
I’d love to show that sentence to a Thai person applying for a visa to visit family in the US. Or show that sentence to a Zimbabwean. Or what about a stateless person, with no passport from any country? Ha ha ha ha ha!!!! So funny. That person is just laughing and laughing.
But the best sentence in the entire article has got to be this one, out of the mouth of the founder of “Roam,” which provides communal lodging for the nomadic 1% in locations all over the world:
“Nomadism, Haid argued, allows the discontented or disenfranchised to design new, sustainable lifestyles in the global marketplace. It’s a means of letting human capital find the path of least resistance, wherever it may be.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I’ll just show it to the Estonian women riding in the back of a chicken truck, on their way to Germany, they hope and pray. Or one of the Syrian moms struggling to carry her toddler across Turkey. Or to one of the young Somali men being sold in the market in Libya. They will find that quote very, very funny, I assure you. Oh Haid, capital always follows the path of least resistance, but most people cannot, due to a little something called “border patrol”.
For the 1%, international travel is an unimpeachable right, so fundamental that it is never mentioned, completely taken for granted in every way. The Times article is clearly designed for NY Times readers, to help them decide whether or not they might like to try being a “global nomad.” But there should be a huge, red, disclaimer across the top: Just make sure to be born with the right passport.