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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 27, 2009

THE RISE OF THE DIGITAL NOMADS

Washington Post - Frank Gruber's workstation at AOL in Dulles could be in any cubicle farm from here to Bangalore -- push-pin board for reminders, computer on Formica desk, stifling fluorescent lighting. It's so drab there's nothing more to say about it, which is why the odds of finding Gruber there are slim. This Story

Instead, Gruber often works at Tryst in Adams Morgan, at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon, at a Starbucks, in hotel lobbies, at the Library of Congress, on the Bolt Bus to New York or, as he did last week, beside the rooftop pool of the Hilton on Embassy Row. Gruber and Web entrepreneur Jen Consalvo turned up late one morning, opened their Mac laptops, connected to WiFi and began working. A few feet away, the pool's water shimmered like hand-blown glass. "I like the breeze," Consalvo said, working all the while.

Gruber and Consalvo are digital nomads. They work -- clad in shorts, T-shirts and sandals -- wherever they find a wireless Web connection to reach their colleagues via instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally by voice on their iPhones or Skype. As digital nomads, experts say, they represent a natural evolution in teleworking. The Internet let millions of wired people work from home; now, with widespread WiFi, many have cut the wires and left home (or the dreary office) to work where they please -- and especially around other people, even total strangers.

For nomads, the benefits are both primitive and practical.

Primitive: Tom Folkes, an artificial intelligence programmer, worked last week at the Java Shack in Arlington County because he's "an extrovert working on introvert tasks. If I'm working at home by myself, I am really hating life. I need people." He has a coffee shop rotation. "I spread my business around."

Practical: Marilyn Moysey, an Ezenia employee who sells virtual collaboration software, often works at Panera Bread near her home in Alexandria even though she has an office in the "boondocks." Why? "Because there is no hope for the road system around here," she said. Asked where her co-workers were, Moysey said, "I don't know, because it doesn't matter anymore."

Nomad life is already evolving. Nomads who want the feel of working with officemates have begun co-working in public places or at the homes of strangers. They work laptop-by-laptop in living rooms and coffee shops, exchanging both idle chitchat and business advice with people who all work for different companies. The gatherings are called jellies, after a bowl of jelly beans the creators were eating when they came up with the name.

Although the number of digital nomads is intrinsically difficult to measure -- they are constantly in motion and difficult to pin down for polling -- evidence of a real shift in where Americans work is mounting. Dell reports that its digital nomad Web site is getting tens of thousands of hits a month. Panera, a popular spot for people working wirelessly, logs 1.5 million WiFi sessions a month.

DIGITAL NOMAD SITE

1 Comments:

Anonymous Mike Flugennock said...

Tryst, huh? No goddamn' wonder I can't find a table to sit down and eat there anymore. It's wall-to-wall laptop slingers. I end up eating at the bar. Wotta pain.

July 27, 2009 9:07 PM  

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