The Digital Nomad Test

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Summer’s solstice, the longest day of the year seems to be a great day to sit in the backyard to read the usual weekly magazines and catch up on some writing. In a typical residential area in the middle of the city, my macbook detects almost a dozen different wireless networks including mine, of course. With a broadband connection and a high-end wireless router, there is no difference between what I can accomplish here or at the office on any given day. I’ll take the backyard every time I can.

Already in hackers & work culture I had discussed how the boundaries between professional and private live were blurred. First with a wave of mobile communication devices that made everyone accessible to attend business at any time of the day and now with ubiquitous wireless access points that are now converting everyone into a local nomad, pushing us away from our desks into third spaces, far more amenable and with a twist of social.

Connectivity seems to be an increasingly important factor when deciding where we are going to travel. After all, you wouldn’t want to be disconnected from twitter while travelling… or have to pass on a great project right in the middle of your trip. I’ll leave to other posts the discussion about entrepreneurial spirit, which may justify this obsession with being in the loop at all times.

In any case, knowing about what kind of connectivity you’ll get whether you are going to be away from the office for a few hours or a few days is now an essential factor in your decision process. While more and more destinations are offering wireless access (even for free), very few provide a good enough environment to support a productive work session. So that got me thinking on what are the “must-have” when it comes to connectivity?

We could talk about Wi-Fi, 3GS, EDGE, broadband, DSL, but there are far better forums for that kind of information if you are curious about the technology. Instead I propose the following test, a digital nomad test that expresses in simple human terms the quality of your connectivity:

  • Price Voice: How much would it cost to make a 5 minute call to the top contact from your mobile phone? While most destinations would likely provide the means for your current mobile phone to roam, sometimes the fees involved are prohibitive.
  • Price Data: Let’s assume you’re one of those modern workers who have achieved the goal of working only 4 hours a week. How much does it costs to be connected for those 4 hours on a given week?
  • Delay to receive a message: in today’s hyper-connected world there is an implicit expectation that if you’re sent a message (email, instant messaging, Twitter, etc), you would respond within a reasonably short time frame. Of course, if you’re trying to save on your data plan because you’re roaming and you only connect once a day, you’re for all intents and purposes disconnected. So this attribute measures how long it will take before you’re able to get a message sent to you.
  • Time to compose a 1000-words message: No, I’m not talking about how fast you type but to the misconception that you can be just as productive with your mobile than with a laptop or desktop computer. Let’s admit it, tiny keyboards are not built for typing long messages and when faced with the option we’ll likely postpone writing that long memo or document. So while we may fool ourselves into thinking that carrying a smart-phone is enough, sometimes we’ll have to wait until we’re in front of a computer to be productive.
  • Time to download/watch a 15 minute video: This is the ultimate performance test in today’s world. With video demanding the most from your connectivity infrastructure, this will measure the overall quality of your network, end to end.

With this sort of standardized connectivity test, it would be easier for people to make decisions about how to remain connected when on the road. Is there any other dimension that needs to be measured?

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3 thoughts on “The Digital Nomad Test”

  1. My business was first a local nomad type of business and since I’ve gone global, I’ve become more concerned with the type of issues you bring up here. My advice for readers would be this:

    1. don’t rely on your phone for anything. I ‘unplugged’ as soon as I got to Thailand seven months ago and it was the best thing I could’ve ever done for myself. I use skype to connect for free with my clients, family and friends.

    2. focus on setting goals for each day so you don’t spend endless time fiddling around on the internet.

    3. build your business so you don’t have to worry about timely messages. this will let you calm down and relax, giving you the ability to actually live life.

    4. download speeds are annoying in other countries; however, I wasn’t riding elephants and scuba diving from home. Position your work times around high speed internet cafe’s, or just deal bc you live somewhere cool and you watch less videos then anyway!

    I cart around a heavy but comfy laptop that doesn’t hinder my hyper-speed typing ability and helps build arm strength đŸ˜‰

    cheers & thanks for sharing this post!
    Brooke

    1. Brooke: that’s great advice. In an era that has blurred the line between producer and consumer, we often forget that the best thing we can do is experience a destination to its fullest and leave our connectivity anxiety behind. If we become great “content” producers by documenting our trips with great care, the timing won’t be absolutely relevant. On the other hand, not everyone travels for the same reasons and connectivity seems to be an important requirement in many cases. Maybe you travel as a retreat to find the time to be more productive. Whatever the case, your digital nomad test should be tuned to allow you to maximize the experience.

  2. Pingback: a break from travel « Global Culture

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