Last week I attended a meetup of sorts at my old co-working space Kaptar here in Budapest. The presenter was an enthusiastic young person who has been galavanting around the globe as a “digital nomad,” spending time in 30 countries or so in the last 8 years. She recalled to us that upon realizing that she had international clients for her graphic design services and that she was working in an “eco farm” in Portugal, that she was a digital nomad. Now, she says she spends no longer than 1-2 months in a place, but usually tries to spend half of the year in Bali. If you’re in your 20s or 30s without family or kids, sounds like the way to go.
Discovering our inner digital nomad
Under her direction, the group at the gathering attempted to answer questions like, “How much money do you need?” and “How do you make and maintain friendships?” Regarding the latter question, certainly if one spends only a month or so someplace they may meet wonderful people, but it might be a question as to whether they will ever meet again – especially if that new friend is also a digital nomad. The speaker told us she does maintain friendships, even if they are only online. Admittedly, it’s tough to maintain what I consider real friendships these days, wherever you are. It seems like people just don’t get together in person as much as they used to. I, for one, have 1,400 friends on Facebook, but barely see any of them. This is partially my fault.
“Bricks and mortar” friendships and the digital realm
The whole concept of “friendship” (and how it’s being redefined) makes me think of my 70-year-old mother, who has a ton of friends and thousands of acquaintances from her years working behind the bar at my parents’ bar and restaurant, the Irish Rose in Rockford, Illinois. Mom prided herself on being personable with the customers, many of whom became regulars, and on playing music that you couldn’t hear anywhere else – she played everything from folk, jazz and blues, to hip hop, electronica and trip hop. Even without my mom, “the Rose” has a pub-like atmosphere, where people come to see their friends.
Now quite a few years ago, mom stopped working to take care of her mother, my grandmother, who was in her late 80s at the time and was stricken by Alzheimer’s. There was no other choice, really. So, basically, my mom lost her whole life, and contact with all those great people.
It’s been quite a few years now since my grandmother died, so my mom lives alone in a world where more and more human interaction is taking place online. Many times, I know what’s going on in Rockford amongst our friends, from Facebook missives, before she does.
My mom, the “digital newbie”
Mom’s an “analog” kind of person, as is most of her generation. In my childhood she used to go to a record store and buy 6 LPs. She still subscribes to the Sunday newspaper, and she watches cable TV.
She has been resistant to give in to the charms of the Internet: electronic media, social networks, the music, the videos, etc.
But even my mother’s time to enter the realm of the digital has come. Since I purchased her a Kindle Fire over the summer, the promise of doing just that was there. But, given she had no internet access, and a conviction that she couldn’t deal with the internet, the tablet sat in the box for a while.
Fortunately, since her recent 3-week visit to Hungary, my mom has entered the 21st century, and is reconnecting with all of her old friends on Facebook.
I did my best to try and teach her how to use the Kindle, and got her on Facebook, downloaded Spotify to satisfy her “music jones,” have shown her articles I’ve written on LinkedIn, gave a bit of an introduction in how to search for things on the web browser (shopping looks to be a main driver), and even tapped her into videos on YouTube.
Now that she’s back at home the cool thing is that she is using her first web device, not as a replacement for human interaction, but as a tool for enhancing her social life. She seems to be really into it, and, since her visit, has been showing up at our family business or at the YMCA to use their Internet access (she’s not just sitting at home alone). Now she knows when and where her favorite bands are playing, for example. which gives her more motivation to go out and be among people.
On Facebook, mom loves to look at the pictures of all of our beloved ex employees, many of whom have moved away from Rockford. She is jazzed to see pictures of their husbands or wives, their lives or even beautiful newborns. It’s one hell of an update of her friendship software.
It ain’t easy being a digital newbie. Mom struggles with typing on the touch screen, and is shaky on the difference between one’s “wall” and their “feed” on Facebook. She’s been known to compose a private message on someone’s wall instead of sending them a private message, but it’s kind of endearing, and her other friends usually get a charge out of what she’s written.
The best thing is that at least my dear mother is now truly connected to the realities of friendship and more in the 21st century.
Drew Leifheit is the founder of Sounds Serious, a boutique communications consultancy in Central & Eastern Europe. Starting out in radio in 1992, today Drew is a journalist, public relations professional, radio producer, podcaster, and voiceover artist.