“Digital nomads” wanted to enjoy city life but could not

Researchers studying “digital nomads” detail their initial enthusiasm for big cities and later decisions to move elsewhere:

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Most digital nomads started out excited to work in career-track jobs for prestigious employers. Moving to cities like New York and London, they wanted to spend their free time meeting new people, going to museums and trying out new restaurants…

Although these cities certainly host institutions that can inspire creativity and cultivate new relationships, digital nomads rarely had time to take advantage of them. Instead, high cost of living, time constraints and work demands contributed to an oppressive culture of materialism and workaholism…

Although they left some of the world’s most glamorous cities, the digital nomads we studied were not homesteaders working from the wilderness; they needed access to the conveniences of contemporary life in order to be productive. Looking abroad, they quickly learned that places like Bali in Indonesia, and Chiang Mai in Thailand had the necessary infrastructure to support them at a fraction of the cost of their former lives…

The digital nomads we studied often used savings in time and money to try new things, like exploring side hustles. One recent study even found, somewhat paradoxically, that the sense of empowerment that came from embarking on a side hustle actually improved performance in workers’ primary jobs.

As the researchers note, this is a different perspective on the creative class that works in particular jobs and industries and pursues particular locations. Could these pieces detailed by Richard Florida be pulled apart; can the creative class jobs exist outside of the urban culture that Florida argues goes with it?

On one hand, numerous other locations other than big cities would love have to more creative class workers. These young professionals, often working in industries like tech, are desired by suburbs, smaller big cities, and many places because they represent status and potential long-time taxpayers and contributing members of society.

On the other hand, the creative class is supposedly not just looking for jobs with particular features: they also want to move to places with cultural opportunities and diversity. Can “digital nomads” find this outside of big cities? Maybe; there are suburbs and smaller big cities with diversity and vibrant creative scenes. Can these locations match the big city possibilities of places like New York or San Francisco or Austin?

These digital nomads have the potential to shape how communities look at jobs and residents in the coming years. Many will want them to locate in their community and yet the power of clustering together with other creative class people is strong.

Combining local government and company towns in a Nevada proposal

A proposal in Nevada would create “Innovation Zones” where companies could form their own local governments:

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According to a draft of the proposed legislation, obtained by the Review-Journal but not yet introduced in the Legislature, Innovation Zones would allow tech companies like Blockchains, LLC to effectively form separate local governments in Nevada, governments that would carry the same authority as a county, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and justice courts and provide government services, to name a few duties.

Sisolak pitched the concept in his State of the State address as his plan to bring in new companies that are at the forefront of “groundbreaking technologies,” all without the use of tax abatements or other publicly funded incentive packages that had previously helped Nevada bring companies like Tesla to the state.

During his speech last month, Sisolak specifically named Blockchains, LLC as a company that had committed to developing a “smart city” in the area east of Reno that would run entirely on blockchain technology, once the legislation passes…

The draft proposal lays out the requirements for the zone, including the applicant owning 50,000 acres of undeveloped land, all within a single county but separate of any city, town or tax increment area. And the area would have to be uninhabited. The company would also need to have $250 million, and a plan to invest an additional $1 billion over 10 years into the zone.

This would appear to come at the nexus of trends. First, Americans generally like the idea of local government. They believe it to be more nimble and responsive to local needs as local officials can focus more on getting things done than getting bogged down in ideology or numerous competing interests.

Second, tech companies and other big companies like the idea of large campuses. Having a sizable portion of private land where employees can do all sorts of things, including work, is already a feature in some tech headquarters.

Third, governments want to attract businesses, whether headquarters or manufacturing facilities or office parks, that can help bring jobs, tax revenues, and status. This proposal provides different incentives compared to the traditional tax break.

Fourth, businesses like the idea of controlling activities regarding their company. Company towns are not new nor are ideas about creating regulation free zones for business activity. Being able to create local regulations, collect taxes, and more could be attractive to some companies.

Would such a proposal prove successful? It might depend on the definition of success: it could work out well for the business but perhaps not for employees or surrounding communities. And even if it does work, is it broadly transferable to other locations? The conditions in Nevada might be different than many other locations in the United States.

64% of Americans “say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country” – but does this mean individual users will leave?

Pew Research recently released a new report on how Americans view social media’s effects on the country and politics. Here is one of the takeaways from the report:

This chart moves beyond many of the other takeaways which suggest majorities of Americans are skeptical about the intertwining of social media companies and politics. The responses to this particular question suggests the effect of social media is beyond politics: it affects “the way things are going in the country today.”

Since the other questions are about politics and government regulation, it is a little hard to know exactly what this means. Is it bad for young people? Families? Communities? Education? Public spaces? Physical health? It takes up a lot of time? Social media is too powerful compared to other institutions that should be leading the way?

All of these could be very interesting to explore. But, it is also worth examining how this question about social media and the direction of the country is related to the social media use of individual users. Does this mean that more people are not participating in social media? Are accounts being deactivated or deleted? Are people curtailing their time on social media? Is there interest in and movement toward more conversation outside of social media?

One finding of research I have conducted with sociologist Peter Mundey is that young adult social media users can articulate some of the problems with social media. And they modify their social media behavior to try to avoid negative interactions.

But, this does not necessarily mean that they drop out of social media or do not join in the first place. These young adults could also explain the advantages of social media, particularly the ability to maintain connections with people. Some of the connections may not always require effort but they are available. Other connections, say with family and close friends, are worth engaging in through social media. Plus, if they are not on social media, they might be missing out on social connections and events that are hard to access in other ways.

This might lead to a bit of an impasse. Americans think social media and politics is not a good mix. Social media could be bad for the country. But, withdrawing completely from social media might be a lot to ask. In many ways, it could work for individuals, particularly through providing connections to people and information.

Perhaps individual users will continue try to find ways to do both: engage with social media on a limited or focused basis. Or, avoid politics on social media. Maximize the good portions, minimize the negatives. Participate at arm’s length.

Only time will tell. Social media has had a meteoric rise but it is not guaranteed to last. Social media platforms can evolve. New opportunities can arise and social conditions are dynamic. We need to continue to look at how users engage social media. And if we see a steady trend of users leaving social media platforms, that will be worth noting.

Are Google and other tech companies actually advertising companies?

A sociologist suggests tech companies are not really about technology but rather are about advertising:

Why do we call businesses like Google, Facebook and Twitter “tech” companies when most of what they do—and the source of most of their revenue—is advertising, sociologist Darwin Bondgraham asks in The Washington Spectator.

“With Google, and many other firms among the new breed of ‘tech’ companies, the computer has become more than a mere brochure,” writes Bondgraham. “The computer is an incredibly sophisticated and persuasive salesman. Brochures are inert documents a shopper flips through. The computer as salesman is an agent, watching us closely, collecting data about our wants, and subtly implanting desires in our consumer minds.”

“Google is the best case in point,” the sociologist continues. “Google has never been a ‘tech’ company, whatever tech is supposed to mean anyway. Google is an advertising company, and it makes most of its revenues from selling advertisements. Many of the fastest growing so-called tech companies are just like Google. The core of what they do, and how they make money, isn’t about the math and science of building things. Rather, these tech companies acquire, process, and sell information for the singular purpose of steering potential consumers toward a purchase.”

Google’s financial filings make this clear. As the company’s executives state in Part 1, Item 1 of their latest annual report to shareholders: “We generate revenue primarily by delivering relevant, cost-effective online advertising.”

Interesting argument. These companies did involve technological advancement – in Google’s case, a new algorithm for searching – but perhaps this technology is most effective for selling targeted advertisements. Instead of having to apply a scattershot approach through mass media outlets, advertisers can now easily find their target demographic. At the same time, there is still a long ways to go to truly make big money off this kind of advertising, especially for Facebook and Twitter. What is the best way to provide a good experience with users while enticing users to see and click on advertisements?