Gun For Hire: Nomad

I recently wrote a tongue-and-cheek post about losing internet for several days. It has a few tips for keeping things in motion while you wait for the interwebs to re-animate, but it doesn’t deal with the mindset of having to “run and gun” on public wifi. This post will.

Normally, I really dislike McDonald’s and the food(?) they sell. To be honest, I dislike them even more when I have a large system update to download over their network. The free wifi is really handy, however, which made me think about the expectation of freely available services in public places.

When you consider the common expectations we have in this always-on culture, I hope the question of ethical trade also enters your mind. This is the age of hand-held computing, wireless everything, and city-wide wireless internet connections. As we continue down this road, large network providers like Verizon and AT&T have had to take aggressive positions on their data plans due to the heavy usage.

Our constant connection requires a heavy fee at times; how do we feel about free services? Now that we have had to pay for things (yes, sometimes through the nose) do we actually feel more inclined to do honest business? Do we still try to steal wifi wherever we can get it, or does the concept of paying for small things make more sense than ever?

I think this whole discussion has been solidified through a simple understanding: Pay for what you use. If you use wifi in a restaurant, buy something to eat/drink. If it’s a library, donate books/time/money to their efforts. I used to see people sitting in parking lots with their laptop, clinging to the few bars of signal strength they could get without buying a coffee.

I’m a capitalist at heart, but I think that’s a bad move.

If we keep getting intangible things for free, eventually the ecosystem around that entity will show some strain. This is why digital app sales are such a brilliant idea, and why I expect that small transactions will continue to be the future of any volume-based service. (Note: Exchange doesn’t have to be directly associated with the provided service; see also the trade of attention for effort in this famous SXSW talk.)

So what does this have to do with self-employment, freelancing, or being a “Gun For Hire?” Personally, I find it fascinating because I have had to consider these things while my home office network is being repaired. There are plenty of places you can go to get wifi these days, but the signal itself seems almost secondary in importance to the environment.

I would sit just about anywhere (including McDonald’s) for a dependable connection, but the number of options will only increase with time. Making a choice to connect honorably, to trade something for the service they provide, ought to be a cultural norm in our digital age. Thanks to app stores and micropayments on social sites, we are warming to swapping small payments for valuable returns.

Perhaps today’s digital nomad has an interesting future as the expectations of trade decrease and the available services increase. I know there have been entire books written about this; these limited top-down observations are just one freelancer’s view into the digital ecosystem. I love the blending of tangible and intangible values, because it means we are finally starting to understand that “real life” includes more than your AFK experiences, but also allows the non-digital values to flow into the way we play, work, and live online. That’s worth a coffee or two.