You Don’t Need to Be Nomadic to Be Focused

Derek Sivers writes that he’s giving up on maintaing a home base and giving up on maintaining physically proximate friends, events, activities. Instead, he’s directing his energies “globally” (i.e., on the web) and becoming a permanent traveler:

I lived in Portland, Oregon for 3 years. I worked every waking hour, growing CD Baby and Hostbaby. It was incredibly productive. I made some dear and deep friends worldwide, but none in Portland. I never hung out in Portland. My attention was still focused outward.

Then two years ago, when I moved to Singapore, I decided to do the opposite. I wanted to get to know my local community. I met with over 400 people, one-on-one, went to every conference and get-together, and said yes to every request. I spent most of the last two years just talking with people. And I really got to know the Singapore community.

But something never felt right. After a day of talking, I was often exhausted and unfulfilled. Two hours spent being useful to one person who wants to “pick my brain” is two hours I’d rather spend making something that could be useful to the whole world (including that one person).

Then people around the world email to ask why I’ve been so silent. No new articles. No progress on my companies. Nothing.

So there’s the trade-off. By being so local-focused, I’m not being as useful as I was when I was making things online.

So I’m finally admitting : I’m not local.

I moved around so much that I’m not from anywhere. I feel equally connected to London, Los Angeles, New York, New Zealand, Singapore, San Francisco, Iceland, and India. I care about people in all of those places. They’re all equally home. Just because I live in one now, doesn’t mean I should ignore the others.

To me, the emphasis on local stuff never felt right. When I was in Woodstock and Portland, people would ask what I was doing to promote the local music scene there. I’d argue that I shouldn’t favor Woodstock or Portland any more than Wellington or Prague.

For me, for now, I’m going to stop doing in-person meetings, and turn my attention fully to writingprogramming, and recording things that can benefit anyone anywhere.

I get what Derek is saying in terms of reaching a larger global audience. I understand his view that hard focus with minimal distraction is important. But better to think of hard focus and serendipity as spigots that can be turned off and on at different times, not as ideas that determine whether you have a “home” or are a nomad.

You can live close to friends or family, in a big city, and still say no to things and not go to conferences every day. You can be cosmopolitan in identity and in your moral calculus and yet still invest in real life, stable relationships in one or two or three key locales.

Sure, being a permanent traveler will grant you more time than ever to focus on key projects and publish them to your global audience. But no permanent traveler I’ve met is actually happy. Most are lonely. Most have a hard time building a meaningful career. I wrote about this in detail a few year ago in my post on Urban Nomadicism.

Derek says he’s going to abolish in-person meetings. I can’t think of a more likely path to unhappiness than abolishing regular in-person interaction with friends/family/colleagues.

I have a long respected Derek’s writings and thinking. So I look forward to seeing how this new lifestyle plays out.

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

Eat Global, Not Local


It is fashionable these days to decry "food miles." The longer food has spent traveling to your plate, the more oil has been burnt and the more peace has been shattered along the way. But why single out food? Should we not protest against T-shirt miles, too, and laptop miles? After all, fruits and vegetables account for more than 20 percent of all exports from poor countries, whereas most laptops come from rich countries, so singling out food imports for special discrimination means singling out poor countries for sanctions. Two economists recently concluded, after studying the issue, that the entire concept of food miles is a "profoundly flawed sustainability indicator." Getting food from the farmer to the shop causes just 4% of all its lifetime emissions…A New Zealand lamb, shipped to England, requires one-quarter as much carbon to get on to a London plate as a Welsh lamb; a Dutch rose, grown in a heated greenhouse and sold in London, has six times the carbon footprint of a Kenyan rose grown under the sun using water recycled through a fish farm, using geothermal electricity and providing employment to Kenyan women.

That's from page 41 of The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. I'll post a full review tomorrow.

Caitlin Flanagan, last year in the Atlantic, wrote about Alice Waters "hijacking school curricula" in California to teach a bizarre set of local food ideas to students.

Here's a long Foreign Policy article on why the Whole Foods mantra of "organic, local, slow" is one that may interest rich Americans and Europeans yet profoundly disadvantages the world's hungry millions.

Here's a piece on why organic food is neither healthier to eat nor better for the environment.

FedEx Truth-in-Tracking (China Edition)

James Fallows bought a new laptop from Apple's online store to ship to his home in Washington D.C., and when he went to track the package on, he saw this:


The package has been "Picked Up: Shanghai, China." It is surprising to see FedEx be explicit about the true origin of the package. Surprising, but good. More Americans should know where their products come from. Especially when the product is not a piece of shit toy, but high-end, expensive gadgets from a company whose boxes list a California return address.


There were a lot of ugly ads this past campaign season (and a lot of unfortunate results, especially in California). One of the ugliest ads — for its anti-China xenophobia — was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's against Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Senate Pat Toomey. Here's the link. Adam Ozimek responds:

The goal of the ad to slander Toomey with a quote of his where he says “It’s great that China is modernizing and growing”. Gasp! Oh the horror!

The economic growth and modernization in China over the last 30 years has lifted literally hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and if you don’t think that’s an unmitigated great thing then fuck you, I hope a Chinese person does “steal your job”.

China Fact of the Day

Foxconn Technology Group, for example, the giant electronics manufacturer that builds components for Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple in gigantic plants in Shenzen and elsewhere in urban China, will soon employ enough people to fill 60 percent of the jobs in Manhattan. Foxconn has close to 920,000 workers, nearly all of whom are under 25; in August, the company announced plans to add 400,000 more workers in the next year.

That's from Ted Fishman's interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine about how demographic trends shape globalization. Aging employees in developed countries require increasingly expensive health care plans. Fishman says health care costs for American workers between 50 and 65 are, on average, almost two times what they are for 30 and 40 somethings. The youthfulness of China's workforce is one reason why it's so cheap and attractive to first-world companies. But China won't be young forever. Will it become old before it becomes rich? There are other interesting observations about urbanization and immigration.