What Does “Digital Nomad” Actually Mean?

Amidst the current use of “digital” to mean “computer-related” and “nomad” to mean “traveler,” the moniker “digital nomads” makes intuitive sense when indicating people whose ability to travel is facilitated by computers. But taking a deeper look at the history of both terms reveals some information that’s surprisingly applicable to the present use of the whole phrase. The word “digital” didn’t always refer to computers. It originally indicated anything that could be broken down into discrete parts. Your fingers and toes are digits, and so are the beads on an abacus. “Digital” can perhaps best be understood when juxtaposed with its opposite, “analog.” Analog refers to anything that cannot be accessed without taking into consideration the continuum of which it is a part. So an old-fashioned clock with hands is considered an analog device, because it’s not possible to move the hands to five o’clock without first moving them past four o’clock. But, as we all know, it’s not really possible to do that on a digital clock either. It could be, if a digital clock was designed with, say, numeric keypad entry, so that the user could simply type in the exact time to which they wanted to set their alarm. But generally speaking, human beings experience interaction with devices – even digitally-enabled devices – in analog time.