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Work is where your laptop is: meet the globetrotting digital nomads | Work & careers

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Samantha Scott does not miss her daily commutes in London, particularly “the dread of having to wake up and get on the tube, and heading into work sweaty and flustered. I’m still waking up at 6 or 7am, but I’m able to go for a walk on the beach before I start work.”

When she and her partner Chris Cerra arrive with their luggage in a new city, they can easily be mistaken for tourists. But they are part of a new generation of “digital nomads” who hop from country to country to live and work.

The global shift to flexible working triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic means more people are considering ditching their long-term homes to flit around the world, working from their laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Samantha Scott and Chris Cerra.
Samantha Scott and Chris Cerra. Photograph: Chris Cerra

Last week, a report from Airbnb entitled Travel & Living showed that 11% of the company’s long-term stay bookers in 2021 have reported living a nomadic lifestyle, and 5% plan to give up their main homes.

Delia Colantuono, a 31-year-old freelance translator from Rome, became a digital nomad five years ago when it was not a “big thing”.

She has now lived on all five continents and says the nomadic lifestyle is “not just for rich people – it’s for anyone who can work remotely and wants to do it”.

Many places are keen to attract long-term visitors, meaning bargains can be found. Colantuono has been renting a villa in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands with three other nomads for €450 (£390) a month each.

Delia Colantuono from Rome, Italy.
Delia Colantuono from Rome, Italy. Photograph: Delia Colantuono

Cerra, 28, a research and development technical consultant for a finance boutique, lived in several cramped flatshares in London and later rented an apartment with a friend for £1,000 a month per person. Since he became a nomad, accommodation costs have varied from £300 in Asia to more than £1,000 in Stockholm, Sweden.

High-speed wifi is top of the wishlist for nomads, followed by good workspace – desks or a large dining room table – a decent kitchen, and comfortable beds.

Chanin Kaye, 51, and her partner Jason Melton, 46, are six months into a seven-year road trip from Mexico to Argentina, staying for about a month in each city. They decided to leave their home in Seattle because they love travelling, and to save money to pay off large student debts.

“Seattle has a very high cost of living,” Kaye says. “We had a large house with two other roommates – and we were still paying $2,400 (£1,690) a month including utilities. Here [in Mexico] we never pay more than $1,200 all inclusive, and often less.”

They realised during the pandemic that they could keep in touch with their grown kids remotely “and feel close even when we aren’t physically close”.

Melton left his sales job and the couple now run an accounting business remotely together that Kaye has set up. “We work all day and go on adventures all weekend,” she says.

Kaye reckons the couple save 70% by living on the road, and wants to be debt free within five years – and buy a property somewhere eventually.

Colantuono and others are aware of the environmental impact of their jetsetter lifestyle, and want to settle down eventually. Several people, writing on a Facebook digital nomads forum with 15,500 members, say age is not a barrier but stress the importance of being fit and healthy; and one says a drawback of this lifestyle might be a sense of rootlessness.

There do not appear to be many digital nomad families with children; traditionally, only a few families – who usually home-school – have travelled the globe. Erin Elizabeth Wells, a 41-year-old productivity consultant from Massachusetts, started travelling around the US with her husband and daughter Eleanor, who is nearly four now, in October 2018, and says they are a “world schooling family”.

Travelling with family means they travel slowly, but that means they make friends everywhere they visit, she adds. They are living in Airbnbs or other full-furnished rentals and “plan to continue indefinitely until there’s some reason our family needs something else”.

Erin Elizabeth Wells with her husband, and daughter Eleanor.
Erin Elizabeth Wells with her husband, and daughter Eleanor. Photograph: Family

As parts of the world gradually reopen after Covid restrictions, growing numbers of people are enjoying new flexibility to work from anywhere. Last year, nearly one in five Airbnb guests used the site to travel and work remotely; and this year 74% of people across its five-country survey have expressed an interest in living somewhere other than where their employer is based. Brian Chesky, the Airbnb chief executive, said: “The boundaries between travel, life and work are blurring.”

Cerra says: “For a long time, this kind of lifestyle was considered really, really out there, quite off the beaten track. What we’re seeing is that everything is trending towards this being a bit more normal now, more accepted.”

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SSD belonging to Euro-cloud Scaleway was stolen from back of a truck, then turned up on YouTube • The Register

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In brief Deepmind and the European Bioinformatics Institute released a database of more than 350,000 3D protein structures predicted by the biz’s AI model AlphaFold.

That data covers the 20,000 or so proteins made in the human body, and is available for anyone to study. The proteomes of 20 other organisms, from Zebrafish to E.coli bacteria, are also in there, too, and hundreds of millions of more structures will be added over time, we’re told.

“In the hands of scientists around the world, this new protein almanac will enable and accelerate research that will advance our understanding of these building blocks of life,” said DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis. He hopes that it will be a valuable resource that will be used in the discovery of new drugs and our understanding of diseases.

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Reid Hoffman to join board of electric air-taxi start-up Joby

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Reid Hoffman. Image: ReidHoffman.org

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is helping to take Joby, which is being billed as ‘Tesla meets Uber in the air’, public through a SPAC deal.

Electric air-taxi start-up Joby Aviation will add Silicon Valley figure Reid Hoffman to its board as the company prepares to go public via a merger with a blank-cheque firm.

LinkedIn co-founder Hoffman, who is now a partner at venture capital firm Greylock, has a key connection to the 12-year-old start-up. Earlier this year, it was announced that Joby is going public through a $6.6bn reverse merger deal with Reinvent Technology Partners, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Hoffman set up with Zynga founder Mark Pincus and investor Michael Thompson.

The deal is expected to close in this summer. Joby is the first aerial vehicle start-up to go public via the SPAC route, and the deal will provide the company with $1.6bn in cash.

SPACs have been growing in popularity this year as they can provide a quicker way of bringing a company public rather than the traditional route of an initial public offering.

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Hoffman will be added by the Joby board once the deal is complete, alongside Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado and former Southwest Airlines CFO Laura Wright.

Toyota Motor Corporation board member and operating officer James Kuffner and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans have already been added to the board in recent months.

“We are incredibly humbled to have been able to assemble such a remarkable and diverse group of world-class leaders to guide and support Joby as we plan to enter the public market,” said JoeBen Bevirt, Joby CEO and founder.

Joby acquired Uber’s Elevate flying car business at the end of December and now plans to begin a commercial passenger ‘air taxi’ service in 2024. Hoffman described the venture as “Tesla meets Uber in the air” in a recent interview.

The company will work with Toyota from its California-based manufacturing facility to build its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Toyota led the company’s $620m Series C funding round last year, with other investors including Intel Capital and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

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Virtual contact worse than no contact for over-60s in lockdown, says study | Coronavirus

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Virtual contact during the pandemic made many over-60s feel lonelier and more depressed than no contact at all, new research has found.

Many older people stayed in touch with family and friends during lockdown using the phone, video calls, and other forms of virtual contact. Zoom choirs, online book clubs and virtual bedtime stories with grandchildren helped many stave off isolation.

But the study, among the first to comparatively assess social interactions across households and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, found many older people experienced a greater increase in loneliness and long-term mental health disorders as a result of the switch to online socialising than those who spent the pandemic on their own.

“We were surprised by the finding that an older person who had only virtual contact during lockdown experienced greater loneliness and negative mental health impacts than an older person who had no contact with other people at all,” said Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University, who co-wrote the report, published on Monday in Frontiers in Sociology.

“We were expecting that a virtual contact was better than total isolation but that doesn’t seem to have been the case for older people,” he added.

The problem, said Hu, was that older people unfamiliar with technology found it stressful to learn how to use it. But even those who were familiar with technology often found the extensive use of the medium over lockdown so stressful that it was more damaging to their mental health than simply coping with isolation and loneliness.

“Extensive exposure to digital means of communication can also cause burnout. The results are very consistent,” said Hu, who collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 or over in the UK and 1,391 in the US – both before and during the pandemic.

“It’s not only loneliness that was made worse by virtual contact, but general mental health: these people were more depressed, more isolated and felt more unhappy as a direct result of their use of virtual contact,” he said.

The report, Covid-19, Inter-household Contact and Mental Wellbeing Among Older Adults in the US and the UK, analysed national data from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council-funded Understanding Society Covid-19 survey and the US Health and Retirement Study.

Hu said more emphasis needed to be placed on safe ways to have face-to-face contact in future emergencies. There must also, he added, be a drive to bolster the digital capacity of the older age groups.

“We need to have disaster preparedness,” he said. “We need to equip older people with the digital capacity to be able to use technology for the next time a disaster like this comes around.”

The findings outlined the limitations of a digital-only future and the promise of a digitally enhanced future in response to population ageing in the longer term, added Hu.

“Policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to pre-empt and mitigate the potential unintended implications of household-centred pandemic responses for mental wellbeing,” he said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed the report. “We know the virtual environment can exacerbate those feelings of not actually being there with loved ones in person,” she said.

“It’s essential therefore that government makes preventing and tackling loneliness a top policy priority, backed up with adequate funding.

“It’s not over the top to point out that in the worst cases, loneliness can kill in the sense that it undermines resilience to health threats of many kinds, as well as leading to older people in the twilight of their lives losing all hope, so they lack a reason to carry on.”

Patrick Vernon, associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, said he saw many examples of older people using technology to stay connected in “really positive ways”.

But he was also doubtful: “We know that even for those who are online, lack of skills and confidence can prevent people from using the internet in the ways that they’d like to.”

Previous research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that since the pandemic, there had been significant increases in the use of digital technology among those aged 50-70 years who were already online.

But there are still 3 million people across the UK who are offline, with a significant digital divide affecting low-income households. Twenty-seven per cent of people aged 50-70 with an annual household income under £25,000 were offline before the pandemic.

Vernon said: “Our research has found that some people who were offline found it difficult to connect with family, friends and neighbours during the pandemic – and even those who were online said technology didn’t compensate for missing out on physical social interactions.”

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