We humans have never been stationary beings. Our history is colored by the slow creep of humanity into every dark corner of the globe, and by this innate need to move and to know all that comes into our path. We are nomadic in nature, always seeking our balance and livelihood in ongoing movement and change. This is when we are most free—free to grow, to learn, to innovate, to inspire.
Our nomadic sensibilities have led us into an age of pure mobility. Everything about us moves, from our physical bodies to our digital identities. There is no part of any person now that is not fundamentally changed as a result of our advances in mobility. Our cultures, our societies and, especially, our politics and our economics have been impacted by the way we move, and there is nothing that has impacted our way of life more than the rapid evolution of our technologies.
Advances have allowed for people to create spaces of frictionless movement, both in person and in digital, and social media encapsulates this frictionless space better than anything else.
Through social media, we are able to connect with like-minded people all across the world, as well as come into contact with views entirely opposite our own. While this is not without its hazards—filter bubbles and fake news come to mind—we cannot deny that the boom in connectivity has resulted in some of the most lucrative and life-changing social changes ever seen.
We have spent over 300 years building structures like government and cultural norms, but the era of social media, barely decades old, has placed the tools in our hands to tear them down. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and #MeToo movements are evidence of social media’s power being harnessed to mobilize people to physical action. Nation states have taken to shutting down internet and cellular connections, as seen in Bangladesh, Egypt and Cameroon, in response to the perceived threat of people organizing via social media.
Digital organizing power naturally comes with its pitfalls. Social media is built to inspire connection for everyone. This includes the people we would rather not see finding their like-minded counterparts: violent extremists, incels and other hate groups of various kinds.
The recent crackdown of tech giants like Apple, Spotif, and YouTube against groups like InfoWars shows a growing resistance to the likes of these negative forces, but their removal sets a precedent we must be wary of, just as we must be wary of our home governments deciding to flip the internet kill switch.
The connectivity afforded to us by social media allows for a connectivity between people and businesses to form, as well. Companies and brands now have direct access to their consumers, as well as the data those consumers put out into the digital world. Locations, internet activity, impressions and more are available for tracking by brands—so long as they gain user permission.
For brands, using this data ethically is key to operating in a nomadic mobility paradigm. Frictionless movement, the mobility of person and data, requires businesses to be honest and open about how and why they are collecting consumer data, as well as a truthful willingness to expunge that data at the consumer’s request.
Nomadic mobility is built upon the principles of growth, learning and change. This requires fluidity, not rigor. Brands that have traditionally ruled are starting to lose ground to agile newcomers more connected to mobile consumers and familiar with the data tracking their every move.
Naturally, there is and will continue to be backlash. Tightening borders, trade wars and the threatening of net neutrality all represent the dying gasps of an outdated world. We cannot stop people from connecting and wanting to change based on those connections. Humans are at our best, after all, when we are moving and shaking the world apart, either our own or someone else’s.
Resistance to a nomadic mobility paradigm is futile, because it is really an acknowledgement of what we have always been, and we can no longer use a history based on stasis to navigate our new dynamic future.
Give us technology that is frictionless, allowing us to travel and connect with fellow travelers, and we’ll explore, mobilize and enrich. Give us more accessible forms of travel, and we’ll roam, learn, inspire and collaborate with each other. Give us open borders and we’ll invent, innovate, exchange and trade with each other in all reaches of the earth.
People are on the move, they’re taking every part of their identities with them and they’re not inclined to wait for brands to catch up. They expect innovative products and services that match with increasingly mobile lifestyles, and the brands and businesses that don’t fit the bill will be dropped.
Hans Howarth is founder and group CEO of creative transformation company Nomads.