The pandemic has many people questioning whether they ever want to go back to the office.
If one thing is clear about remote work, it's this: Many people prefer it and don't want their bosses to take it away.
When the pandemic forced office employees into lockdown and cut them off from spending in-person time with their colleagues, they almost immediately realized that they favor remote work over their traditional office routines and norms.
As remote workers of all ages contemplate their futures – and as some offices and schools start to reopen – many Americans are asking hard questions about whether they wish to return to their old lives, and what they're willing to sacrifice or endure in the years to come.
Even before the pandemic, there were people asking whether office life jibed with their aspirations.
We spent years studying “digital nomads" – workers who had left behind their homes, cities and most of their possessions to embark on what they call “location independent" lives. Our research taught us several important lessons about the conditions that push workers away from offices and major metropolitan areas, pulling them toward new lifestyles.
Legions of people now have the chance to reinvent their relationship to their work in much the same way.
Big-city bait and switch
Most digital nomads started out excited to work in career-track jobs for prestigious employers. Moving to cities like New York and London, they wanted to spend their free time meeting new people, going to museums and trying out new restaurants.
But then came the burnout.
Although these cities certainly host institutions that can inspire creativity and cultivate new relationships, digital nomads rarely had time to take advantage of them. Instead, high cost of living, time constraints and work demands contributed to an oppressive culture of materialism and workaholism.
Pauline, 28, who worked in advertising helping large corporate clients to develop brand identities through music, likened city life for professionals in her peer group to a “hamster wheel." (The names used in this article are pseudonyms, as required by research protocol.)
“The thing about New York is it's kind of like the battle of the busiest," she said. “It's like, 'Oh, you're so busy? No, I'm so busy.'"
Most of the digital nomads we studied had been lured into what urbanist Richard Florida termed “creative class" jobs – positions in design, tech, marketing and entertainment. They assumed this work would prove fulfilling enough to offset what they sacrificed in terms of time spent on social and creative pursuits.
Yet these digital nomads told us that their jobs were far less interesting and creative than they had been led to expect. Worse, their employers continued to demand that they be “all in" for work – and accept the controlling aspects of office life without providing the development, mentorship or meaningful work they felt they had been promised. As they looked to the future, they saw only more of the same.
Ellie, 33, a former business journalist who is now a freelance writer and entrepreneur, told us: “A lot of people don't have positive role models at work, so then it's sort of like 'Why am I climbing the ladder to try and get this job? This doesn't seem like a good way to spend the next twenty years.'"
By their late 20s to early 30s, digital nomads were actively researching ways to leave their career-track jobs in top-tier global cities.
Looking for a fresh start
Although they left some of the world's most glamorous cities, the digital nomads we studied were not homesteaders working from the wilderness; they needed access to the conveniences of contemporary life in order to be productive. Looking abroad, they quickly learned that places like Bali in Indonesia, and Chiang Mai in Thailand had the necessary infrastructure to support them at a fraction of the cost of their former lives.
With more and more companies now offering employees the choice to work remotely, there's no reason to think digital nomads have to travel to southeast Asia – or even leave the United States – to transform their work lives.
During the pandemic, some people have already migrated away from the nation's most expensive real estate markets to smaller cities and towns to be closer to nature or family. Many of these places still possess vibrant local cultures. As commutes to work disappear from daily life, such moves could leave remote workers with more available income and more free time.
The digital nomads we studied often used savings in time and money to try new things, like exploring side hustles. One recent study even found, somewhat paradoxically, that the sense of empowerment that came from embarking on a side hustle actually improved performance in workers' primary jobs.
The future of work, while not entirely remote, will undoubtedly offer more remote options to many more workers. Although some business leaders are still reluctant to accept their employees' desire to leave the office behind, local governments are embracing the trend, with several U.S. cities and states – along with countries around the world – developing plans to attract remote workers.
This migration, whether domestic or international, has the potential to enrich communities and cultivate more satisfying work lives.
After years of speculation a team of researchers has pinpointed the age of this ancient mystery.
- The Plain of Jars consists of over 90 sites containing thousands of jars scattered across Laos.
- According to new research, these jars were constructed sometime between 1240 and 660 BCE.
- In 2019, UNESCO named a cluster of 11 regions as a World Heritage Site.
The stone jar sites scattered around Laos are considered the most unique and important archaeological finds in all of Southeast Asia. In total, over 90 sites have been identified, with each site containing between one and 400 jars, some of which weigh up to 20 tons.
Carved of rock and cylindrically-shaped, the predominantly undecorated jars—only one features a "frogman" etched into its exterior—vary in shape and size, though they are predominantly constructed of sandstone. Other materials used include breccia, conglomerate, granite, and limestone. The jars range from one to three meters tall.
The purpose of these jars has long been debated. Given their proximity to funerary grounds, they might have served a ritual purpose or merely marked where the dead were buried. They might have housed cremated remains. A more pragmatic purpose has been put forward: to collect monsoon rainwater.
The Plain of Jars, as this network is known, was heavily bombed by the United States Air Force in the 1960s. In fact, the USAF dropped more bombs on Laos (specifically, these jar sites) than in the entirety of World War II—a total of 262 million cluster bombs. Some 80 million remain undetonated, making them a daily threat to the population of Laos today.
Protective measures are now being taken. In 2019, UNESCO designated a group of 11 of these regions as a World Heritage Site. The organization notes that these sites represent a historical crossroads between the Mun-Mekong system and the Red River/Gulf of Tonkin system, noting that beyond ritual purpose, they could have been utilized by travelers in some capacity—hence the rainwater theory.
After decades of speculation and research, a team led by two Australian researchers and one Laotian researcher have dated these jars. Using a fossil-dating technology known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), the team examined sediment from underneath jars at 120 different locations, discovering that they were constructed sometime between 1240 and 660 BCE.
View to the southwest at megalithic jar Site 1.
Credit: Louise Shewan, et al.
Dr. Louise Shewan from the University of Melbourne explains,
"With these new data and radiocarbon dates obtained for skeletal material and charcoal from other burial contexts, we now know that these sites have maintained enduring ritual significance from the period of their initial jar placement into historic times."
How the jars were moved around Laos remains unknown. As with other ancient mysteries—the various henges around Scotland and England; the interconnected network of cities in the Harappan civilization—understanding the rituals associated with and technologies used to create awe-inspiring monuments remains a dream for many archaeologists.
The team behind this research plans on examining more samples from these Laotian jars—a particularly daunting challenge considering less than 10 percent of jar sites have been cleared of American explosives. Shewan is excited about the prospects of what further testing could reveal, however.
"We expect that this complex process will eventually help us share more insights into what is one of Southeast Asia's most mysterious archaeological cultures."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
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A tourist generally has an eye for the things that have become almost invisible to the resident.
What he lacked in talent he made up for in gusto. I was with a dozen of my students who were travelling from DePaul University in Chicago on a study abroad trip and this was their very first impression of Ireland. I cringed and tried to ignore the atonal reveller. Their response, it turned out, was at odds with mine. 'That's American rap!' one of them chortled. 'Why is he rapping Kendrick?' The oddity of the situation entertained them, and they discussed it with a fervour typically reserved for matters of greater significance.
One thing I've noticed over the years of bringing my students to Ireland – my homeland – is that they pay rapt attention to the little things. This heightened and delighted attention to the ordinary, which manifests in someone new to a place, does not seem to have a name. So I have given it one: allokataplixis (from the Greek allo meaning 'other', and katapliktiko meaning 'wonder'). In Modern Greek katapliktiko and the related word katataplixie can be used to register astonishment. Admittedly, in Ancient Greek the family of words surrounding kataplêxis sometimes signified 'terror' and 'panic'. It is, however, the note of pure 'amazement' and 'fascination' present in this word that I want to celebrate in my neologism.
Allokataplixis, as I use the term, is the gift, usually unacknowledged, that the traveller offers to the places they visit.
For the past five years, I have travelled around Ireland each summer with a bunch of allokataplixic American kids. Almost everything draws them in. In the city, they never choose to stay downstairs on the bus – there's just too much to see from the upper deck. Marvellous to them also is the slight smell of salt in the air when you arrive in Dublin, the raucousness of seagulls crying overhead, the low-rise and higgledy-piggledy appearance of the city's architecture, the garrulousness of the people, the little fossils embedded in the bridge that spans the pond in St Stephen's Green, the 99 Flake ice-cream cones, the inclination of Irish people to traditional music, the almost unfathomable reverence in the west for uilleann pipers, the omnipresence of sheep on hilly tracts of land, the unhealthy deliciousness of Tayto crisps, the intense greenness of the vegetation, the yellowness of the butter, the perennial greyness of the sky, the presence of poets – actual poets – in the streets, Martello towers, walled gardens, the frankness about matters of mortality, the way the elderly habitually cross themselves as their bus lurches past the churches, the vat-loads of tea consumed, the vat-loads of stout consumed, the strangeness of Ireland's youthful drinkers hailing Budweiser as a premier beer, the national addiction to sweets, the quantity of dog shit left to gently steam in the thoroughfares, the medical acumen of pharmacists in 'Chemist' shops, the casual insults that friends sling at one another, the extravagant length of the midsummer's day, the gorgeousness of the sun setting on the Atlantic viewed from the beaches of the west, the melancholy slopes in County Kerry that were abandoned during the famine. And so on.
There is, of course, so much to learn when any of us visit a place for the first time and it would be easy to assume that information passes in one direction only, from the host nation to its guests. Yet over the years that I've been bringing students to Ireland I've observed that their thirst for fresh experience is contagious. It oftentimes brings out the best in people. A tourist generally has an eye for the things that, through repetitive familiarity, have become almost invisible to the resident. What is revealed need not always be congenial of course – visitors can make the resident aware of the shortcomings of their home: litter in the streets, poor service, even troubling cultural attitudes such as xenophobia. A tourist can stir within us a recognition of both the delicious strangeness of mundane things and our own unseemly peccadilloes.
This annual migration to Ireland that I take with Hugh Bartling, a climate policy wonk, and our students, is focused primarily on the ecology of our national parks. Unlike the United States, where such parks are often regarded as wilderness areas, in Ireland there is an acknowledgement that even remote landscapes are as much a product of cultural forces as they are of nature. To instil an understanding of the history and resilience of these traditional, cultural landscapes, we prepare our students before they leave by reading a great quantity of Tim Robinson's work. Over a period of four decades – from the 1970s until his recent departure from Ireland – Robinson walked, mapped and wrote about the west of Ireland with verve and enormous grace. Those who have read his brace of books on the Aran Islands – Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (1986) and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (1995 ) – or his trilogy on Connemara – Connemara: Listening to the Wind (2006), Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness (2008) and Connemara: A Little Gaelic Kingdom (2011 ) – will know the story of his coming to Ireland fairly well. Jaded from the European art scene, Robinson and his partner visited Inis Mór in the 1970s and elected to stay. A local postmistress mentioned that a map of the island would be useful. What began as an index of place names mushroomed over the years into one of the great European literary projects of the last several decades: the work includes maps, books, a Gazetteer, essays and lectures. A central metaphor in Robinson's body of work is the notion of the fractal – a geometrical pattern that shows the property of self-similarity at various observational scales. Snowflakes and coastlines are examples in nature. Robinson writes that the fractal promises to be a rich 'source of metaphor and imagery' in literature and life. He continues: 'Like all discoveries it surprises us yet again with the unfathomable depth and richness of the natural world; specifically it shows that there is more space, there are more places within a forest … or on a Connemara seashore, than the geometry of common sense allows.'
Robinson, the one-time tourist, became one of the great natural and social historians of that part of the world. Though the work is rightly celebrated, what is not always noted is how Robinson, as an attentive outsider, awakens even his Irish readers to a recognition of the fantastical in the mundane landscapes of the west. Robinson is, in other words, a great writer of allokataplixis.
One does not need, however, to be an outsider or a tourist to be allokataplixic. Is it not the task of most writers to awaken us from the dull, the flat and the average sentiments that can dominate our lives? Many of the Irish writers that my students read before travelling have a knack for noticing the marvellous in the everyday, and of making the quotidian seem wholly other and amazing. Robert Lloyd Praeger, the great naturalist of the last century, is one such writer – as he travelled the rural counties, some of his greatest botanical discoveries were made right outside the guesthouse door. J M Synge, especially in his often-neglected writing on travels in Wicklow, Connemara and Kerry, is another such writer. And James Joyce, that profound naturalist of life's epiphanic moments, specialised in observing how the ecstatic intrudes – sometimes painfully – into the everyday. My students read the story 'The Dead' as an ecological text, for it provides an abiding account of a rupture between Ireland's supposedly refined east coast and its feral west. At the conclusion, Gabriel Conroy, cuckolded by the ghost of Michael Furey, his wife's dead boyfriend, takes a melancholic psychological journey across a snowy Ireland to that boy's grave. Joyce wrote in one of his most celebrated passages that the snow 'was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried.'
I'll mention just one more recent writer, if only to illustrate that a new generation of allokataplixic writers is emerging: Karl Whitney, author of Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (2014). In Hidden City, Whitney becomes a visitor to the city of his birth, a tourist of the commonplace. In one brilliant chapter, he inches along beneath the streets of Dublin, following the courses of rivers that have long been paved over. In another, he follows the excrement of the denizens of the city out to the sewage treatment plants and, once treated and refined, follows the liquid discharge out into Dublin Bay. Not since Leopold Bloom defecates so leisurely in an early chapter of Ulysses has urban excrement been so vividly described.
Last year as we crossed the Midlands, we walked out on the boardwalk at Clara Bog in County Offaly, where by chance we met with a local out on his morning constitutional. Tommy was a former worker for Bord na Móna, the Irish semi-state body that oversees the economic development of peat for use as fuel. He is now an enthusiastic conservationist. That my students took such a delight in the bog seemed to ignite something in him. Noticing that one of the students carried a tin whistle, he volunteered to play a couple of reels and so we listened to the blast of a few tunes out on the bog on an ordinary Saturday morning. He said he'd never done anything like it. Allokataplixis is contagious.
I don't suppose one needs to live a life of perpetual astonishment. After all it's adaptive to forget. Our daily grind is perhaps easier to endure in a state of mild amnesia. Muscle memory sets in, routine takes over, and one day seems the same as any other. But days go by, the years hum along, and one can careen towards senility without being unduly startled by anything at all. Surely, there are times when we must be released from our moorings and free ourselves up to notice the peculiarities of everyday life. Our greatest writers have, as often as not, lived in a state of astonishment – this is not an easy burden. But in a quieter register and perhaps in an equally instructive way, even the everyday tourist can alert us to the remarkable in our home terrain. When we are ourselves tourists, we notice things. But even in noticing how tourists are alive to their surroundings, might we not learn something from them? Observe the tourists on Dublin's Grafton Street listening to the buskers, or watch them marvel at the lights on Broadway in New York. Witness them sip their ouzo at the Acropolis or behold them picking their way across the newly minted basalt lava-flow in the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. They've brought their allokataplixis with them.
Thanks to my wife Vassia Pavlogianis for discussions on the Modern Greek words for wonder, and to Dr Sean Kirkland of DePaul University in Chicago for a tutorial on the Ancient Greek etymology.
A new study shows that at least one long-ago journey would have required deliberate navigation.
- Historians have wondered whether ancient mariners drifted from Taiwan to Japan or navigated there on purpose.
- The passage between Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands contains one of the world's strongest currents.
- Thousands of buoys suggests that the journey was anything but an accident.
It's something experts are still piecing together, but there's a growing body of evidence that as humans left Africa and scattered across the globe, they often did so by traversing land bridges that are now underwater, and, in other cases, by crossing oceans.
There was really no other way they might have gotten to Australia, for example, even linked as it was for a time with New Guinea as the Sahul landmass. There was always ocean between the continent and Asia, from which its early inhabitants apparently came. It may well have been a less daunting passage at times of lower sea levels, however.
What, if anything, guided ancient mariners to the places they reached remains an intriguing riddle. Did they just drift on currents hoping to bump into somewhere to land, or was their navigation more intentional?
A new study from researchers at the University of Tokyo suggests the latter, at least in the case of the ancient migration from Taiwan to the Ryukyu Islands in southwestern Japan—Okinawa is one of the those islands—some 30,000 to 35,000 years ago.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Not an easy trip
Yosuke Kaifu of the University Museum at the University of Tokyo and his colleagues sought to answer the longstanding riddle. "There have been many studies on Paleolithic migrations to Australia and its neighboring landmasses," said Kaifu in a press release, "often discussing whether these journeys were accidental or intentional."
"Our study looks specifically at the migration to the Ryukyu Islands because it is not just historically significant, but is also very difficult to get there."
The ancient sailors would have known of the islands because they were visible from the top of a mountain on the coast of Taiwan, although not down along the coast itself.
The waters between Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands represented an opportunity for the researchers since they are dominated by the Kuirishio current, one of the strongest currents in the world. The researchers' hypothesis was that sailors were unlikely to have crossed it accidentally. Says Kaifu, "If they crossed this sea deliberately, it must have been a bold act of exploration."
Credit: w.aoki/Adobe Stock
Buoys will be buoys
Kaifu had long been interested in devising some kind of experiment to better understand those who made the journey but, "had no idea how to demonstrate the intentionality of the sea crossings." Upon meeting the study's Taiwanese co-authors, experts in the Kuirishio, the outlines of a plan because clear.
To test the possibility of an accidental arrival at the Ryukyu Islands, Kaifu and his team set 138 satellite-tracked buoys adrift and tracked how many of them managed to float over to the islands.
"Only four of the buoys came within 20 kilometers of any of the Ryukyu Islands, and all of these were due to adverse weather conditions," explains Kaifu. This was an unlikely factor in the human travelers' voyage because, "If you were an ancient mariner, it's very unlikely you would have set out on any kind of journey with such a storm on the horizon."
The results reveal that the current was more likely to take ancient sailors anywhere but the islands. "What this tells us is that the Kuroshio directs drifters away from, rather than towards, the Ryukyu Islands; in other words, that region must have been actively navigated."
Where the buoys traveled
Credit: Tien-Hsia Kuo/University of Tokyo
An old current
Supporting the researchers findings are geologic records from the area that suggests the Kuirishio hasn't changed since the mariners' journey so long ago — it's been present in its current form for about 100,000 years.
The research appears to answer the riddle of at least this one ancient migration, says Kaifu: "Now, our results suggest the drift hypothesis for Paleolithic migration in this region is almost impossible. I believe we succeeded in making a strong argument that the ancient populations in question were not passengers of chance, but explorers."