The best thing I’ve read on nomadism since Bruce Chatwin.

A friend sent me the essay “On Being an Illegible Person" by Venkatesh Rao. The title first got my attention: I took "illegible" to mean the way we become when we have moved around the world so much that the traits that make us culturally identifiable, like accent, dress, apparent educational background, and so on, become blurred.

Rao means something else too: As nomads, we become illegible to a system that can’t pin us down by income, residence, or occupation. Governments and corporations begin to see us as either irrelevant or suspicious. I like to think I’ve contributed a little to this subject in “Wanderlust,” when I talk about stationary peoples’ mistrust of the nomad. The great work on this theme is Chatwin’s “The Songlines.”

Here’s a slice from Rao:

"For the nomad, the question of why you are temporarily somewhere is simply ill-posed. It’s like asking a settled person, “why aren’t you moving?” For the nomad, a period of rootedness is unstable, like travel for the rooted.  It is a disturbed equilibrium that requires explanation. An explanation of non-movement, and eventual resumption of movement, are required. The associated stories can range from a car breakdown, to insufficient funds to fuel the next phase of movement, to unexpected weather conditions.”

Nomadism is not like travel, Rao suggests, which assumes a stationary state from which you leave and to which you return. In fact, nomadism can be a perfectly stable mode of existence in its own way. Business and government still aren’t particularly nomad-friendly, but technology is ever more so. Could we be on the verge of a boom in nomadic living?

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