A friend recently invited me to explore a set of disused grain silos. Armed with headlamps and a sense of adventure, we climbed steel ladders, crawled through broken door panels, avoided spider webs and walked on centimetre thick layers of pigeon shit. We eventually ascended to the very top of the tallest silo. From there, we had a view of the greater Sydney area, sprawled out as far as the eye could see.
Sitting there, I watched the nightlife unfold. Busses navigated their winding routes; trains cleaved their way through the city; planes landed and departed a distant airport; the city’s electricity flowed unhindered, powering everything from streetlights to TV sets. The whole city was alive with people – so many people – like cogs in the great machine called civilization.
I felt a great respect and gratitude towards these people who, although they might think they have mundane jobs like bus drivers and street sweepers, make civilization possible.
I also felt disconnected. Where in this great machine do I fit?
I used to be part of it. I went to university to shape myself into a cog with the right size and shape to fit into some technology firm or investment bank. Then this little cog decided to leave and become a nomadic cog.
But what good is a nomadic cog? How do I contribute to the great machine of civilization?
I’m not here to serve up a thin soup of self-pity. But I want to tell all sides of the nomadic life, good and bad, and this questioning of purpose and worth is a very real concern. It is something that anyone thinking of breaking out of the great machine should be aware of.
Perhaps this article is more about being unemployed than being nomadic. In any case, when you stop mattering to the world, it hurts your pride and self-esteem.
I’ve thought hard about how I’ve contributed to the great machine in the last two years, and I can only find two things.
- Creating the Modern Nomad. Culture is an important part of the great machine. I hold a deep respect for authors, playwrights, dancers etc. So there is some value in this blog. But it’s not like I’ve written Gone with the Wind. I served humanity better as a development manager at UBS than as a blogger.
- I’ve created a few websites. There is decent value there, helping people and businesses to communicate with the world through the world wide web of awesomeness. Then again, held up to my global value as a high-tech developer, I think I’ve traded my cow for a handful of perfectly ordinary beans.
How does all of this apply to you? It depends.
If you are working a normal norm-aligned job, like a nurse, taxi driver etc, then don’t forget that you are a part of this planet’s most amazing life-based wonder: the civilization of Homo sapiens.
If you are considering sidestepping the norms and disregard the social structures that push us towards a place in the great machine, then take a moment and think about how you might still contribute to the world. If you don’t, you may find yourself feeling disconnected.
Is dislodging yourself from the great machine all gloom and doom? No. It isn’t even possible. We can’t leave civilization any more than we can jump to the moon. But as cogs, we can become disconnected and spin uselessly. I don’t believe this is inherent in being a nomad, however. I have as many hours in my day as the next guy. It is up to me to find a way to use them responsibly and effectively. It is just harder to do when normal jobs are not an option anymore. Harder, but not impossible. It takes more self-direction, self-discipline and conscious goal setting than I have mustered in the last two years. But that is all about to change. By (the figurative) God, I am going to change that. Watch this space.
Explorations of the disused silo
This nocturnal adventure was the most fun I’ve had since New Zealand, and I can’t leave you without sharing some of the photos. Entirely unrelated to the topic of this article, but what the hell; enjoy!