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Hit the Road and Jack In!

by Steve Roberts

High-Tech Nomadness is literal street tech. In this essay, the nomadness guru himself, Steve Roberts describes what motivates his unique alternative lifestyle. Steve believes that nomadness represents a very desirable option for anyone who wants to travel and explore while maintaining continuous friendships and business connections. Steve is probably one of the first people to realize that with the advent of cyberspace, you can do this quite successfully. He works, socializes, conducts business, and continues to stimulate his sizeable curiosity, all from the seat of his cyber-vehicle. It's wild, it's wacky, but in some unsettling way, it makes total sense. Hit the road, Jack -- meet you in cyberspace!
(G. Branwyn)

Lifestyle Prototype
Future society will be virtually paperless, energy-efficient, dependent upon wide-bandwidth networking, and generally cognizant of global perspective through routine communication across decreasingly relevant borders. It is not too early to prepare for this: we need the ideas, the tools, and an awareness of the problems that accompany fundamental shifts in the meaning of information. The new bike, and the lifestyle that results, is a case study and feasibility test for much of this. I have already seen the effects of my earlier travels, especially back in 1983-4 when laptops, online services, solar panels, and recumbents were all so strange that people were startled into understanding. During the next trip, I will be appearing regularly at schools to help plant the seeds early (while reminding students that the obvious choices are not the only ones).

Consulting Business
Industry is requiring increasing specialization of its workers, due to the overwhelming amount of expert knowledge associated with every technology. This yields positive results but at a severe cost -- specialists inevitably lose sight of the big picture. There is thus a growing market for people who travel continuously among specialists, cross-fertilizing at every stop. No trade journal or annual conference can accomplish as much as a renegade cadre of curious technoid generalists, on the loose in industry. The companies that recognize their own narrow focus and take steps to keep it in context gain a competitive edge, and my nomadic lifestyle and extensive support technology keep me in touch with a very wide range of pursuits... and marketable.

Product Potential
The new system addresses a number of basic needs: autono- mous power generation, global communication, soft- architecture real-time control, nomadic publishing, security... and more. These needs are by no means unique to me, and casual market research suggests that there could be a wealth of spinoffs with the right strategic partner. Sort of a mini-NASA...

Writing and Publishing
People are endlessly fascinated by life on the edge, the adventures of travelers, and peeks through curtains into other lives. Travel and writing are thus inextricably linked, and by carrying the most sophisticated tools available for biketop publishing, communication, and information- gathering, I minimize the number of excuses for not being productive while raising reader curiosity in the process. For an author, this whole gambit is a gold mine: endless story material, superb tools, and easy marketing based on a recognizable image.

This goes without saying. High-tech nomadness is fun, and my travel style insures interesting contacts in strange places. Routine life is impossible on a computerized recumbent with solar panels and a thicket of antennas... and there's a LOT of world to explore out there. Having had a taste of it, how could I spend my life in one place?

I once wrote that "the greatest risk of all is taking no risk." While that may be true, it does not mean that I relish the idea of being robbed, run over, or left to die of thirst with a broken axle in the desert. The new bike is designed with enough different kinds of communication gear to virtually insure that I can get a message out if necessary. Usually help is only a pushbutton away, via ham repeater or cellular phone -- in more remote areas, a few moments'
preparation puts me on the HF bands or into a communication satellite.

This may sound odd at first, given the classic "loneliness of the long-distance traveler." But nomadness is the most social lifestyle imaginable for two reasons: global networking and the timeless energy of beginnings. The traditional concept of stability, normally restricted to neighbors, associates, and the familiar things that define "home," is now distributed around the world and constantly refreshed by encounters on the road. Home is everywhere, and I am constantly amazed by the intelligence and imagination lurking in the most unlikely places. (The mainstream high-tech world is provincial and technocentric... seldom recognizing that wizardry can thrive in backwaters not steeped in the vapors of silicon. From unexpected quarters come new ideas.)

Technical Challenge
Finally, one of the most deeply alluring parts of this whole affair is the project itself. The engineering aspects of this, ranging from sophisticated CAD tools to fancy new adhesives, represent a seductive and multifaceted learning curve coupled with the pure joy of creating something exciting. And one of the best parts is that the media visibility keeps attracting new sponsors, allowing me to select the very best technology that industry has to offer without being stopped in my tracks by something so mundane as cost. How could a dedicated hacker/tinkerer ever abandon such a project?


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