Location agnosticism

Idea: Anything I want to have or do is available at my fingertips, no matter where I am, and in the format with which I am most comfortable.

Context

My life totally changed over the course of 2020 as did most people’s lives, but really it started that metamorphosis when I took a job that didn’t require commuting to an office. In July 2019 I was living in a smallish townhouse in a suburb of Boston, easily commutable to Wayfair’s central HQ in the bustling Back Bay neighborhood but ever-so-slightly quieter and cheaper than downtown. My first day working for Abstract was weird in a sense: I was still paying overpriced rent for a climate-controlled box, but instead of leaving, I was taking three or four hours of Zoom calls from said box. It was both urban and disappointingly disconnected. I relished the opportunity for sustained “focus time” at my desk in the tiny second bedroom Alicia and I shared as an “office,” but I still had to take a train or bus to a decent coffee shop or co-working space if I wanted to get away.

Nevertheless I loved the underlying principles of remote work (or, to be precise, distributed work): a team need not be co-located or working synchronously in order to solve great problems, and an individual can perform better in a space they control and are comfortable with. So when my wife and I decided that being near nature was more important that being near a city, we leaned further into it: we cashed out most of the equity I was extremely fortunate to have accumulated from my tenure at Wayfair and bought a house, not in a connected suburb of Boston but a rural town over an hour away from the city limits. Not in the middle of nowhere, but twenty minutes’ drive from an interstate highway in a town offering the “right to farm.” Fortunately, we got pretty lucky with the house: not perfect but with great bones, well in the bounds of what we could afford, and in a nice, safe neighborhood over farmland next to a forest. Not everyone is so lucky or privileged.

The lockdowns started four months in. As I noted two weeks ago, I struggled a bit with depression and nihilism while watching the pandemic spread and our government prove incapable of the basic management of it. Nevertheless, my family was extremely fortunate to realize that, in spite of being unable to engage in “normal society,” we were able to bring important aspects of it into our home to replicate the aspects of it we missed most, like the coffee shops I used to frequent and the meals I used to crave at my favorite spots. We started FaceTiming almost weekly with our parents and siblings, and now feel closer to them than ever. I took on new hobbies (mainly centered around improving the house) and creative outlets (like writing this) to fill time previously spent at shows, bars with coworkers, and warehouse practice spaces with musician friends.

This is what we chose to do. Not everyone thrives in a rural environment. What was most important about the past year of discovery wasn’t that we should all move to peace & quiet, but that the situation in 2021 enables us to be and have exactly what we want, pretty much anywhere. I didn’t attempt to replicate my old music hangs, but if I wanted to, I had the option to pretend I was at a show, courtesy of Instagram Live and Patreon and others, or in a warehouse practice space thanks to those same platforms and tools like Zoom, Twitch and JamKazam, if I so pleased. I could even sign up for high-definition live performance video of my city’s symphony orchestra to re-live the joy of the lower balcony of Boston’s Symphony Hall. With a middle-of-the-road TV and surround sound system (or even a couple of HomePods) in 2021, it comes damn close to the real thing.

4K video and livestreaming are absolutely not a replacement for in-person entertainment, but it has closed the gap a bit, and that gap will only get smaller over time such that you won’t need to live in a major city to experience the happenings exclusive to the major city.

What is NOT location agnosticism?

Beyond defining a methodology for remote work. It’s a methodology that can govern many—or all—aspects of your life, as you see fit.

This is not an excuse for homebody-ism. Sure, I love being at and around my house, but I also get stir crazy. We all crave social interaction. I talk to my neighbors at a social distance and occasionally enjoy the light banter of my mask-covered grocery cashier. I

This is not something only homeowners or rural dwellers to leverage.

This is not digital nomadism, either. I don’t want my possessions to be location agnostic just so I can sell my house and freely travel the world — I also like being at home. A lot. But city-dwellers who love living in cities, or nomads who love to travel the world whenever they please, should have access to the most important things to them in their location of choice.

And in 2021 we’re quite close to that being a reality, not thanks to AR or VR, but because of some key advances in a few technology spaces and, more importantly, the mindset shift that the COVID-19 pandemic forced upon many of us.

What’s enabled this

There have been a few recent developments that I feel have made location agnosticism more possible than ever before, in late 2020 and early 2021.

  • The pandemic itself
  • Apple Silicon lineup
  • Reliable noise canceling heaphones
  • Reliable virtual desktop, Screens to be specific. I can get to my Mac mini “server” from anywhere
  • Reliable video collab. Zoom is truly good. Others are buggy, but Zoom’s rising tide will hopefully lift others.
  • Gigabit internet, somehow only $10/month more expensive than 300 down from Comcast

Smart home tech and integration

Increased financial options and improved access to financial information & best practices. Nerdwallet. No-interest credit cards. TransferWise.

Access to affordable food, home, health product via Amazon and other online vendors.

  • The portable treadmill we just bought. $300 from Amazon.
  • All of the gluten free brands. Most are at our local grocery store. Much on Amazon.
  • Cheap and rentable furniture. Wayfair, Ikea, Fernish.co

Miss amusement parks? This guy tried to replicate Disney World for his kids. Was it perfect? No, but a toddler wouldn’t notice.

Problems to dig into

Access to things in truly remote areas