Scott H Young

Living a Completely Digital Life


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Recently, I shared my goals for life with the readers of this website. The first on the list was being able to live a completely digital life. Although I’m sure I haven’t invented the term, I don’t see it used too frequently. In fact, aside from a small subculture of blogs and books, the idea of “digital living” isn’t even imagined by most people.

What is a Digital Life?

I’m going to take the initiative to define a digital life as:

  1. One where the primary source of income is detached from any location.
  2. All or most assets you own are stored as bits and bytes on a computer.
  3. You can earn your income fully from anywhere you can bring a laptop and receive satellite phone/internet connections.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem incredibly appealing. The American Dream is a four bedroom house, two cars and a driveway in the suburbs. Why is the Digital Dream of having most the things you own stored on a hard drive desirable?

The reason is that a digital life enables you to live in a way that would otherwise be completely impossible, perhaps even unimaginable. Here are a few things you could do, living entirely with 1’s and 0’s:

  • Live anywhere in the world, at any time. Who wants to live in Spain, India or Sweden for six months? Normally such trips are called vacations and require extra money, only last a week or two, during which you can’t earn any more money. Digital living means vacationing could be a way of life, and not a brochure.
  • Have complete control over your time. Most regular work is fixed to the 9-5 schedule. This means opportunities are left for evenings and weekends. It also means your productivity is limited to what you can work with during those hours. Digital living would remove those barriers and give you 100% control over your time.
  • Not tied to civilization. I’m a fan of hot showers and paved streets. But, if your life were completely digital, you would be less attached to civilization itself. You could live in the jungle for as long as you have battery packs. Heck, with a portable solar generator, you wouldn’t even need to go back to recharge.

The possibilities of what you can do with a completely digital life are almost endless. Tim Ferriss introduces many of the ideas of digital living in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. However, he holds back on some ideas, sticking with the belief that most people will still work in a corporate environment or have a major location.

Normally, world travel and disconnect from society has it’s costs. Either you need to accept a much lower income, or you work odd jobs during your travels. A digital life is different in that you can still pursue ambitious financial goals. I know people who could, if they want, earn in the mid six-figures, without needing more than a laptop.

How Do You Create a Digital Life?

The internet provides the best opportunity for going completely digital. There is more than a few ways you can use the internet to make a digital life possible. Here are just a few:

  • Internet Businesses/Blogs. This is the current path I’m pursuing. Setting up a successful business isn’t easy. Setting up a successful, completely digital, business, isn’t any easier. However, the rewards of a digital life are big enough to make the challenge worthwhile.
  • Freelancing. Writing, designing, programming, even doing taxes are all going online now. Taking your employable skills to the freelance market can be an easier way to transition into digital than starting a business. With the rise of communication software, there isn’t a difficulty interacting with people on the other side of the globe.
  • Mobile Employment. Many employers are starting to offer work at home programs. It saves them office space, boosts productivity and moves you a step towards digital.

The Stuff Obsession

More than just income generation, a digital life requires a different way of looking at how to live. The typical Western approach is to own a lot of stuff. Buy a house. Buy IKEA furniture. Buy a car, a truck, a big screen television and all the things your money can buy.

But do we really need more stuff? Is our obsession with ownership based on the need to watch prime time television in high-def? Or is it just something to fill up time and distract from the fact that life is boring and we’ve come to accept it as an inevitability.

A digital way of living flips this thinking on its head. More stuff is bad. A friend of mine (not digital, but a vagabond who comes pretty close) once said that he prefers “when my life can fit in a backpack.” Stuff can provide comfort, but it takes away freedom. A coffee table and china set just provide the illusion of stability.

Digital life doesn’t mean becoming a monk and completely abandoning all material possessions. But, it does put stuff in its place. Instead of rewarding the collection of useless junk, digital living sees your things as functional necessities, not filler for a boring life.

My Progress Towards Digital Living

I’m not completely digital yet. But I’m expecting that I could be in the next few years. I’m almost at the stage of having a full-time income stream from the web. I expect to finish my education and build up some reserve funds before I’m able to make the complete switch.

Digital Life is an Option, Not a Prerequisite

Digital living is about creating the option to have nearly complete freedom. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever stay in one place or have a home. Digital life is just another form of independence, giving you more flexibility to create the lifestyle you want.


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17 Responses to “Living a Completely Digital Life”

  1. Charles says:

    Nice outlook, Scott. What do you mean by “the mid six-figures”? Do you mean $100,000 ÷ 2 = $50,000 or do you mean ($1,000,000 ÷ 2 = $500,000?

    Good luck with your endeavors BTW!

  2. Hi Scott,

    I’m glad to see you mention blogging with regards to Tim Ferriss and his 4HWW. I loved the book but was a bit disappointed that it focused so much on people already in the ‘system’. I’ve got the same goals as you regarding digital income and I would love to see a 4HWW tailored to bloggers.

    I’m also curious, and I understand if you don’t want to answer, what is your dollar figure goal for a full-time income stream?

  3. Sara says:

    I love that by your standards, living a digital life actually means that you can experience more of the outside world. Very cool.

  4. Aaraon says:

    I don’t want to make a straw man out of your point or exaggerate the meaning of what you said, but you may be too hard on the idea of having “stuff”.

    When I was younger I really bought into the Fight Club attitude of “Things you own end up owning you.” I didn’t own many things or thought I wanted them. I was against materialism and commercialism. I thought people who owned lots of possessions were zombies with unfullfilling lives. I lived in bare, spartan apartments and didn’t spend much.

    Now I live with my partner and I’ve softened my attitude a bit. I still don’t dream of having a 12 room house full of overpriced furniture, but I see possessions more as something that can practically improve my life, instead of something I use to fill a hole in my soul.

    A car lets you get around. Well made and aethetically pleasing objects can be enjoyed for that aspect of them. I like living in a fairly well decorated apartment with lots of meaningful knickknacks around. It just feels better to come home to that than a barren one. A big screen TV doesn’t cost much in the long run and enhances my enjoyments of movies and games I like. Various toys make my life more fun, and not only by filling a hole in my soul.

    When I was 19 on the outside looking in, I saw possessions as evil and morally vapid. Now that I’m on the inside looking out I don’t see them as that bad. But I don’t want to overstate my own views or yours, or imply that no one ever has the wrong attitude towards acquiring things. I just thought I’d share my experiences.

  5. Scott Young says:

    Aaron,

    Perhaps I was being a bit too hard on “stuff”. Having things isn’t bad, but it depends on your attitude. If you have the idea that stuff is functional, and for enabling your other pursuits, that’s a healthy outlook. When “stuff” starts to fill up other psychological needs, like achievement, status and self-image, that’s when you have an obsession.

    I own a lot of things. I think the key is to see why you own them. In a digital life, there is a functional cost to owning too much stuff, so it’s harder to go from an interest to an obsession.

    Charles,

    Steve Pavlina has cited that he earns around $300-400k on his blog. Other bloggers have also quoted similar figures. I personally know people who, haven’t publicly stated their income, but it only takes a bit of inference to guess that they probably earn >$100k per year.

    Stu,

    My initial, bottom-line goal is $20,000 per year, a figure I mentioned in my article on poverty thresholds. This is the minimum I feel I could live on. Chances are high that I’ll reach this figure when the numbers come in for ’08.

    But, that’s just a minimum. I’d estimate I’d need probably $35-50k before it would be easy to travel around full-time.

    -Scott

  6. Charles says:

    Thanks Scott for the heads-up. Wow, that’s a lot of money. I hope you can make a living out of your blog shortly, and much, much more ;)

  7. Thor says:

    You are getting there for sure, this blog is getting more and more popular and how I know is that frequently in the last couple of weeks I have not been able to reach it, presumably due to overload on your server/host. Was not sure if you get any data on how many failed connections per day so I thought to let you know, karma to me.

  8. Robin says:

    You might be able to come a lot closer to a digital life if you’re a student. I’m not sure about the education system in other countries, but in Sweden you can study pretty much anything you want as distance courses (for free) that you do entirely over the Internet. You can take most degrees without being enrolled in program (I do like this).

    As a member of an international student organization i find I have even more opportunities: i could work abroad in chapters in different countries and also facilitate conferences (and then get inexpensive or free lodging).

    I’ve had this opportunity without realizing it, so big thanks for making me think of it Scott!

    Another thought for the lifestyle you describe: knowing languages can be very beneficial. Chinese, Russian, Spanish, German or whatever depending on where you plan to travel. Being in a country where most don’t know a word of English can make you very dependent.

  9. Scott Young says:

    Thor,

    That’s alarming. I’ve never had a problem connecting to this website. And traffic has been relatively stable over the last few months, so there shouldn’t be any server problems.

    Can you let me know what times you’ve tried to connect to the website and where? I’m not sure what I can do, but I’ll try.

    -Scott

  10. graham says:

    I fit my life into a backpack and lived on less than $10,000 (including several international flights) for a year. Now I have an apartment filled with “stuff”.

    Difference?

    -Mobilized, minimalistic living is very liberating. You can experience the breadth of life. However, being transient and unrooted also has psychological impact. It can be difficult to build and maintain deep relationships, especially with family or old friends. It can also be difficult to make professional headway. You meet a lot of people, see a ton of things, and experience much of what life has to offer – but eventually, it can reach a point where it becomes self-limiting.

    -Stabilized, established living is very empowering. You can experience the depth of life. Owning stuff may breed a certain level of entrapment and “obsession”, but having roots also allows you to build status and connections that are generally impossible if you keep moving around and effectively “starting over”. You may get too busy to do everything, but if you focus on what counts, this lifestyle becomes very rewarding.

    Like Aaraon above, I too used to buy wholly into the “stuff is evil” attitude of youth. Now, having hit the wall on the transient lifestyle, I see the value of developing roots and surrounding yourself with the people and things that contribute positively to your chosen lifestyle.

    Perhaps the best strategy to is live light and travel while you’re young and unattached, so you can appreciate the true value of a mate and house in the ‘burbs once you’re ready for them.

  11. Scott Young says:

    Graham,

    That’s excellent.

    I also agree that complete detachment and non-location isn’t necessarily the best way to permanently live life. “Digital living” involves having this as an option, not a necessity.

    I hope to live with fewer locations and chronic traveling in my 20’s, but I expect I’ll probably find a more permanent location when I want to have a family.

    -Scott

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