As my publicist and I waited at the Pancake House in Cagayan de Oro, we wondered what he would look like. Then, before we could formulate an image, there he stood: a solid bearded young man grinning at us from under a hat.
“Hello,” I said, rising to proffer a hand, “you must be Cong. How nice to finally meet you!”
And so it began; after four years of writing a regular column for the Gold Star Daily, I was seeing my editor for the very first time. “Well,” he said, or words to that effect, “better late than never.”
That afternoon, visiting the paper’s offices to bang out a brief story for Monday’s editions, I realized something startling; I hadn’t worked in an actual newsroom for over a dozen years. And yet I’d had bylines. Without knowing it, I’d become something referred to these days as, yup, a digital nomad!
We were in CDO promoting my new book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, and a curious theme had emerged. “We are all accustomed to hearing stories about Filipinos going abroad to seek their fortunes,” I told the mostly Filipino audiences. “Well, my book is a twist on that theme: the story of a foreigner coming to the Philippines to find his fortune here.”
The smiles and nods told me I’d struck a chord. “We’re calling it a reverse diaspora,” I announced light-heartedly to a chorus of laughs.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize who’s driving that global trend: the heretofore invisible class I have inadvertently joined. Specifically, those using modern technology to work from wherever they want.
A recent pair of articles in the Manila Times addresses the phenomenon directly. “While migration is traditionally the go-to way to leave (in order to live),” writes Kay Calpo Lugtu, head of a “digital and culture transformation firm” called Hungry Workhorse, “we are seeing more and more countries transform [their ways] of accommodating and welcoming foreigners.”
Among them, she says, are Bali and Spain, which recently introduced special “digital visas” affording “more flexibility to the individual looking to explore the world while still maintaining citizenship in the motherland.” There’s no reason, Lugtu concludes, the Philippines couldn’t do the same.
An accompanying piece makes the case statistically. Here in the Philippines, the article reports, the so-called “digital economy” grew by a staggering 11 percent last year to 2.08 trillion pesos, contributing 9.4 percent of the gross domestic product.
“The recent pandemic created a new type of professional combining work while traveling,” proclaims a flyer announcing what it touts as the country’s first-ever Digital Nomad Summit scheduled on Siargao Island next month. This development, the flyer asserts, has given “birth to a global workforce of around 36 million.” Which, in turn, inspired the upcoming June 22-24 gathering “to have meaningful conversations with those who are still exploring how to become [digital nomads] or have been one for a long time.”
Expected participants include Senator Imee Marcos, Congressman Bingo Matugas, federal communications and technology secretary Ivan Uy, local dignitaries and politicians, digital nomads from across the globe, various tech experts, and—here’s the kicker—yours truly, who’s been invited to read from his book.
To put it mildly, I’m very excited. Let’s hear it for the digital diaspora!
David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon and Lazada. An award-winning journalist, author, essayist, and broadcaster, Haldane is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.