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A brief ethnography of digital nomads

A brief ethnography of digital nomads 1500 996 markeloptah
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week I had the chance to visit my friend Jon in Xàvia (Alicante). He has lived there for a couple of years since is the basecamp of Sun and co. project he as his partner Eduardo founded several years ago.

Since his experience in Edinburgh’s The Melting Point, Jon has been involved in dynamizing creative communities in coworkings contexts. Four years ago a new opportunity emerged for him to put a step into co-living schemes. Eduardo, the owner of a youth hostel in Xàvia wanted Jon to start a co-working co-living space there while in low season. And there he went.

All those years, intermittently Jon has been speaking to me about one of their main clients in Sun and Co: location independent freelance workers or so called digital nomads. This social phenomena took my attention since it constitutes a niche prototype practice of a future of work. The future(s) of work has been a buzz topic for a couple of years now on, exacerbated by digital technologies which facilitates remote (and mainly cognitive) work and the first resonances of work robotization and automatization. Infused in these conversations topics like universal income, networked organizations, algorithmic companies… have been commonplace.

Remote workers, most of whom are liberal professionals working in digital-related businesses have made working remotely not only a contingent practice but a whole new lifestyle with it’s own ethics, aesthetics and practices. This fact has been driven by important changes in organizational dynamics regarding control, presence and personal/work life balances.

One of my interest areas regarding my self-directed masters is that of emerging organizational structures, dynamics and forms. Apparte from spending some time with my lovely Jon, getting to know and understand a little better motivations, values and purposes of these digital tribe was of high interest for me. At a personal level framing this trip as a sensing journey helped me train a little bit some of the arts of being, such as deep listening, which are also a important focus of my learning process. At an spiritual level, engaging in quality time with Jon left me really energized by his charm. We had the chance to discuss some personal leaps that Jon had made in the lasts months thanks, in part, to a cathartic reading of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. This week I just started leafing through the book. I might write a review once I have finished it in my books section.

Hereafter you can find some of my notes regarding what I experienced about the digital nomads zeitgeist. I has the chance to have many conversations with Jon and his co-workers regarding some of the ideas there.

Some ethnographic notes

Tool: frameworks for structuring etnographic material

Community and culture in Sun and Co.

  • Weekly goals and projects
  • Self-led event agenda and skillshare scheme
  • Mastermind. Go meetings.
  • Rol of the host (Jon).
    • Hosting manual
    • Community building manual
  • Intimacy and bonds seeking. Host as a love node in the community.
  • Use of space
    • Lunch and dinner time

Collective imaginaries of the digital nomad community

  • Adventour and newness
  • Community.
  • Home-making and signifying
  • Non-normality and otherness
  • Happiness: joy vs. excitement. Everydayness neglection. In search of the peak experience. Waterfall effect (Jon).
    • Mechanistic thinking. Love as an excel formula. Leisure as a timetable to be filled. Friends as something you find in a place.
  • Productivity, efficiency and willforce.
    • Waking up at 5 am and cold baths.
    • Doing everything I need to have done before 10 am
  • Being in search and/or scaping
  • Money and financial freedom

Design for the New: s1, s2 & s3

Design for the New: s1, s2 & s3 8001 4500 markeloptah
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Session 1

What did we do?

During the past months students have been crafting a future vision and have been informally thinking about various interventions to approach it. The goal of this first session was to share a theoretical scaffold for understanding change through the perspective of social practices. For doing so first we suggested to understand the system in which this practices are embedded. Once identified the actants of that network we tried to understand their implicit and explicit needs. Everyday life can be understood as the emergent property of people going about the activity of satisfying their needs. Many of those needs are satisfied through the enactment of routinized behaviours.

Designing interventions that deliberately modify or create conditions for mutated or new (and more desirable) practices is one of the focus of this course. For that reason we projected and deconstructed the kind of social practices that could populate our future vision and tracked which present practices relate to those. For doing so, and following the performative approach that we are trying to bring over teaching methodologies, we used an exercise based on accessing collective imaginaries.


Some guiding questions:

  • How can we materialize the future? Different approaches to future prototyping.
  • How does change happen? Socio-technical transitions
  • How can design contribute to worldbuilding? Transition design as an approach to change through design.
  • Why using everydayness as the battleground for system change? In search of an intermediate entry point to change between structuralism and individual agency. Social practice theory.
  • How we can design for the creation/mutation/diffusion of desired social practices? Intentionality in design process. Differences between design for change in the range from individual behaviours to structural change.


Goal: To experience the relevance of social practices for the diffusion of the systemic changes needed for your projects to thrive.

Agenda (2h 15min)

  • Actor-network needs mapping
  • Mapping related social practices
  • Locating your interventions/projects
  • Collective practice deconstruction
  • Homework

What did work? What could have worked better?

The general feeling about the session was really good. I think students had the chance to explore further their intervention areas and somehow frame better they projects. The deconstruction approach, by collectively building social images about social practices, worked quite well. It helped build a poetic imaginary about the practice. Event though maybe it didn’t help too much to land their work in concrete terms. The reflection was help at an abstract and poetic level that might have not helped understand the reason for working at a social practice level. This became quite evident in session 2 when we shared the results from homework. The practical part was a little tight on time so we had to cut down some parts.

Group-working wise this situation left me a little hopeless about not having the chance to to explore all the exercises I had prepare.

Session 2

What did we do?

The first part of the session was dedicated to check about the homework. While doing a feedback circle it became evident that the notion of social practice and it’s meaning for their projects were not clear enough. That’s why we dedicated extra time there. We also took one of the practices, food buying, as an example for the rest of the session. The main focus of that day was to understand how we can design transition pathways, that’s to say, an intervention plan that may lead to the transformation and/or creation of practices needed for upbringing the kind of futures that we are pursuing.

For understanding change dynamics we explored different examples and approaches. We explored the social practice of bathing, extensively documented by academics in the social practice field such as Bakker, Shove, Kuijer et al. We also explored the socio-technical transition that lead to the omnipresent car in our streets, roads and lifes. By exploring those examples we tried to understand the influence that different material (technology, infrastructure…), ideologic (images, understandings, metaphors…) and social contexts had in the diffusion of change. This idea led to various conversations around the excessive power that we concede to technology as a means for change. The kind of techno-positivist approach to “progress” that overflows Silicon Valley and other technologic hotspots.

In that context we discussed about Transition Design as an ongoing body of knowledge and practice which, contrary to traditional disciplines of design, it is not defined by the kind of devices it creates (sensory, tactile, digital, volumetric, relational…) but by the impact it seeks to bring to the world or the intention that it embodies. To illustrate that we showed an array of different design interventions to tackle each of the elements of a social practice (images, stuff and skills) and their connections.

“Transition Design as an ongoing body of knowledge and practice which, contrary to traditional disciplines of design, it is not defined by the kind of devices it creates (sensory, tactile, digital, volumetric, relational…) but by the impact it seeks to bring to the world or the intention that it embodies.”


Some guiding questions:

  • How does change and transition unfold over time?
  • Which are drivers of change?
  • Which is our agency as designers?
  • Which different kinds of interventions can we design to foster our future visions?
  • How do those interventions relate to the system they operate in?


As we needed more time for working on the deconstruction of the social practices we didn’t follow the plan we had for performing transition pathways from an embodied intelligence point of view. On the other hand we shared some time to work in class and to tutorize each of the processes.

What did work? What could have worked better?

The general feeling from this class was quite bad. Rushing and not enjoying the process. This session made quite clear to us that we did not explain well enough the deconstruction of social practices. That led to a change in the agenda. We were quite open and fast to see the need to change plans.

While explaining the transition pathway and it’s conforming interventions we made the mistake to separate each of the element of the practice. In that way we missed the importance of the links between elements. Somehow I feel like we were forcing a simplistic and linear approach to change that does not make justice to its true nature.

Session 3

What did we do?

After the troubles of last session we decided to begin the third and last session with a good framing of what we were pursuing with this course. I’m sure this helped build a collective sense of the process and helped develop a fruitful session. The session commenced with a shareback from the homework. We did that by creating groups that could discuss their learnings while we could tackle some of the doubts that were emerging.

After that initial part we proceeded to deepen in an intervention that each groups selected. We did that by suggesting an investigative rehearsal taking as an inspiration the works from Adam StJohn Lawrence, Augusto Boal and others.

“(s)he must propose a theatre that is not the negation of theatre, but a new theatre, a theatre of the possibility of the impossible; not a theatre of identification but a theatre of transformation.”

Alain Badiou’s Theatre and Philosophy

We facilitated a session that led to several iterations of a prototyped intervention through a theatrical language.



Start: Even number of groups of 3 with a selected intervention

  • Groups explore questions for exploration
  • Groups create a starting point (situation)
  • Groups create a quick story draft (storyboard)

Mid: We get into 2 groups

  • Warm-up
  • Fast round to show the situations
  • We select a starting point
  • 1st round stopping to highlight interesting stuff
  • Iterative rounds stopping so suggest alternatives
  • The group records every insight
  • Whenever we feel is enough we go for the next situation

Finish: Goes on and on until the time is over

What did work? What could have worked better?

Even though this session was the least prepared one the general feeling was very good. The last round of check-out comments revealed that a physical approach to prototyping may unveil interesting insights for students. I could detect some lacks or improvement areas in the facilitation part. It is relatively difficult to take people non related to theatre to act out. We should have taken into account this and facilitate in a more progressive way.

My takeouts

I was very moved by this whole process at many levels. It challenged me, as it is a topic and an approach to teaching that still feels tentative for me. I enjoyed a lot having and giving myself the time to explore each topic, read, research, hypothesize and test in a weekly pace. I have been teaching for a couple of years now and I had already fall into the comfortability trap. This process has taken me out of the comfort zone. That’s fine.

At a personal level and regarding the teamwork I suffered it a little bit. Coping with different working styles is always a challenge. Being them also immersed in different life moments it became a double challenge. This week we will have the chance to discuss the internal dynamics which I am really looking forward to do.

Facilitating change: a workshop

Facilitating change: a workshop 1500 1000 markeloptah
Reading Time: 5 minutes

My last weeks have been focused around two main tasks and deliverables: the course on design transitions we are facilitating in the Masters in Design for Emerging Futures and the development of a workshop around facilitating, participatory leadership and art of hosting which I conducted for inèdit.

These past weeks I have being lagging behind a bit with the registration of my learnings in these platform. I guess I need to get used to it and acquire the habit. While writing this an oppotunity comes to my mind relative to exploring behavioural science and the power of habits to apply it to my own process. The past decades of management theory have focused a lot on the individual agency and power of will to change organizations and systems. Dozens of books targeting productivity, personal habit change and self-growth can testify that.

Some of ours latest work focused on Social Practice Theory and Transition Design aknowledges the tension between structural approaches to change and those based on individual agency and proposes an integrative change theory. One that builds on routinized behaviours being collectively modeled, evolved and created by their carriers during time. This model recognizes the power of structures in setting the framework for practices to emerge or transform: material reality (ex. physical infrastructures), mental models and collective imaginaries (through propaganda, mass media, control…) or access to education. But it also gives space for niche enactments of practices to transform the status quo. This article bring some interesting points to the complementarities of socio-technical transitions and social practice theory.

One of the reason of socializing my learning process and trying to create a support comunity for bringing it forward is this. The need to approach it collectively instead of relying uniquely in my will, effort or capacities to carry this process. This week I will try to organize a kick-off meeting with all mentors so they can also meet to each other and, what’s more important, share opportunities for them to benefit from this. One of the main focus will be then to help them reflect about what they want to take from this project.

Geting back to the work that I have been doing last couple of weeks. inèdit offered me the chance to conduct a workshop around participatory leadership and facilitation for their workers. This gave me the opportunity to explore new ideas, and more importantly, reflect on passed experiences around facilitating change. I also had the chance to read couple of books that helped me frame the workshop. I will try to write a blog post this week with some of my takeouts.

«… leadership is the capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate.»

One of the most spreaded focus one spreading facilitation abilities is that that of allowing the access to tools, frameworks and methods. The underlaying hyptohesis in then that in order to collectively improve our leadership capabilities we need to find the right tools. Unlike that approach Otto Scharmer’s Theory U puts the stress on the «inner place from which we intervene» as the main focus. That idea was the starting point for the workshop: What if learning facilitation is about embodying soft technologies of self?

One of the slides used during the workshop. Based on Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

While researching I found many approaches to change management through the recognition of organizationa as a social system. This is pretty evident in the case of the learning organization approach by Peter Senge but also present in the work from Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations or in Liberating Structures. What really caught my atention from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U was its phenomenological approach to systems in contrast with my more habitutal scientifist outreach. For futher explorations I would like to get a little bit deeper into the spiritual dimensions of these approaches. A good amount of modern theories of management have a spiritual and new-agey tint that has traditionally left me a little bit skeptic. Further explorations of this may start by exploring Integral Theory by Ken Wilber, which is an inspiration for Laloux’s work.

“I would say that Theory U is something simple. It’s phenomenology applied to systems reality, not systems science. It’s the reality of our systems. That’s why sensing matters.”

Structure of the workshop

The workshop was conducted around four key soft tecnologies of the self that are crucial for a good facilitation.

  1. Hosting: creating, charging and mantaining spaces
  2. Listening: suspending judgement and extending perceptive organs
  3. Generative dialogue: the power of questions, reframing and collective creativity
  4. Improvisation: leaving space for what’s emerging

While designing the structure and dynamics of the workshop I was really aware of the need to lead from the example. That’s to say the workshop needed to be well facilitated and illustrative of the core ideas. It also needed a three fold epistemological movement between learning by experiencing the ideas, embodying the ideas by generating a generative dialogue about the contents generated and clinically analysing the dynamics of the social field that emerged and how they were treated or facilitated.

Having all these premises in mind the program which follows was designed.

Intro 10 min 9.45 – 9.55

Hosting – Crear, cargar y mantener los espacios. 90 min 9.55 – 11.15

  • Check-in. 20 min 9.55 – 10.15
  • ¿Qué significa facilitar? mental landscapes 40 min 10.15 – 10:55
  • Teoría 20 min 10:55 – 11.15

Listening: suspending judgement and extending perceptive organs.  70 min 11:15 – 12.25

  • Video 10 min 11.15 – 11.25
  • Theory 15 min 11.25 – 11.40
  • Exercise 1 15 min  11.40 – 11.55
  • Exercise 2  30 min 11.55 – 12.25

Generative dialogue: the power of questions, reframing and collective creativity. 45 min 12:25 – 13.10

  • Theory 15 min 12.25 – 12.40
  • Exercise : Frame- storming. In search of a more beautiful question. 30 min 12.40 – 13.10

Improvisation: leaving space for what’s emerging 5 min 13.10 – 13-15

CODA 5 min 13.15 – 13.20

CHECK OUT – 10 min 13.20 – 13.30

My outcomes

It was a very good chance to reflect about the experiences of the previous six years in which I have facilitated dozens of processes both long term and concrete interventions. I also had the chance to settle some concepts and ideas through the reading of some books and articles. In general I am quite happy about the result. People were engaged enough with som exceptions.

One thing that could have been better is the taking care part of the workshop. During one of the dynamics the topic of bullying emerged and then it caused some personal and emotional reactions from the participants that didn’t help. Taking care of the group is a basic task for facilitators. I was not present enough to see it coming.

I would like to keep exploring facilitation maybe during the next months I could attend to an Art of Hosting event to keep practising. I would also be a good idea to do some research (or sensing journey) to speak and observe proficient facilitators in their elements.

More resources

Here you can check the internal document which has some side coaching questions for facilitating the workshop.

Design for the New

Design for the New 1600 1062 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last couple of weeks we have been working on a new course for the Master on Design for Emerging Futures, a joint program of Elisava and IAAC. One of our main goals for this course is to prototype some ideas from our reserarch concerning Performing Transitions. I will try to keep track of my main learnings from that process.

In this first post I will start by explaining the syllabus and main structure of the course.

Frame of the subject and fit in MDeF

The learning process in the MDeF has materialised over the last few months into a personal project on the part of each student. These projects constitute socio-technical interventions on reality which take as reference the coordinates offered in the contents of the master: urban environment, digital manufacturing, technology, new design postures … These interventions are beginning to outline possible, critical and/or desirable futures that are to be constituted as alternative normalities.

One of the pillars of the evolving body of knowledge that constitutes Transition Design is that of the theories of change, that is, the mental, theoretical and practical frameworks under which change happens and is meant. In this context, Transition Design bets on a reconquest of everydayness as a political positioning and an engine of change that builds bridges between the hitherto opposed theories that explain change from normative structures and the individual agency.

One of the most promising cultural theories for explaining social phenomena and analysing everyday life is that of Social Practices. The analysis of present practices as well as their historical evolution and future potentialities creates fertile ground for an aesthetic policy that questions the status-quo and overcomes the crisis of imagination in which we live submerged as a civilization. We believe the adoption of this tools, mindsets and theoretical scaffolds might expand design’s ability to construct preferred futures from a systems perspective.

Throughout the course the design interventions proposed by the students will be framed under the theory of social practices as a means for:

  • Understanding and reflecting on the implications of the performativity of everyday life in the creation of new normalities from a mind-body perspective and the role that design plays in that context.
  • Designing paths of transition from the present (and its practices) to the desired scenarios through strategic interventions in the metaphorical, material and practical spheres through the construction of speculative prototypes (material, performative, narrative…)
  • Engaging in a process to iterate, concretize and refine students’ projects integrating the learnings of Transition Design and the work on social practices.

Targeted competencies and goals

  • Learn how to integrate a futures and systems centered practice into the design process.
  • Learn how to bridge discursive and speculative work with a system transition perspective.
  • Learn how to embed alternative ways of knowing, thinking and reflecting in our posture as designers.
  • Explore a continuum of strategies for system change both at a structure and granular level.
  • Enrich the students’ projects with a transition pathway towards the creation of new normalities involved in their work.

Structure by days

DAY 1 (april 26th)

  1. 15’ Introduction to the course
    1. explain that this is a research field for us on design of social practices.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition Design and theories of change (Max-Neef needs, Social Practice Theory and Socio-technical transitions).
    1. Theories of change – intentionality
    2. Human needs – we have developed different ways to satisfy these needs (Max-Neef).
  3. 2h 15’ Practice – Using the student’s projects as a reference we will use different lenses (temporal and ontological) to assess their future fitness by mapping stakeholders and their needs, understanding current ecologies of practices and deconstructing them in order to find design intervention points.
  • Stakeholder needs mapping
  • Historical analysis of related practices
  • Analysis of emerging practices
  • Future practice envisioning
  • Collective practice deconstruction
  1. Homework for next session – Practice mapping and deconstruction

DAY 2 (may 9th)

  1. 40’ Check-in about the homework. Feedback circle.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition design and new ways of designing. From user centered design to xenodesign. Speculative and discursive design. Performing transitions and embodied intelligence.
  3. 1h 50’ Practice – Pulling from the practice deconstruction performed during the time between sessions we will explore the potentialities of different interventions in the present that may lead to the targeted future social practices. For this we will use a combination of tools and frames that might help iterate, test and discuss the different approaches.
  • Tasting of different tools for imagining alternatives: speculative prototyping, ontographic machines, mental landscapes, forced metaphors, experiential futures, performing transitions, LARP…
  • Defining KPIs and measurements of impact
  • Outlining of a transition path using the spatio-temporal matrix
  • Defining the interventions to be designed next session

DAY 3 (may 10th)

  1. 20’ Check-in about previous session. Feedback circle.
  2. 120’ Practice – In this last part of the course we will focus in one of the mapped interventions of the previous sessions and design it from a performative perspective. Throughout this workshop each of the students will design performative situations in order to explore future social practices from other kinds of intelligences and ways of knowing such as embodied cognition and gut-level discernment.

40’ Presentations – performance of the interventions


Transition Design Seminar. Carnegie Mellon Design School (2019). https://transitiondesignseminarcmu.net/

Xenodesignerly Ways of Knowing. Johanna Schmeer (2019). https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/6qb7ohpt


System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability: Theory, Evidence and Policy. Elzen B, Geels FW, Green K, Eds (2004).

Typology of Sociotechnical Transition Pathways. Research Policy 36. pp 54-79. Geels, Frank W. and Schott, Johan (2007).

Implications of Social Practice Theory for Sustainable Design. Kuijer, S.C. (2014). https://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid%3Ad1662dc5-9706-4bb5-933b-75704c72ba30

Designing change by living change. Kakee Scott, Jaco Quist and Conny Bakker (2012). https://www.academia.edu/2103098/Designing_change_by_living_change

Extrapolation Factory Operator’s Manual. Montgomery and Woebken (2016).

Performing transitions within emergent paradigms. Grace Polifroni, Mercè Rua and Markel Cormenzana (2019). https://medium.com/weareholon/performing-transitions-within-emergent-paradigms-452a63949b20

Hello worlds skin folds

Hello worlds skin folds 3227 3505 markeloptah

Reading Time: < 1 minuteThis the first post of what will be my learning log during the next 12 months.

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