Tea talk: Youjin Do, journalist, documentary maker, digital nomad
For this Tea Talk, we chatted with Youjin Do, journalist and documentary film maker, currently working on the doc One Way Ticket exploring digital nomadism around the globe. Over the last few years, Youjin has interviewed traveling freelancers, remote workers and founders of distributed startups — all to release a film diving deep into the digital nomad and remote work movement for free in early 2016. We sat down with Youjin to learn more about her travels, her volunteer team, what she’s learned in the process of filming about digital nomadism and more. Check out the interview below!
How did One Way Ticket start? What made you want to create a documentary about digital nomadism?
More and more, people are starting to move around, working and living anywhere. This movement is growing fast and lots of interesting things are happening right now. I thought this moment should be documented, and decided to do it in the form of film. There’s a huge difference between solid text and vivid image. Producing a documentary is an important experiment for me as a journalist. I want to produce content that’s able to create real change.
There have been many attempts to share digital nomad stories through blogs or books. I’ve been interviewing people in tech for seven years now, and I quickly realized that journalism is rapidly evolving into a new form. The New York Times’ series of interactive articles is a good example of that. There are many more experiments in journalism going on; we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just text anymore to tell a story I think.
I was offered a book publishing deal this year to write the first book about digital nomads in Korea. However, I doubted the amount of impact a book can have in this society. In many countries, the concept of digital nomadism is still vague and few people are aware that this is possible. To change this, I need to tell the real stories to show what’s going on in the world. I think a documentary format can get those stories across best.
Digital nomadism has become a movement supported by a community all of its own. Why did this movement begin?
No one exactly knows, as the term “digital nomad” really encompasses a full spectrum — remote workers, perpetual travelers, and expat, etc. According to some of my interviewees, the time when this term was introduced to mainstream was 2007 when Tim Ferris came out with the bestseller book, “The 4 Hour Work Week.”
On the other hand, maybe the history of digital nomadism is much longer than what most of people think. I interviewed Dr. Carsten Sorensen from LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science), who has studied how information technology effected work and future of work for almost 20 years.
For the last 40 years, we’ve seen apprehension around working in different locations diminish thanks to globalization, outsourcing and offshoring. Trust has been building slowly as it has become easier for companies to check the progress of work done by its employees with new, digital tools. This social change has gone hand in hand with technological progress to bring us to a time where it’s possible for teams, companies and individuals to work completely remotely.
Not only have people started working from different locations over the past two decades, they’ve worked for more than just one company, they’ve started working hours outside of the traditional 9-to-5. They’ve also shifted the types of work they do and now have many different work arrangements with a number of different organizations throughout their career. Simply said, you don’t work for one boss in one company in one location anymore.
There’s been lots of attempts to find new ways of living and working, and now we’re at the transition point caused by a changing job market, economic crisis (2008), work being automated and the societal acceptance of combining travel and work.
Where did you find the volunteers who are helping with the documentary? How did they get involved and what are their roles?
I have received lots of help and support from many fellow nomads. I don’t think I could’ve done all the amazing filming without Marina (@simpleasthat_) and Manuel (@maebert), especially. They helped me with filming and interviewing mostly in San Francisco, so that I don’t have to be in that city even when I have another filming schedule in other locations.
I met them on Hashtag Nomads, an online Slack community digital nomads. We’ve been talking since I started this project by myself from Seoul early this year. And we’ve been working and communicating together in a truly nomadic way. Even our first meeting in a real life was almost six months after working on this project together already! Marina and Manuel are also nomads, so every time the place we meet each other is different, such as Berlin, San Francisco, even Reykjavik in Iceland!
You’re using a self-hosted crowdfunding model to help fund the doc. What made you turn to crowdfunding?
I turned to crowdfunding because although I saved some money and still have freelance gigs, I did not want to find myself stuck, waiting for the “right moment” to leave my job and make the leap.
I first explored Kickstarter and found that less than a half of all film projects on Kickstarter actually get funded. Plus, it’s an all or nothing platform – so if you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get to keep the money that people donated, after spending a ton of time on it. Plus, 59% of film projects fail. That was a risk I just wan’t willing to take. As a newbie to the documentary space, Kickstarter just wasn’t right for me – at least not yet.
“I literally Googled every time when I wrote each line.”
Where’s your favorite place to work and travel?
Every place has its own merits. Personally, I prefer a place close to the nature, rather than a big busy city. I love surfing, so Bali and many places in South America are perfect as long as high speed internet is guaranteed. In terms of internet speed, my home country South Korea is always prefered. Jeju Island is always on my home base list, as it’s not busy as Seoul, and also has beautiful nature. I’m planning to set up several home bases next year, like many other nomads.
Some of my interviewees told me they tend to explore as much as they can at first time (especially when they have relatively less responsibility such as relationship or family) and then they would love to find several places as their favorite home bases. I think that makes perfect sense. You can explore around your home bases whenever you want, while having enough time to get integrated into the local community.
Digital nomadism is not a black and white thing. Like Joel, the CEO of Buffer said it’s a full spectrum. The most important thing to me is having the freedom that I can choose where I want to work and live from.
Finally, what’s your favorite cup of tea?
My favorite tea is Pu-erh tea. It’s aged dark tea produced particularly in Yunnan province, China. I fell in love with lots of different kinds of Chinese tea when I studied in China, and Pu-erh tea is definitely the best. 🙂
Youjin and the One Way Ticket team are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the production of the documentary. Learn more about the doc here.
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