What Does it Mean to be a Nomad?
Travel Blog • Michael Yessis • 08.12.11 | 11:26 AM ET
Venkatesh Rao calls herself an “illegible person.” She explains:
My temporary nomadic state is just one aspect of a broader fog of illegibility that is starting to descend on my social identity. And I am not alone. I seem to run into more illegible people every year. And we are not just illegible to the IRS and to regular people whose social identities can be accurately summarized on business cards. We are also illegible to each other. Unlike nomads from previous ages, who wandered in groups within which individuals at least enjoyed mutual legibility, we seem to wander through life as largely solitary creatures. Our scripts and situations are mostly incomprehensible to others.
Rao means something else too: As nomads, we become illegible to a system that can’t pin us down by income, residence, or occupation. Governments and corporations begin to see us as either irrelevant or suspicious. I like to think I’ve contributed a little to this subject in “Wanderlust,” when I talk about stationary peoples’ mistrust of the nomad. The great work on this theme is Chatwin’s “The Songlines.”