Neo Bohemia

A certain kind of non-conformism, a – to some degree – dazzling lifestyle, living in parallel or even in contradiction to society’s rules and regulations. Sounds familiar? Well it is. It’s referring to the bohème, a sub-cultural phenomenon well rooted to the 19th and early 20th century.

But it didn’t stop. Bohemia and its definitions are emerging and changing ever since. As well as the people who define themselves as bohemians are changing. A growing amount of people are identifying themselves as or being part of the so called digital bohème, or neo bohemia for that matter.

Holm Friebe and Sascha Lobo are defining the digital Bohème as a group of people who chose to live a self-defined and self-controlled life, not influenced or at least not wholly influenced by cultural, social and sociological norms and paradigms, using modern communication technologies and “the blessings of technology” to expand their opportunities and experiences. ((“Wir nennen es Arbeit”, Friebe, H., Lobo, S., Berlin, 2006))

What Friebe and Lobe are describing, is a direct result of another sociological development of past 20 years. The Generation Praktikum or Generation Prekär. Young people, leaving university and finding themselves thrown into the “free” labour market which is far from reluctant to honor but mostly willing to consume their intellectual achievements or their creativity. The Generation 2.0, as I would call it, is closely related to a almost nomadic approach towards life, work, friends and relations. It is not only defining the way we are working (constantly shifting positions, changing companies, doing one closed project after an other, etc.), it’s also defining our quality time and our general viewing and reading of relationships, friendships, and, most important, the way we value what we do.

When companies don’t valorize what you do, why should you valorize their paradigm of employment? The companies and corporations also don’t really believe in a traditional form of employment anymore. In 2006 almost 14% of Germany’s working part of population were subject to atypical forms of employment. Reading a survey by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, one should think the percentage is even growing. ((“Prekäre Arbeit”, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Bonn, 2006)) The term “Beschäftigungsverhältnis” in itself includes the possibility of change. As with every kind of relation, also the relation between worker and corporation could change over time.

The definition of work as a “must have” feature of your live, is shifting towards a “nice to have” feature, which has to build up to an individual’s value system and needs to be compatible with a certain form of hedonism. Neo bohemia implicitly blurs the border between work and free time. Neo bohemians, me included, just don’t see any need nor any advantage in drawing an all-to-strong line between these aspects of life. They accept as well as enforce uncertainty about what you do today as well as about what you will be doing tomorrow. No more “going to”, only “will”. I will.

But while “analog bohemia” with great pace accepted the fact of economically poor periods in life, digital bohémians not only earn more money, they are spending it in great amounts for gadgets (iPhones, iPods, Laptops, etc.) to stay in touch with there world, to live up to a always reachable, any time callable, everywhere e-mail-able prototype of a network individual. Sitting around in cafés, working on projects or elaborating on philosophical theories, while answering calls and responding to e-mails at any time, seems to be the primary activity of neo bohemians.

I for my self enjoy being part of this new and on the other hand old way of living. And while there is of course necessary criticism, as to what extend digital bohéme is just another word for self-exploitation and living according to neo-liberlist dogmas of commerce and consumption ((“Frei und willig”, Klopp, T., in “Konkret”, Issue 12, December, 2006)) , it depends on your own personal and individual interpretation, and on your own decision on the amount of blur and uncertainty you want accept.

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