A Nomad's Christmas Brood: On Crypto, COVID And The Speed Of Time
Our roving Swedish reporter's darkish holiday dispatch from Sofia, Bulgaria.
SOFIA — It was the Scottish poet Alexander Smith who called Christmas the day that holds all time together.
While that is obviously true in the Gregorian sense, Smith likely had in mind something more cosmic; perhaps that simultaneous longing for the past and future that only deep nostalgia can serve up. Yet for those of us who’ve spent our adult lives hopscotching around the world, Christmas memories tend to be an incoherent blend of vacated offices and hotel rooms and awkward well-wishing with dressed-up strangers.
Sad as that might sound, it also has its benefits. For a few days, as billions of humans are up to pretty much the same stuff, the world becomes very predictable; for us unattached spectators, time slows down, and gives us time to brood.
This year, I’ll be doing my brooding in Bulgaria, my home for the past three months. Down at the co-working place, where three plastic, fire-retardant Christmas trees have been installed, my temporary colleagues are already spending evenings deciding on their next sunny, wifi-friendly and — typically — low-tax destination.
Scrolling through travel restriction lists on our phones, we murmur about the new meaning of "long-COVID" and wonder what governments are likely to adopt the laxest, most business-friendly approach. Some are gunning for Costa Rica where one-year visas are offered to whoever can demonstrate an income of $3,000 per month. Others, more prosperous, for Montserrat, where the bar is set at $7,000, while a couple of guys from the 4th floor (mostly crypto people up there) intend to continue their travels in the legal grey area — jumping from country to country while paying no taxes at all.
Time doesn’t seem slow at all
These are very strange Christmas conversations. And they make perfect sense. Christmas is capitalism, and capitalism is about our right to profit and the pursuit of happiness — rights that straddle the sphere of both personal morality and economics. And the calculations can be made very simple: profit is an inherent good, and if it’s legal — well, then it’s not illegal.
Not everyone, of course, follows this reasoning. Many among the digitally nomadic frown on tax evasion, and even "avoidance," and see virtue in the way their moving around supports local businesses.
And yet it’s quite clear that these late-night plans spun in the stillness and predictability of the winter holidays are bound to make the world infinitely more unpredictable: How are policymakers, with their bureaucratic systems and cumbersome processes, ever going to keep up with it all? How will the global economy hold under the triple weight of excess mobility, derivative-driven fantasy money and a microscopic virus with apparently no intention of cooperating?
Indeed, as midnight rolls across Sofia and the fourth-floor crypto crew picks back up the conversation, spouting acronyms and indexes like seasoned auctioneers on coke, time doesn’t seem slow at all. We are racing, not with ropes of steam and spark-spattered wheels but with the sleekness of a high-tech bullet train — and I have the feeling that nothing, not even the nostalgia of Christmas past, will ever again hold time together.