Meet the original digital nomad, who worked remotely in 1984

At one level, Steve Roberts had no friends. He was the one and solely “technomad.”

It was 1983, a full 10 years earlier than the invention of the World Huge Net, when Roberts, a contract author and company marketing consultant from Columbus, Ohio, determined to show his recumbent bike right into a cellular workplace.

“Someplace alongside the line I assumed, ‘Wait a minute, freelance writing is meant to be a license to be free, but I’m chained to my desk,’” Roberts says.

Steve Roberts [Photo: Maggie Victor]

He appeared round at the stuff he’d amassed in his home in the ‘burbs and realized he didn’t actually need any of it. So he made a listing of all his passions—bike touring, computer systems, know-how, journey—and contemplated how he may make a way of life round them. Ultimately, he determined he’d promote his possessions, reside off of what he may mount to his bike, and write to assist his dream of journey.


In the present day there are myriad individuals who name themselves digital nomads. With a laptop computer and entry to the web, they will reside life unfettered, capable of work from just about wherever. Venture Untethered estimates that there are currently 10.9 million Americans who match the description, up from the 7.3 million distant staff pre-pandemic. That determine is one that may probably improve as hundreds of thousands of individuals proceed to understand the flexibility and freedom that distant work can present.

Whereas individuals can’t at present journey in fairly the identical method as earlier than the delta variant confirmed up and borders had been simpler to barter, working from wherever has develop into rather more normalized in the previous 18 months, enabling digital nomadism on a staggering new scale. It’s one thing the original, trailblazing digital nomad may have solely dreamed of.

However whereas right now’s distant staff have heaps of assets to get them began and entry to unbelievable applied sciences to make their job simpler, there wasn’t but a blueprint for the way to be productive when Roberts started his remote-work journey. Staying related whereas on the highway was infinitely tougher.

“Again then, you had telephones that had been wired to partitions, computer systems had been very giant, and folks had been simply beginning to argue over whether or not it might be doable to make money working from home,” Roberts recollects.

He purchased a TRS-80 Mannequin 100 moveable pc from Radio Shack, bought a CompuServe account, and outfitted his recumbent bike with a safety system pager, a photo voltaic charging system, and holsters for his tenting gear—and hit the highway.

For the first 12 months and a half, he toured over 10,000 miles on his bike, writing articles in his tent and submitting the items by way of pay telephone. Whereas Roberts didn’t invent the know-how, he was the first to make use of it in such an unorthodox method. As he revealed tales whereas wandering, he grew to become one thing of a star. Tons of newspapers, magazines, and tv hosts interviewed him on a close to weekly foundation. In a lot of the articles, journalists mused about the implications of those new instruments: What may this imply for the future of labor?  Did individuals actually need to work in an workplace?

[Photo: courtesy of Steve Roberts]

“I feel what gave my story legs was that it confirmed the implications of what this know-how may do for individuals,” Roberts says. “Folks noticed computer systems being developed however hadn’t been eager about how this might result in basic life-style adjustments or a distinction in the method we work together with different cultures.”


In some unspecified time in the future alongside the method, Roberts determined he’d reasonably discover a solution to construct the pc into the bike body. That method he may truly write whereas riding. By 1986, he’d rigged a keyboard into the handlebars of the second draft of his bike. Granted, it wasn’t the 5 principal rows of keys most would acknowledge. There have been solely a handful of buttons, and when Roberts squeezed them in completely different combos, it resulted in varied letters, in addition to keys like backspace, return, house, and caps lock.

However he wasn’t finished there. In the early ’90s, he crafted the remaining iteration of his bike, which he dubbed Behemoth. That bike integrated all these earlier applied sciences and extra. There was satellite-data communications for e-mail and worldwide telephone calls, a printer, a small fridge, and a mouse on his helmet so he may management the Mac atmosphere by nodding. All advised, the bicycle was 580 kilos and had 105 speeds. It took greater than three years and $1.2 million (funded by greater than 150 sponsors) to construct with a group of 45 individuals.

“It was numerous tech from finish to finish,” Roberts says. In the present day, Behemoth lives in the Pc Historical past Museum in Mountain View, California, (together with a private pc he constructed in 1974—considered one of the first).

In the years that adopted, Roberts shifted his focus from bicycles to watercraft; right now, he lives on a ship off the shore of Washington State. He’s not touring practically as a lot as he used to however says he’s nonetheless a digital nomad.

[Photo: Dan Burden]

“The instruments are so pervasive now, I don’t know the way else I’d reside or what else I’d name myself,” Robert says. “We’re all doing that now, however some occur to be transferring, and others don’t.”

Roberts mentioned he typically wonders what Behemoth would appear to be right now. In contrast to earlier than, when he needed to construct each element of his distant work setup from scratch—even right down to sending recordsdata—right now these instruments are ubiquitous, simply a part of the world we reside in. Now to expertise the identical freedom Roberts had a number of many years in the past, you don’t want rather more than a pc, a cell phone, and a few photo voltaic chargers.