You must be digital

A Renter Nomad must have some of his or her life in digital form, as cold and intangible as that can make that life and those memories seem. Yet who wants an external memory? Who wants his or her belongings out of reach, because there was no space to store them in a new rented house? Who trusts Amazon not to hoik books off the virtual bookshelf of a Kindle? Who wants all the old photos archived in a memory stick with a corporate logo, or in a memory drive as opaque as the 2001 monolith?

So why do I say a Renter Nomad “must” be digital?

  • online billing can be cheaper;
  • a Renter Nomad cannot afford to carry the sort of paper archives needed to reclaim PPI, or claim compensation for utility company abuses, years later (and why should that sort of financial protection belong only to settled “homeowners” and tenants in the settled public sector?);
  • we have, objectively, more and more memory-records; storing and classifying those (especially pictures, “home videos” and music) is a hard task even if the physical volume of these records isn’t daunting;
  • and digital records help protect Renter Nomads’ rights and interests, in a life in which those can conflict with others’ interests, notably on the question of inventory and property condition.

This last point is possibly the most important of all. No matter what memories are stripped away by circumstances (fires, floods, loss in transit, decluttering before downsizing), we still have our “human backups”, that is, real memories. However, when money, credit rating and ego are stripped, there is no human backup, so you will need:

  • a digital camera, to record the condition of both the property you are moving out of and the one you are moving into. Absolutely do not skimp on photographing defects in the former case. The video function might be helpful.
  • an e-mail account and internet service provider ISP). This requires some thought, as you will need to be able to file your e-mails in such a way that correspondence can be found (an important part of asserting your rights, not to mention keeping in touch with your friends). If you use your ISP’s e-mail address, you could end up with a headache if you ever want to change ISP. I have a gmail account, which I have set up on my computer, with an e-mail client, Thunderbird (though you could use Windows Mail or something similar) so I can file, archive, access e-mails without being connected to the internet, and so on. Another potential problem with ISPs is that they all want contracts of at least 12 months, if not 18. If you have to move house before the end of that contract, they will move the internet access with you… if you sign up for another contract period. This, means that a Renter Nomad might never be “out of contract” and thus free to switch provider. However, we tested this recently, moving into a house which we expect to be in for as little as six months: our new provider, Plusnet, offers no-contract access, for an extra £2.50 a month, which is considerably less than paying the monthly fees for months when you are not receiving any service.
  • a Pay As You Go internet dongle. This sounds very techie, but is basically an antenna you plug into your computer’s USB port, to “catch the internet out of the sky”, as I explain it to my five-year-old. You can buy them from all the major mobile providers. This is essential kit for a Renter Nomad, as it takes 10+ days to connect a new property to telephone, let alone switching on the broadband internet as well. Many Renter Nomads know the frustration and fear of not knowing until the last week that a move will. My family lost a rental in Christmas 2008, when the landlord, having strung things out, finally refused to sign the contract, just five days before our planned move date (admittedly, this was after the 2008 banking crisis, which threw many accidental and unwilling landlords onto the market, but the threat was underlined in June 2010, when a letting agent snarkily told me there was nothing we could do if a landlord refused to sign, whereas if we did, we would lose our deposit). With your dongle, you will continue to have internet access at home, like a “normal person,” and you will be able to administer in a timely way all inventory- and deposit-related queries, as well as setting up your new utilities, getting onto the electoral roll, etc.
  • a computer, ideally a laptop (and probably not a netbook), to run all of the “tech” I have just listed. The reason I suggest a laptop is that it does not take up the space of a desktop computer, and is portable (sounds stupidly obvious, but if you think of what you can do through a computer, doesn’t it make sense to have something you can take up to bed, to watch television with earphones in, without disturbing a partner or a baby?). I must admit we have a tablet, and also a little netbook which I really like (it’s very cute!), but neither of those is powerful enough to be the kind of all-purpose machine which will be useful, rather than being a paperweight… or millstone!

There. Please note that I am not encouraging you to digitise your library, you music collection or all your pictures, although I have done the latter two myself. It really is none of my business how you keep your memories. There are enough constraints on your life as it is, enough people inspecting you and your lifestyle.

At the end of the day, these digital solutions should be here to help us. “Digital” refers to the fingers, and fingers and hands help us, but they are not the same as head and mind.


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