The ABC recently published an article on “e-changers” (I’ve lost the link to the new article but here’s an older one on the same topic), playing on the folklore of “sea-changers” and “tree-changers” who move from cities to seaside towns and country towns, respectively. As the ABC has it, e-changers make a similar move but are still able to reach clients and job markets thanks to modern telecommunications technology. (Of course people have been proposing “teleworking” as a solution to traffic congestion, meeting caring responsibilities and other things since at least the 1980s but it never seems to taken off in a significant way.)

I made a sea-change of sorts when I first moved to Wollongong around 2000, and I’ve so far been able to resist moving back to Sydney despite performing most of my paid work there between 2012 and 2015, and again now (though I had stints in Brisbane over 2009-2011 and Singapore over 2016-2018). Maybe I’d now count as an e-changer in that I’m able to keep in touch with my place of work through e-mail and teleconferencing even when 100km away from my office, and also planning to offer A Little Research’s services Australia-wide using the same technology. Like the ABC’s e-changers, I go to Sydney once or twice a week for face-to-face meetings and workshops, but spend the rest of the time in my spot by the sea.

Other people—Richard Florida is probably the most famous—talk up cities as the engines of economic growth and centre of cultural activities, and numerous studies tell of how people are migrating from the countryside into cities in search of work. Australia is a particularly striking example in having around 75% of its population living in one of five enormous cities (and 90% in urban areas overall) despite its historical bush-living mythos and modern sea-changing folklore.

Though there are people who clearly like places like Sydney and Melbourne, and even Singapore, I’m hard-pressed to think of someone who chose to move to such places because they preferred the lifestyle. Perhaps this just reflects the kind of people I know. Most of the people who live in large cities, I suppose, grew up there and are effectively there by default (and, in Singapore’s case, going anywhere else requires a visa), while those that move in from outside do so due to the need or desire to work. I myself feel under constant threat of having to move to Sydney should my office hours increase or I find extra work at another location in the city.

It’s hard to know what people might do if relieved of the economic pressure to move to cities. Perhaps large numbers of people would stay in Sydney, Melbourne and the rest of them because they really do like living there, or at least out of inertia. Others might “retire” to smaller towns as I’ve done in moving to Wollongong. I don’t get any sense that anyone is planning to relieve that economic pressure, anyway, so for now e-changing remains a choice available only to a lucky few in the right kind of work and with access to the right kind of resources.

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