Low Humanity Orbit

I acquired a new hobby last week: watching the International Space Station zip across the sky. The ISS is in low Earth orbit (LEO), with altitude varying between 200-270 miles. It moves fast enough (and is bright enough) to be mistaken for a plane. That gives you an idea of how quickly it moves along in its 93-minute orbit. Since Seattle airport flight paths also pass over where I live, the comparison is quite stark.

I harbor some ISS envy. I’d like to be in the lifestyle equivalent of a LEO orbit: moving incredibly fast, all around the world, using practically no energy, and at an altitude that offers a great view of Earth, but with none of the friction of actually living on Earth. I think of such a lifestyle as a low humanity orbit, LHO. Seeking LHO is, to be quite blunt about it, always a kind of rent-seeking. In the worst case, LHO is parasitism. But in the best case, as with satellites in LEO, you can add some value back on earth while enjoying the easy life yourself (note, here the “easy life” refers to the life of the satellites, not astronauts). A low humanity orbit is also a low-humanity orbit, hyphenated. Not only are you somewhat removed from the main action, you are also a little less human than people in the fray. You’re acting at least a little dead.

Most of us can only expect to experience brief, sub-orbital flights into societal outer space, not LHO. Calendaring friction is a clear first symptom of “getting back in the fray.” In any attempt to create a lifestyle with a high element of routine, unpredictably evolving “hard landscapes” (a GTD term) on the calendar are the main source of LHO rituals getting messed up.

It is easy to be ritual driven if you’re sufficiently above the fray in the vacuum of fully designable lifestyles. This usually means having enough money to either not deal with people at all, or deal with them only on your own terms.

The second option is to be in a tethered orbit, where  you stabilize your lifestyle by hitching it to people or organizations that are in LHO. Tethers create a lot of drag, but do have some of the advantages of being in orbit. You experience atmospheric friction, but don’t have to actively maneuver with it.

The third option of course, is acting completely dead.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. LHO pursuits have been well documented throughout our history. Maybe I am getting confused with pursuit of less material things and more of spiritual. Agree?

  2. Isaac Lewis says

    I fell into doing the “digital nomad” thing about a year ago. (Wanky term, I expect it will be replaced with “nomad” in the way “expatriate” became “expat”). Work implies friction, travel implies friction, it’s awkward until you find a good rhythm to switch between the two. Anyway, I started off “tethering” myself to some mobile friends with a marketing agency, so I was working and travelling but without freedom. Broke free a few months ago, though I’m not yet working enough to be sustainable.

    By the way, have you read this? http://ranprieur.com/essays/dropout.html

    “In reality, no one has ever been in or out — everyone is somewhere in between. The most pathetic office drone still has forbidden dreams, and the most extreme mountain man still has commerce with society.”