On March 11, Phu Styles was in Cairo, Egypt, for the Women’s Economic Forum. Before that she’d traveled to Puerto Rico, where she built tetrahedron structures with Bitcoin Foundation board chairman Brock Pierce and her fiancé for both earthquake relief efforts and their Burning Man camp. And before that, she was speaking at a conference in Mexico, with a quick stopover first in Southern California to see her family for the holidays. “I’m generally in a new city every week, or every other week,” she says.
Styles, a self-described millennial with blue hair, is working on a book and podcast called “Decentralized Living,” a concept she embodies by essentially living out of a suitcase and working anywhere with an internet connection. “A lot of people call it ‘digital nomadism,’” she says, “but it’s more than just that. [It’s about] wanting to build communities all over the world.”
One of the communities Styles has been building is Women in Blockchain, which she established after repeatedly finding herself to be the only woman in the room at tech industry gatherings. Styles also advises multiple blockchain startups and runs a blockchain PR company, all of which entails a lot of in-person meetings and speaking engagements.
At these events, Styles networks like crazy. “I would normally talk to everybody,” she says. “I’m at events with amazing people from all over the world doing extraordinary things. I would want to connect with them all.” But at the Women’s Economic Forum’s gala after party, as coronavirus distancing measures spread rapidly across the globe, she opted to stay off the dance floor and connect with fellow attendees via LinkedIn instead.
What happened to Styles after the Forum is near unbelievable in its apocalyptic proportions. Heavy rainfall overtook Egypt and flooded the house where Styles was staying. She then learned of lockdown orders going into effect in the U.S. and had to face an unexpected hazard of decentralized living. When your home is a shifting series of Airbnbs, hotels, friends’ houses, and apartments all over the world, where do you shelter in place?
Styles decided to head to her family’s home in Los Angeles, but in order to get there she was re-routed through Russia, where her plane was temporarily quarantined. “People with hazmat suits came in,” she says. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.” When she finally arrived in Los Angeles, she fell ill, presumably of coronavirus, but she couldn’t be sure. Her doctor wasn’t able to see her, as he’d tested positive for Covid-19.
As Styles lay sick in bed, she lost family members to the virus. “I’m normally resilient and always doing things,” she says. Because of her illness, however, she’s been trapped in bed, her brain’s felt foggy, and she’s been experiencing unprecedented amounts of anxiety—about her family, about her long-abandoned apartment in China, about the startups she advises, and about the state of the world.
“During the 2008 recession, I didn’t feel any of the trauma at that time like I have now,” she says, “because everything is coronavirus. You can’t avoid it.”
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