How has the rise of social media effected UAE culture?
Updated on 04 March 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

Let me set the scene: Water splashes just a bit outside the ghusul bowl of the Arabic coffee setting and yet another smart phone has been lost to the battle between technology and culture. It was grabbed from someone’s hand and tossed in by an elder of the family who was no doubt being ignored for way too long. Drawn to scroll through Instagram, update Facebook or message any and everyone except who is sitting just in front of them; the culprit who should know better and mind their traditional manners has just been reminded of what is truly valuable.

The rise of social media in the Emirates has given a platform for the Emirati community to do what they do best; learn and excel in any area they possibly can; such as turning a heritage of social connectivity to the extreme and opening the world up from beyond the latest boat which has arrived, to absolutely any point on earth in the palm of our hand - free of charge, within seconds. The world is accessible to communicate, share and advertise to. Housewives, many who historically were all business women in some form, no longer need to send their handicrafts to be passed door to door for selling their wares, it can be done ‘under the table’ on various online platforms or through websites and PayPal. Then, is there any government with so many departments, managers and leaders photographing their events, locations and just the general ‘goings on’ of the day both professionally and personally for unexpected transparency as in the Emirates? We can see what everyone is doing, where they are on vacation or a work trip and even what they ate! We have all read the frustrations, joys and worries of some leaders and their children, making them feel accessible to all worldwide as they type out what they wish us to know. No longer does a business sponsor necessarily expect a dissatisfied customer on their door step. They can arrange everything via messages on Instagram or WhatsApp. It’s how I even got my faulty washing machine replaced. Many will also not forget some tweets like, “Dubai Police will help you,” as the community read strangers issues that were met by the highest levels assuring solutions immediately. There are even professionals whose income is as a ‘social media influencer,’ because of the number of ‘followers’ they have. The follower list equates to the majlis. The more people you have listening to and communicating with you, the more powerful your abilities and influence.  Some have surpassed being a mere individual but have become multi-national business empire stemming out of the UAE; take Huda Beauty for example. None of this could be imagined by the generations before us. Some are quite proud at the advances their off spring are enjoying, and find the efficiency fantastic, yet not at the expense of spending time on an individual.

Yet with all of these benefits; it can be seen, most of this networking can be done from a chair at home or behind a desk; alone. “Nobody calls me anymore. They just message, but I get too many messages to read them all, so I have missed invites, homework updates for my kids; so much I miss because they are lost. My phone is always flashing. Nobody hears anyone laugh or cry; it’s just an emoji, that I wonder do we really feel for others anymore,” stated a lady from the Al Murr family.  Miscommunication has also led to an escalation of issues in marriages and work, when a single phrase sent in a text can virtually mean the author feels fantastic to highly annoyed regarding something and the tone is misunderstood. Religious scholars have urged couples to keep messaging to a minimum and communicate by voice if not even in person most of the time, as divorce rates are rising about 5% each year and according to the courts the large issues are miscommunication or neglect. Again, modern times must be balanced with some of the positive historical values.  It is great for a very social culture to have these other means of communicating and sharing our lives, but the face to face meetings, voice and touch of a best friend or that grandfather next to you is by far more priceless than what lies behind that flashing light on your phone.

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666 or visit

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