Internet socialising a national pastime?

DUBAI — A recent study reveals that the average UAE resident clocks a minimum of three hours a day on social media sites, elevating internet socialising almost to the level of a national pastime.

By Praseeda Nair

Published: Mon 19 Sep 2011, 10:53 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:55 AM

A nationwide survey held by job site in conjunction with research and consulting organisation, YouGov, sought to examine internet usage habits of the average UAE resident. Ninety per cent of respondents have a regularly updated Facebook profile, with 16 per cent of them admitting to being perpetually connected to their accounts. Only seven per cent of those surveyed admitted to not having a profile on any of social networking site.

These results suggest that the nation is overrun by internet drones with what could be termed as an addiction to social media, according to Abu Dhabi-based psychologist Dr. Mehnaz Koory.

“There are many positive effects of engaging in social media, but any activity that causes disruptions in daily routine, and causes users to frequently return can be termed as addictive,” she told Khaleej Times.

What makes social media platforms addictive depends on the demographic engaging in internet socialising. For marketing executives, social media platforms have leveled the playing field in more ways than one.

Twitter and Facebook are the ultimate tools for brand development for start-ups, while established businesses use the sites as a way of connecting with their customer base and building relationships. The bottom line is that the buzz generated online can be a lot more deafening than that created by billboards and flyers.

Forty three per cent of respondents of the survey claim to use social networking websites at work, with 65 per cent of those who refrain from doing so state lack of time as the main reason for staying offline. Despite office firewalls, Facebook still remains the top social networking site for people across age groups, perhaps owing to the addictive nature of the website’s games.

Junaid Ibrahim, Senior IT Manager at a local bank, spends his lunch break unabashedly playing The Sims Social on Facebook, where a pixelated version of himself earns virtual money and hones skills in art, music and cooking.

“It’s a stress buster for me, that’s all. I know when to stop,” he said, in the clichéd words of an addict. Certain game features take time to load, ensuring that users check up on their games every half hour — or alternatively pay real money for Facebook game credits that allows them to cut out the waiting time. Junaid admitted to blowing Dh200 on Facebook Credits in a moment of weakness a few months ago. “I was at a point where my Sim was on the verge of leveling up. I thought I’d spend the amount I’d spend on a cup of coffee on Facebook. It started to add up before I knew it.”

For the younger crowd, social media sites allows unlimited access to the goings on in their world, from celebrity gossip to mundane news from friends. The idea of being instantly updated brings with it the exclusivity of being in the know, which affects the status of their real world social lives.

“My parents refused to get me a Smartphone until my fifteenth birthday last month. I was always out of the loop at school because between checking Facebook before the school bus gets to my front door to me boarding the bus, there would be 25 notifications I would have missed out on,” Noureen Shahami said.

“I don’t think we’re addicted. We just want to know what everyone’s up to all the time. If you don’t have anything worth tweeting about, you’re not worth being friends with.”

Dr. Koory finds comments like that troubling. “At a young age, children in the UAE are exposed to the internet and the idea of always being connected. The idea of wanting to fit in has affected teenagers of every generation, but with the Blackberry generation, many of them become dependent to the point of suffering from withdrawal symptoms in the event of running out of battery or losing their phones. At the end of the day, this kind of behaviour is no different from smoking a pack a day. It’s just not healthy,” she said.

Dr. Koory suggests that parents keep tabs on their children by encouraging internet use at home, rather than on their phones, and by engaging them in wholesome family activities like board game night, or evening walks once the weather cools down.

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