Dubai: Constantly carrying a device that helps keeps you stay abreast of the social media buzz is not all that bad.
While the overuse of social media has repeatedly been linked to bad self-image and poor social skills, there is a bright side to the convenience of instant communication.
The latest statistics gathered and displayed on Global Media Insight’s website for the first quarter of 2015 showed that 56 per cent (5.4 million) of the UAE’s population have active social media accounts, out of whom 48 per cent (4.6 million) are active mobile social accounts. The combination of the growing technology in terms of smart phones and the expanding world of social media has made carrying a smartphone a necessity for many users who tap into a variety of services.
Social media specialist Tahani Karrar-Lewsley from Menar Media explained that for many people, social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram provide a lifeline professionally and socially. “Social media is easy to use, timely, and more cost-effective than paying minute by minute on the phone or having to travel somewhere to meet with family and friends.”
Tahani pointed out that while communication was limited by geographical locations and time zones a decade ago, social media has taken these boundaries off and has allowed people to instantly engage and stay updated with each others lives through pictures, comments, and status updates. “One example is how Facebook allows instant messaging, photo and video sharing, which allows friendships to be maintained wherever you are in the world.”
Other apps such as Snapchat and Dubsmash engage users through instant images and humorous videos.
The concept behind snap chat is to share pictures or videos with others for a short period of time. Users have the choice of setting a timer on their message that can last between 1-10 seconds. Meanwhile, Dubsmash, another recent and popular video messaging app allows users to add soundtracks to videos recorded on their phones, often matching a clip of themselves performing a song or film scene with audio from the original clip.
“A picture really says a thousand words, and people are more responsive to images and videos than written content on the whole,” says Karrar-Lewsley. She explained that through images you literally show your followers what you are doing and bring them into the experience. “With images you are also passing over any language barrier hurdles,” she added.
The perception of social media making people less present and more distracted may be true — however, social media can also be viewed as a tool that is good or bad depending on how it is used. Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and director of Light House Arabia in Dubai highlighted the positives of social media.
Sharing an experience with others through social media can help people stay connected in real time and be a part of each other’s day-to-day life. “In a city like Dubai — where many are far from their families and loved ones — short snapchats or videos can make them feel like they shared an experience together even though they are oceans away,” said Dr Afridi.
Unlike pictures or Facebook updates — videos and snapchats have more dimensions where people can be creative in making the shared experience more real.
Social media platforms and video and picture apps are also another way to document special moments, images, events, and discussions. People feel a sense of safety that their experience has been captured and can be revisited any time, explained Dr Afridi.
The latest statistics also show that 76 per cent of the UAE population are active internet users, of which over half (52 per cent) are using social media apps. For many UAE residents, owning a smartphone and engaging in social media is no longer just habit but a vital source of communication.
Sami Raheem, 26, from Jordan told Gulf News that social media has become a tool he cannot live without. “I check my social media accounts more than 10 times a day because it’s what I use to stay in touch with my family and friends abroad.”
Raheem said his family exchanges pictures and videos throughout the day to keep each other updated with everyday events. “There are moments such as your niece walking for the first few times that social media has made possible for me to see instantly,” he says.
Another social media fan Layan Samir, 19, from Yemen said she uses whatsapp, snapchat and Instagram daily. She explained that such social media platforms help her stay in touch with hundreds of people within the UAE and abroad. “It’s not only for communication, it has other benefits. You can learn new things from people and get new ideas, especially on Instagram and the new snapchat features that came out a month ago.”
Layan described the feeling of receiving a snapchat photo or video message as “exciting”. “I feel curious to see what the snap is, especially from my close friends and family who I’m not spending the summer with.” Like many others, Layan considers pictures the best way to stay in touch with others because it reflects what they are truly experiencing.