Dubai: The dawn after the down – that’s the story that has come into sharp focus as UAE residents, like the rest of the world, heaved a sigh of relief after their lifelines were restored in the early hours of today.
“It’s the biggest wake up call,” said Dr Rima Sabban, Dubai-based sociologist and associate professor of sociology at Zayed University.
Speaking to Gulf News to make sense of the chaos that the community was thrown into when Facebook and its social media apps WhatsApp and Instagram suffered a major global outage on Monday night, she said the six hours of disruption were enough to yield lessons for a lifetime.
“Watch your dependencies and find your inner balance, that’s what last night taught us,” she said.
Never mind the losses worth billions of dollars that businesses suffered, last night’s outage also lay bare the sheer fragility of our social - and work - fabric. The stakes were high as people found themselves fidgety, vulnerable and helpless, even though there were alternate routes to entertain themselves or get in touch with people if they wanted.
Creatures of habit
Many were on the edge as it felt like the instant access to their comforting worlds had suddenly been blocked.
“As creatures of habit, we could not deal with the situation. The communication void was real as people are so used to browsing through the social media, sending and receiving messages,” said Dr Sabban, adding, “It boiled down to sheer addiction in some cases."
Residents that Gulf News spoke to shared their frustrations.
Syrian expat Ghassan Al Khabaz, 21, who is final year university student, said: “At first, I was worried that it was only my phone that was not working. And so I went to Twitter and Reddit to check on news of the media outage.
"I had to make calls to coordinate with my friends. I also used SMS to text my friends. It felt like going backwards, having to SMS rather than WhatsApp.”
Dubai-based Maria, 36, a Filipina accountant, who spends a lot of her free time chatting with friends and family on WhatsApp, said, “It was very annoying as a group of us friends on our school WhatsApp group were finally tying up a holiday plan when the outage happened. We were so charged about it. By the time we reconnected in the morning, the whole plan had fizzled out.”
She said she usually goes through Facebook and Instagram after dinner, but yesterday she could not do that either. “It was quite an empty feeling with nothing to do.”
For most residents, compulsions at work compounded the personal stress.
South African expatriate Lizan Gray, 29, an account manager for a public relations firm, was in the middle of a big event.
“It was critical to be in touch with people for all the coordination. I had to make several calls instead. I just kept running back and forth to communicate with people. WhatsApp is so convenient and when it is disrupted, it can cause a major issue.”
Amit, a senior public relations executive in Dubai, said, “I usually coordinate with my team on WhatsApp. But yesterday was extremely challenging because there was so much to be done and our group communication was lost. The work pressure stressed me out personally. It was one long and crazy night.”
Entrepreneur Asad Haque, 55, said: “The fact that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all experienced significant issues for around six hours was a major event for many users, including me.
"As an entrepreneur and Information Communication Technology expert, I was unable to send digital quotations, pricing and product information to our customers as our key communication channels were blocked. The leads we get on social media were negatively impacted as well.”
He said, “Personally too, I felt very handicapped without access to social media.”
Coming to terms with the situation
Siberian expatriate Yuliya Kraemer, 32, a sales consultant with a realty firm in Dubai, said she is addicted to WhatsApp thanks to her demanding work.
“It was frustrating as I was in the middle of various deals. I was coordinating many things with customers and other stakeholders."
"When WhatsApp crashed, it came as a blow to me. After sometime I took the opportunity to spend some time by myself. I took a nice bubble bath, put my daughter to sleep and crashed out.”
Indian expat Dwayne D’Souza, 20, who works as a social media coordinator for a marketing company, said, “I had just posted something online and I wanted to check the message and see the response. But unfortunately I could not do it. It was rather frustrating.”
But luckily for D’Souza, he said when he realised that it would take time for the connections to be restored, he just went to play football with his friends.
While few found that “inner balance” that Dr Sabban referred to, others just let the night pass.
Dr M. Thenral, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Clinic, put it in perspective. “Staying away from social media is next to impossible but is also not always necessary. The benefits of reducing our usage are huge.”
She said the first step is to track the usage and be accountable.
“Surprisingly, that is when we come to know the real time we spend online. The next step is to analyse our habits and set realistic goals to reduce the usage, instead of a ‘cold turkey’.”
How to manage social media time
Declutter your device: Delete what is not absolutely essential
Replace informational junk with a well-balanced, curated menu
Turn off notifications and unsubscribe from channels that you don’t need
Avoid going to social media first thing in the morning. Start your day with a workout or prayer instead.
At night too, avoid the social media. Spend time with family or develop a hobby.
Check in with friends and family personally in a non-digital way.
Allocate a no-gadget space and time when you meet them.
Plan a week with various activities, not involving social media.