Is social media threatening heritage and traditions?

A teenager walks into a room and greets about a dozen people. No one answered him because almost everybody was busy on their mobile phones.
It is well-known how social media has changed life in Oman. However, many would argue that the trend in our world where social media reigns supreme, there is very little anyone can do.
In Oman, it is challenging cultural and social issues. A research which is now being conducted by the Sultan Qaboos University would look at how social media acts as a barrier between Omani people and their heritage.
The findings, in my opinion, would not make headlines or any difference to society. It is going to be pure academic. But that is not to say no one should talk about it or nothing should be done.
The interesting part is that, perhaps the research may shed some light on severity of the problem, but it may well fall on deaf ears for the most ardent users of social media.
It is only the residents of big cities such as Muscat, Salalah and Suhar who are totally hooked up with what their little phones can do.
Whether residents in smaller towns would take a little longer to catch up or not, the study may well reveal it would be just be a matter of time before it happens there.
But the concern is not only limited to academic interest but also in the circles of Oman’s most learned religious leaders. They say addiction to social media is threatening religious values, too. The main concern is the influence it has on very young people.
It is increasingly become evident that the younger generation would pass away the time during the Friday sermons in mosques by fiddling with their phones. The messages they received from their contacts in social media takes precedence over the divine call. Nothing else matters then but the bright light of the small screen.
In family gatherings, no one really talks these days. In the not-so- distance past, young people used to listen obediently when their elders spoke, but the tradition has changed so fast now. Children just nod their heads but their eyes are firmly fixed on the phone.
Tribal elders just tug their beards in frustration knowing the tradition they inherited from their forefathers is obliterated for good. They know there is nothing they can do about it.
It is the distant communication that matters now and not who is sitting next to you. It is not anymore about the physical togetherness but the electronic closeness. It is obvious now that human feelings are manipulated by pushing a few familiar buttons. People of certain age would remember how important it was those days to have an eye contact with the person you talk to.
The gestures of the hands, the movement of the body and the subtle smiles of a person in front of you were fully visible before the social media destroyed the fabric of a good conversation.
One could now write a complete pack of lies and click the ‘send’ button unchallenged and ignore the answer when it comes. No wonder young people these days don’t understand the firm handshake because an ‘emoji’ has replaced it. They now fail to realise a handshake is one of the most important traditions in Oman.
But who is to blame? The answer is not the invasion of technology. The tools we use on social media are important only if they are used in moderation and the young are made to understand that.

Saleh Al-Shaibany
saleh­_shaibany@yahoo.com