Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be debated by a series of female Emirati columnists. This week, we ask Ayesha Almazroui:
What are the benefits and pitfalls of using social media, especially here in the UAE?
Human interaction has been evolving with the development of technology. The internet, and social media in particular, have made us more connected than ever before. Nowadays, many, if not the majority, of internet users have at least one account on a social network. In the UAE, there are 3,593,704 Facebook users, and 363,624 Twitter users tweeting an average of 2.5 million tweets per day.
Social media is making everyday communication easier and saving our time. Instead of visiting our families, we send them a Facebook picture. Instead of gathering in our friends' majlises, we discuss issues on Twitter.
Human interaction has gone mostly digital. Most of our thoughts are now expressed through text, and most of our feelings are conveyed through emoticons. Is this a good or a bad thing?
This question can't be answered by a simple "yes" or "no". Social media is a double-edged sword: it depends on how we use it.
We can't ignore that new media can be a drive for change; it's even played a role in changing political systems and influencing public opinion, just like mainstream media. It gives a voice to the voiceless, and provokes public debates and dialogue.
As a journalist, I'm enthusiastic about social media, particularly Twitter. I use it to follow the news and instantly express my thoughts on current affairs, as they happen. I use it to share my articles, engage with my audience and find stories and sources. I use Facebook to connect with my friends, and Instagram to share pictures from my everyday life.
On the other hand, I see many people misusing social media by distributing false rumours, gossiping about other people publicly or playing useless games all the time. Social media can also affect relationships; it can create problems between couples and shorten the time spent with family members.
Needless to say, we need to watch the amount of time that we spend on social media websites. Too much time online could affect our physical and psychological health and well-being.
A recent study revealed that 56 per cent of adult social media users suffer from FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. Its symptoms? Checking smartphones before sleep and when waking up in the morning, spending hours scrolling through social networks, feeling anxious offline and always being eager to check for recent updates.
Social media, and technology in general, shouldn't replace our face-to-face interaction; they should only support it. Sometimes, when we don't have the time to meet in person, we go to Facebook. When we have news, an opinion or a thought, we tweet it. When we want to share a moment, we Instagram it.
But the trick is not to be too attached to the virtual world and forget to live our "real" lives.
Ayesha Almazroui is a leader writer with The National.
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