x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Families have rarely been so connected and yet so alone

The generation gap seems to be getting wider, thanks to rapidly changing technology and some other, perhaps unwelcome, advances.

‘Raising children is like chewing on a stone,” says an Arab proverb. As if raising them wasn’t hard enough, there is an ever-expanding generation gap between parents and their children, with some parents having a hard time communicating at all to their loved ones.

More and more families don’t live together any more. It is common for parents to be in one country, their children in another and their grandparents in yet another, particularly in this part of the world.

I find it ironic how many of us have given our family members the latest smartphone or gadget as part of a greater plan to keep in more regular touch, when in reality we all make fewer calls these days and send more text messages via WhatsApp and other chat applications.

Even if they are sitting with them, I regularly see the younger generation distracted by their smartphones, while their parents try to talk to them. 

There is already a sense of disconnection, where our friends have become more like our family, since we see them every day and often work with them, and our families have become more of a duty to check on and talk to. There is a lot of “catching up” to do and, unfortunately, too much time or distance passes without ever getting properly caught up.

But then again, whatever generations we are talking about, there is a gap. The difference these days is the pace of change. Things happen so fast. Every day tools that we have relied on for centuries – like a pencil or pen – are now slowly becoming obsolete and have become objects we now use mainly for signatures and doodling.

A friend told me this week of an incident that highlights an important issue that the older generation of Emiratis, and traditional Arabs in general, are struggling with.

She saw two elderly Emirati women at a corporate function, standing looking lost in the midst of people rushing off and looking extremely busy and unfriendly. They had come to the function to support a younger member of their family, and while that person was busy at work, they decided to eat.

“But we can’t sit with men, so where do we sit?” one of them asked. They were flustered. Fortunately, my friend came to their rescue and found a spot away from the crowds and helped them order food.

There is a lot of pressure on the older generations, regardless of nationalities, in this fast-paced, cut-throat and “entitled” world.

I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say how “special” they are and how they will not make the mistakes their parents made.

That entitlement is reflected in the decline of even common courtesies, such as not getting up for someone on a bus or metro who clearly needs that seat more than you do.

It may sound trivial, but when you have elderly parents, your perspective changes on all these issues.

I had an incident where an older man from Pakistan stopped me and asked me to help him with the GPS system his grandson had bought him for his car.

“He said follow the triangle, but there are so many triangles and the machine keeps shouting at me,” he told me.

The volume on the GPS was high, and I was as confused as he was.

I decided to ask for directions from a passing driver. The whole time he was thanking me and blessing me. He had been lost for a couple of hours. He had also forgotten to charge his ancient Nokia mobile phone, so he was stranded.

Ironically, it was an elderly Bedouin man who came to his rescue: “Follow me. I will take you,” he said. 

This man made a U-turn and off they both went in their pickup trucks.

There was no generation gap between these two and they communicated like old friends. 

Besides observing this rare gesture of kindness, I also ended up with a discarded GPS system that is still sitting somewhere in the back of my car.

“A gift,” said the man from Pakistan as he thanked me for helping him during his moment of distress.


On Twitter: @ArabianMau