Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Great Divide: Bridging the Generational Gap

Published: October 27, 2009 - Muscat Daily

My neighbors are one of the nicest couples I've known. The mother and father grew up in the enchanting mountains of Dhofar. They both moved down to the town when they were adults and both did not complete their education. In fact, they still raise animals in the mountains during the monsoon and speak the local mountain dialect at home. They know about the hard way of life and they appreciate life's small pleasures like electricity and running water.
Their youngest child is 14 years old. She has 2 cell phones, a television and a laptop in her bedroom. In her spare time she watches American sitcoms, MTV and Dr. Phil. At least three hours of her day are dedicated to internet forums and chatrooms. She also swears a lot…. in English.

Is it just me or has something struck you as 'not quite right' up there? I call it 'The Great Divide'. I should have said 'their youngest granddaughter is 14'. Needless to say, her parents barely know how to use a cell phone, let alone a computer. She, of course, takes full advantage of their ignorance. They think she's on the computer 'studying' when she's actually chatting to guys twice her age online. You shouldn't be surprised; this is happening in Dhofar and all over Oman, whether parents are aware of it or not. Watching these rapid changes is scary, even for me! (I was a teenager no more than four years ago). I used to read, sew, paint, play Monopoly and hang out with friends at the park. These activities are considered so 'not-cool' among teens today. I'm not saying the gap is a bad thing. I'm just saying perhaps it happened too fast, and it should be tackled properly in order to prevent it from affecting our society and getting out of control.

Digital media, computers, mobile phones and the internet have been a taken-for-granted part of most young people's upbringing and environment. Many rely on technology not just to keep in touch, but as a way of developing their identities and socializing. Technology can play a positive, productive and creative part of young people's activities, development and social participation. It can also cause serious problems starting with the fact that most teens may be living in a virtual unrealistic world, and are forgetting what it's like to be normal human beings. They're not interested in local traditions, family, religion, etc, which is sad. Are we going to allow Omani and Islamic values to be lost with this generation?

Forgive me if I'm being too harsh, but I don't like fast change. I know it happens all over the world, but I find it exceptionally disturbing in Oman. Computer savvy kids freak me out. Period. I don't want a nine-year-old teaching me how to switch languages on my blackberry, nor do I want to see 16 year-old Omani girls worrying about the dating scene on 'Friends', a juvenile American sitcom.

Most parents in Oman do not understand computers, let alone the dangers the internet imposes on their kids. It's confusing enough growing up in our world, especially for young people. It's even harder when your parents have no idea what you're going through.

Get those television sets and laptops out of your children's bedrooms. Not understanding the internet does not justify neglecting to monitor what they're doing online and what they're being exposed to. Pay attention to what your kids are doing/watching. Become involved in their lives. Keep tabs on them. Figure out fun activities that don't involve being glued to a monitor. Wake up!

Oman is such an amazing country. I believe that if we work hard to tame the current generation of young people, they'll grow up to be intelligent individuals who are able to find the perfect balance between the traditional and the modern ways of life.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Don't Young Omanis Read?

Published: October 13, 2009 - Muscat Daily
Last week I was sitting in my car in front of a tailor in the middle of Salalah waiting for my sister when a car pulled up beside me (a shiny blue Lexus if you really must know). Several women got out and set off in different directions. The driver was a young Omani man, perhaps in his early twenties. I thought to my self, ‘Oh boy, he’s going to spend the next half hour staring at me’, but lo and behold, he turned around, bent over into the backseat, and picked up a novel. He was already halfway through the book. I was so stunned that I ended up doing the starting instead. Why was I so surprised? It shouldn’t be uncommon for someone to read a book during long waits in the car, right? Wrong. In Oman, it is very uncommon. Most Omanis have not quite grasped the concept of reading for pleasure.
I’ve always wondered why Omanis in general aren’t interested in books. Obviously one of the reasons would be that the older generation in Oman (i.e. most parents) are either illiterate or did not complete their education, and thus most young Omanis have grown up without a tradition of reading at home. Furthermore, our educational system in Oman does not encourage independent thinking & creativity, nor does it encourage reading. Books are also not easily available in Oman and are not marketed properly. Finally, I tend to believe that Omani writers do not receive enough support, but that’s my personal opinion.
People who read in English are blessed with Borders bookstore in Muscat, but what about the rest of Oman? Our bookstores in Salalah host an insufficient selection of reference books, tourist books, and occasionally a novel or two. There are hundreds of excellent writers in our world whose books have been translated into Arabic. Take Chilean author Isabel Allende for example; I’ve met several Omanis who have read her translated books in Arabic. I tend to immediately ask where they found her books and inevitably their answer will be Dubai or Lebanon. Why not Oman? Sometimes we can’t even find books by Omani authors.
We live in an age where technological toys such as television and the internet entertain us on a 24/7 basis. Books require dedication and discipline, two words that are not popular in our leisure-loving society. Most young Omanis waste a lot of their time on Facebook, chat rooms and internet forums. I cannot deny the fact that internet forums host excellent discussions a lot of the time, but is that even considered reading? The internet can never replace books.
Reading involves greater levels of concentration. It increases our hunger for knowledge and encourages us to think, feel, analyze, and wonder. I won’t even start discussing the impact reading has on language skills. The habit can become a healthy addiction. Research has shown that avid readers have higher IQs and tend to do better in school and in their careers. Need I say more? People who do not read regularly are missing out on so much.
I’ve seen the reading issue discussed endlessly among young people and on the internet in Oman, but instead of criticizing and complaining, why not think of a proactive approach to get young Omanis to read more? In Western countries kids usually read entire novels at home as part of their English class requirements. Why not start up a campaign in schools to get kids to read more? If you’ve got kids at home, for heaven’s sake read to them. It is very important to inculcate the habit of reading and the love for books from an early age. You can get kids into the habit of reading bedtime stories. Be creative. It will make them better analyzers and problem solvers. They will do better in school and it will help them later on in life. Guaranteed.