Young people spend nearly 10 hours a day online
Almost half of young Emiratis are addicted to the internet and spend nearly 10 hours a day on social and other media, a new survey suggests.
Young people live "a highly mediated existence, spending more than 9.9 hours on average a day with media - more time than they sleep - and they spend twice as much time on the internet as they do watching television", researchers found.
Mahboub Hashem, who led the two-year study, said he expected those numbers to grow. "If they use eight or more hours a day [on social media], that's addiction - what is left for quality time with the family or studying?" said Mr Hashem, head of the Department of Mass Communication at the American University of Sharjah.
Mr Hashem and his team surveyed 638 UAE nationals aged 16 to 25 at schools and universities. The findings are published in The Global Media Journal - Arabian Edition.
Ahmad Saeed Al Dhaheri, 23, who is studying photography at AUS and is one of the seven Emirati students who helped Mr Hashem to carry out his research, said: "We were raised to respect technology and pay attention to our gadgets. I don't think it's a bad thing."
Mr Hashem said the UAE was first among Arab nations for internet use. "This country is so highly connected now that parents have to take the lead and do some serious monitoring."
The International Telecommunication Union, the specialist United Nations agency for telecommunication standards, says 80 per cent of the UAE population has access to the internet, one of the highest rates of web penetration in the world.
The AUS report says Emirati women spend more time than men do online to avoid going out or talking directly to others.
However, it argues that the internet has also raised lifestyle standards and helped women to become "more competitive, well-educated and professional partners in society".
The journal also includes a report by Badreya Nasser Abdullah Janibi, an assistant professor at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, who says internet addiction among Emirati youth is due mainly to social restrictions in some families.
"Many families give their kids laptops and cell phones because they prefer to keep them close at home instead of playing outside with strangers," she said.
In her report, Ms Janibi said Facebook was "by far the most popular" website for Arab youth in the region, accounting for 72 per cent of the social media pie.
The second-most popular site was Twitter, with 27 per cent and an annual growth rate of 136.5 per cent since 2009.
Mr Al Dhaheri said he tweeted continuously from his phone to show that he was "living a certain lifestyle".
"I tweet whatever I want people to think; sometimes I illustrate a fake reality too."
A recent study on Internet Addiction Disorder, published in the US National Library of Medicine's online database, found compulsive web use can produce morphological changes to the brain's structure. Research conducted on college students who use the web for about 10 hours a day found reductions as great as 20 per cent in the size of various parts of the brain.
An article in Scientific American says these changes impair short-term memory and decision-making abilities, which may contribute to the increasing numbers of young people seeking "online escapism".
According to the science magazine, China is the "epicentre of internet addiction and a leader in the research of the problem" with around 14 per cent of young people classified as internet addicts, compared with 5 to 10 per cent in the US.
Ms Janibi said although social media is addictive, it is giving young people in the Arab region the "freedom to discuss and share information and news", such as during the Arab Spring uprisings.
The tools of social media played a crucial role in Tunisia and Egypt, where demonstrators used Facebook as a prime source of information to organise protests and to track other protests in the region.
However, Mr Hashem, who spoke at the Nato & Arab Spring conference in Italy last month, said it was wrong to call the uprisings a "Facebook revolution".
"New information technology played a major role, but it was in coherence with the traditional media. Together they were at the forefront of leading these revolutions," he said.
Updated: December 23, 2011 04:00 AM