Reconciling Culture and Digital Literacy in the United Arab Emirates

Reconciling Culture and Digital Literacy in the United Arab Emirates

Tony Jewels (Zayed University, UAE) and Rozz Albon (Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology, UAE)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jdldc.2011040103
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Abstract

For a number of years, there has been a concerted effort by the United Arab Emirates to take a prominent role in introducing e-business initiatives throughout the Gulf region, and this effort has translated into widespread access of internet technology for its own citizens. The country, in setting out to become a hub for foreign and domestic companies, realized that to achieve these goals it must provide appropriate e-business frameworks and infrastructures, which it has successfully done. Although, while not the only means of acquiring digital literacy, regular exposure to the internet does contribute to gaining these necessary 21st century skills. It might be expected that with such widespread access to the internet the population would contribute to becoming digitally competent. Using an ethnographic case study methodology, this paper investigates issues contributing to what might be a new form of digital divide; cultural issues which limit the acquisition of such digital skills.
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Introduction

As we pass into the second decade of the third millennium the internet has proven to be one the most exceptional innovations to date, with the World Wide Web affecting cultural, social and economic sectors, in both the way we spend our daily lives and in the way we do business. It has brought a wealth of information to our fingertips while heavily improving our educational system in an organized, efficient and effective manner, as well as enhancing our interpersonal relationships. The strategic potential of the medium was recognized well over a decade ago by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) who stated:

“Our generation stands on the very cusp of the greatest technological revolution that mankind has ever faced. Some compare this age of electronic communication with the arrival of the Guttenberg press, or with the industrial revolution. Yet this revolution when it has run its course may have a greater impact on the planet than anything that has preceded it” (OECD, 1997).

Referring to the internet, Prensky (2001) makes the case that people seeking wisdom will need the use of digital technologies to provide them with unprecedented access to data, information, and knowledge from across the globe. Yet how one uses, filters, and eventually applies these resources will play an important role in the wisdom of their decisions and judgments (Skiba, 2010).

Though within the UAE widespread e-government services are available, there has been no systematic or widespread education of the general population on the use and benefits of internet usage in the country. Even though access to internet facilities is at a level comparative to both the US and UK (Figure 1 & Table 1) and is the highest in the Arab world (Figure 2) many of its citizens have thus failed to understand how to use the medium effectively (Jewels et al., 2009).

Table 1.
Internet Usage Statistics as provided by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (Internet World Stats, 2011)
YearUsersPopulation% of population
20103,777,9004,975,59375.9%

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