An Omani Fairy-Tale with WhatsApp in Three Colours

I am spending my last few days in Muscat, the capital of Oman.

After having spent quite a long time in Dubai, coming to the sultanate on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula was something so surprisingly calming that I, of course, had to share this exciting feeling straight away. However, at first the other side of the Omani calmness raised my blood pressure and then taught me a lesson.


For the first time in weeks, I took a quiet walk in the early evening hours. I walked through the residential areas where the façades of buildings gently change from one of the three allowed colour shades to another, where the building heights are unabashedly uniform, and where the multiform rocky landscape in the background brings it all together into an image that makes you go aaaaah. In the middle of the week, the spacious sandy beach is full of people, all of them saying hi to you. ‘Wonderful modern enlightened absolutism’ is what springs to my mind. I lay down onto the beautiful green grass at an hour that is well within the workday, openly watching the people on the beach, glancing over the palm trees towards the mountains, while at the same time reaching for my Samsung. I am looking for things to take photos of, people playing volleyball, football, the footprints of their feet in the sand, the sultan's image on the flag, the birds and the flowers... "look how very different everything in Dubai is, look, how beautiful it is... look, there the sultan... u see?!?!:):):):D" .


Not immediately... in fact, when I grab hold of my mobile, my fairy-tale comes back with a sobering thought or two. Limited access to Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, FreePP in this environment gives me some food for thought. Access was limited in Dubai to start with too, but you have no time to think about anything there in the first place!


I will gladly admit, I often watch people glued to screens while riding on the metro, in cars, airplanes and, of course, the initial reaction is a reminder of the negative consequences of all this. Of the countless number of critical write-ups that I have read about the modern relationship with all sorts of tools used to browse the internet and their social extensions. I am well aware that it is all about pathological relationships with devices and apps, it is more than merely an addiction, people are caught in a trap, finding it increasingly difficult to separate from these devices and enter real life. OK.


My current situation – I am completely focussed on work, spending time in the Middle East alone – might have clouded my mind, but is the relationship between the consequences of the use of all social networks and communication channels really much like the relationship between positive and negative write-ups? Is it even possible to read a single write-up without being at your wits' end trying to find it?! I can at least partially understand this, the gadgets themselves are so appealing the write-ups about their negative consequences try to at least slightly balance the picture. And yet...


Peeking over people's shoulder, trying to see what they are writing to one other, it is mostly things that are part of the so-called small talk, pretty little attentive things. Cute kitschy hearts and animals are all over the place, rainbows stretching from one screen to another, and then there are funny grimaces, clumsy pandas, and raccoons bringing smiles to thousands of faces... the photos are sent from bathrooms to buses, from hospitals into living rooms, from trips into the offices. That's the way it is, it's all hollow when compared with writing letters and paying attention to someone by looking into their eyes.


Yet all of these online communication brokers allow unencumbered conversations that take place 99% of the time, independently of these interfaces. And even if I'm working at the other end of the world, I can still hold these conversations with someone who I can truly make the best of the 99% with. And I believe this does not jeopardise that one remaining per cent. Any person who was unable to do so before, will not be able to do it now either and vice versa. So I simply do not understand why can't there be more positive write-ups about all those moments of happiness you feel when you have a whole lot of messages in the cloud of any colour waiting for you. Including images, voice, emojis, animated GIFs etc. And yes, I find it quite difficult to put away the wretched mobile thing, not wanting to miss something interesting, a palm-tree-lined sunset, a new opera or a camel burger that I want to share with others. I keep my mobile on me practically all the time. And with it a countless number of day's highlights, which make up a wonderful mosaic of memories of all these hollow little attentive things.


In spite of all my accolades for mobile apps, it is perfectly clear to me, especially in the middle of Oman, that the trick is to find balance. A balance between all the messages that I can enjoy using the latest technology and the calmness of an environment that does not try to compete with the state-of-the-art technology. A truly pleasant thing is a combination of this appealing online technology that appeals to our feelings it its very own, attractive way, and architecture that is not created based on the logic of the 20th century's modernism, one that does not compete with cars or places, nor – these days – with Apple products or apps. Buildings with all the wonderful clutter of physical pleasures, so cutely clumsy, yet powerful emotional addresses, permanence... can direct the course of life even by calming it. At the same time, we allow the technology, which carries the countless appealing features, to take on the primacy of attractiveness. There is really no need for architecture to compete with these novelties.


But vice versa too, app technology should not attempt to be moulded into the patterns dragged along from the past. It should be calmed down at a different level. Providing that the development of day-to-day activities that continue to take place in a physical environment is facilitated, their appeal is absolutely competitive. All those interwoven beach activities were captured by countless different mobile phones, which did not really suppress the activities, if anything it might have been the other way around, the activities gained on the appeal.
However, a photograph of the moment when a wave washes over my big toe, captured so beautifully in sports mode, is nowhere near being able to compete with the pleasure of walking right next to the seawater on the sand gently flooded by the waves. But when I share the photo with M thousands of kilometres away, it is a fact that the sand between the toes is likewise not able to compete with how powerful the sent photo is far away somewhere, on a small screen. Both of them are something so uniquely wonderful it would be a real shame if I did not enjoy both to the max and without feeling guilty about it!

Article title
An Omani Fairy-Tale with WhatsApp in Three Colours
Original article title
Kreativno: Omanska pravljica z WhatsApp-om v treh barvah
Andrej Mercina
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