BlackBerry Messenger: Boon or bane to family relations?
Blackberry is just one variety of the smartphone fad, accused of weakening family bonds in the Middle East.
BlackBerry Smartphones take their users from their world and transfer them to another world. Communicating with friends worldwide has never been as easy as since the introduction of Smartphones. However, the increased use of these handheld wireless devices and the constant access to people in other places lead to weakening of ties among family members. The most common scene for Arab families these days is that parents and children are gathering around one table, but each of them living in a different world. Nadin Akbar, a Saudi graphic designer, confirmed that the technology had a devastating effect on her romance: “I thought that BlackBerry Messenger could keep me close to my fiancé all day long, making our relationship stronger.
Later I discovered that this was not true, because text messages and chatting are completely unanimated. It became hard to understand my fiancé, as these means of communication don’t show facial expressions and vocal tone. He also became tired of contacting me through BBM. Whenever we met, he spent most of the time texting to his friends and work colleagues.” She added, “He told me that texting every single minute diminished his interest to call or meet me.” Caroline Aslan, a Syrian housewife and mother of three girls, expressed her fear of BlackBerry interaction: “It is seriously interfering with families and their abilities to interact with each other.
The ones most affected by this trend are young teenagers. This generation believes that virtual social networks are good overall. However, it turns bad when cyber relationships become more important than those in the ‘real’ world.” She added, “My three daughters use BBM in order to communicate with our relatives in Syria. They also make friendships with unknown people. In the beginning I was very enthusiastic to buy a BlackBerry for them, but later I discovered that while it strengthened my daughters’ relations with their relatives in Syria, it ruined the family relations.”
Suzan Ishqi, a Saudi teacher working at a private school, stressed that the traditional look of Arab families had been changed for the worse: “In the past, family conversations and gatherings were popular, but now it has commonly turned into text messaging conversations. This takes away all personal and social aspects a person-to-person conversation offers. Instead, it is replaced with abbreviated words that miss true emotion and caring. The consequence is that many families now lack the close emotional bonds that linked them when they had more interpersonal contact,” Suzan added.
Mansour Bin Askar, Islamic Sociology Professor at King Saud University, confirmed the importance of organizing the use of BlackBerry’s: “BlackBerry use has become very common, because it is an easy way to contact each other and share information. This is not a negative thing, but families should know how to deal with the phenomenon. For example, it is imperative that parents sit down with their children and decide how much time can be spent on Internet activities. Allowing children and teens to have a BlackBerry is something negative only when it is used without rules. However, many BlackBerry users do not realize this,” said Bin Askar. He added, “Parents should educate themselves about the kind of communication methods available to children and how to control the use of these. If parents don’t know what their children are doing or are unaware of the dangers, they are unable to protect their children from these cyber dangers.”
Samira Al-Ghamdi, a psychiatrist and trainer at the Education Development Center in Jeddah, confirmed that BlackBerry dangers included elderly people: “BlackBerry use limits the interactions the between family members. Unfortunately, not only children and teens; elderly people, such as parents and couples, are also involved. They become unable to express their feelings, both negative and positive ones, because they only virtually share their feelings with others,” she said.