DUBAI // “My fellow Emirati parent,” began a message doing the rounds on social media last year. “If you feel your children are nowhere to be found – each has locked themselves up in their room and don’t even join you for breakfast, lunch, or dinner – just disconnect the Wi-Fi for a few seconds and you’ll see them come charging out to see you.
“In fact, don’t be surprised if your neighbour comes knocking in his pyjamas to make sure everything is OK.”
Jokes aside, the UAE has become so internet-dependent it now outranks the US and the UK in a Gallup survey of home connectivity.
The report, released last week, found the global average for home internet access was just 32 per cent. Only 23 countries reported connectivity of 80 per cent or more.
In the UAE, where researchers sampled 2,000 Emiratis and Arab expatriates in 2011, 85 per cent of the Arabic-speaking population had an internet connection at home.
By comparison, only 80 per cent were connected at home in the US, while 84 per cent were online in the UK.
During the holidays, Badria Al Mulla and her children head up to their farm in rural Dhaid. But not even their stocks of goats, sheep, chickens, and cows can distract the family from spending up to four hours a day surfing the net.
“At first we got a DSL link from Etisalat, which used a satellite dish. It was great and very fast – much faster than the connection we had in Dubai,” said Mrs Al Mulla. “But after the first year we kept having connection problems, and I realised I was spending too much money on something that just wasn’t working when we needed it. Now we have two USB 3G sticks that use prepaid SIM cards, so we’re only using what we need.”
She said her children aren’t online as much as they would be in Dubai, but they still play games and watch videos on YouTube.
The Al Ali family used to take their 3G USB drive camping with them. “It was just so the kids would have access to the internet to check their email and things like that,” said Abdulla Ahmad Al Ali, a father of five. “But they kept fighting over it and it would keep getting lost. It became such a hassle that I just stopped doing it.”
The children still have an iPad to share while camping, so they’re not completely cut off.
“I don’t think [an internet connection] is necessary at all times,” said Mr Al Ali, “but it is handy to have.”
But as enthusiastic as the nation appears, it has a bit more connecting to do to get into the top five next year – spots currently taken by Sweden (93 per cent), Singapore (93 per cent), Denmark (92 per cent), the Netherlands (91 per cent) and New Zealand (89 per cent).