Can the Internet and its applications mould the cultural values of UAE youth?

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2009

39 Pages, Grade: Distinction

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Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction

2.0 Literature Review
2.1 The concept of culture
2.2 Understanding UAE culture
2.3 The Internet and UAE cultural values

3.0 Framework
3.1 Hofstede’s Cultural Framework
3.2 Diffusion of Innovations

4.0 Methodology

5.0 Findings and Analyses
5.1 Relation between Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Internet use and cultural values
5.2 Relation between Individualism (IDV), Internet use and cultural values
5.3 Relation between Masculinity (MAS), Internet use and cultural values
5.4 Relation between Power Distance Index (PDI), Internet diffusion and cultural values
5.5 Other findings

6.0 Conclusion
6.1 Summary
6.2 Limitations

7.0 References


The Internet was introduced to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the mid 1990s. The effects of this world changing innovation on UAE culture are still unclear. This study aims to help fill that gap in knowledge by considering whether any such effects have occurred. A questionnaire was distributed at a local institution (Abu Dhabi University) to collect primary data. Drawing on Hofstede’s Cultural Framework and the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, the paper analyses the primary data, along with some secondary data examining how the everyday use of the Internet affects the cultural values of UAE youth. The results indicate that exposure to the Internet may in fact change the cultural values of youth. Importantly this paper also calls for further research into why the rate of Internet diffusion varies so greatly from that suggested by the literature.

1.0 Introduction

Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, Industrial Age, Information Age – all five are acknowledged milestones marking the progress of an ingenious race. A review of world history uncovers a timeline with frequent technological, social, political and economical transformation triggered by that human ingenuity to advance mankind. As nations around the globe develop and their demands for technology increase, the social components within them inevitably tend to occasionally evolve in unanticipated ways.

Within the sphere of technology, the Internet is without a doubt considered one of the most influential technologies of all time. Its uniqueness lies within its ability to link people and information from around the world, through computers and other digital devices, allowing for person-to-person, real-time, communication and information retrieval. This distinctive feature is considered by some as a double-edged sword, as it widens interaction grounds, bringing various societies and cultures into direct and indirect contact, each influencing the other. Fundamentally, the technologies that affect the very basic human elements of interaction and communication tend to have the greatest potential to tamper with social evolution in both positive and negative ways.

A large number of studies conducted by academics on the adoption of the Internet by different societies have ascertained that the Internet can change societal perspectives, as well as its individuals’ behaviour. Direct access to unrestricted content can have unanticipated outcomes on morality and social norms. Further, the Internet’s free flow of information and ideas in the absence of cyberspace territorial borders can raise concerns of diminishing cultural values. For example, when the telegraph line was first launched, many countries expressed objection to this technology due to sovereignty concerns. However, those concerns were eventually overcome when the advantages to humanity it offered were realised. When camera phones were first misused and caused public outrage in Saudi Arabia, they were banned. Only six months later the ban was lifted as ministers argued that mobile phones were a "fait accompli, like television and the Internet". Although social problems have arisen with technological advancements in societies that still believe in strict traditions and taboos such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), penetration and usage in those communities has been phenomenal.

The UAE is a relatively new country that was formed in 1971. Under the auspices of the late leader Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE has in only 37 years, undergone a phenomenal transformation from an impoverished region of small desert principalities, to an emerging world-class metropolis with a high-tech infrastructure (Odhabi & Nicks-McCaleb, 2009). Today the UAE is not only the world’s fourth largest oil producer, but also the world’s richest state per capita and the irrefutably new commercial hub of the Middle East (Piecowye, 2003). During the past decade, the UAE has experienced an exponential rise in Internet users, rapidly marking the country’s existence within the Internet realm.

With this in mind, this paper aims to explore the following overall research question:

Research Question: Can the Internet and its applications mould the cultural values of UAE youth?

The purpose of this research therefore, is not to assess the Internet as either a positive or a negative influence, but rather to consider its effects in a manner that adds to our understanding of its impacts on society and ability to anticipate changes.

Chapter 2 of this paper undertakes a review of the literature surrounding culture types and the Internet’s impact on UAE cultural values. In chapter 3, this paper will present the two theoretical frameworks used to examine the diffusion of the Internet in the UAE and its effects on social values; diffusion of innovations theory and Hofstede’s cultural framework. Chapter 4 will elaborate on the research methodology adopted to address the research question raised by this paper. Chapter 5 will explore and discuss the findings of this research, by critically analysing the data generated through the lenses of the two theoretical frameworks chosen. Finally, chapter 6 will conclude this paper and summarise its main findings and limitations.

2.0 Literature Review

Having identified the main exploratory question in chapter 1, the next stage is to review the literature. Three key areas of literature are central to the study's logic:

1. The concept of culture
2. Understanding UAE culture
3. The Internet and UAE cultural values

Before considering these three areas however, some UAE specific content is useful. It should be noted for example that each of these areas is reviewed in the context of an extremely high rate of technological development as well as a broader multifaceted transformation within the UAE. That development has led to many social changes in a country struggling to preserve its long and proud cultural values (Odhabi et al., 2009; Schvaneveldt, Kerpelman & Schvaneveldt, 2005; Piecowye, 2003). Empirical studies have demonstrated these generational and cultural changes amongst UAE nationals (Schvaneveldt et al., 2005).

The wave of change to the UAE culture can be attributed predominately to the following factors:

- demographic imbalance: UAE nationals are the minority in their own country, making up only 15-20% of the population (Piecowye, 2003). Such a ratio has always raised a concern among both the Government and UAE nationals. The ‘Demographic Structure Committee’ was formed in 2008 and is an example of Government reaction to the perceived threat (Gulf News, 2008),
- the country’s. T.V. programs: Conservative elements of the society still hinder women from participating in performance arts. Therefore, UAE nationals rely on importing television programs and movies in which different foreign cultural values dominate (Countries and Their Culture, 2007),
- the ‘Internet’: The Internet is the hub of unregulated “dissemination of information and ideas of any kind” that do not necessarily respect the autonomy or the traditional cultural values of states (Bandopadhyay, 2006).

It has been empirically confirmed that the “adoption rate of the Internet has exceeded that of earlier mass communication technologies by several magnitudes” crowning it an “irreversible innovation” (Hannemyr, 2003). In another study conducted in the United States by Lenhart et al. (2001) it was found that for the generation that grew up with the Internet, it is progressively taking over the television as their prime source of entertainment, communication and education. The UAE has the highest Internet usage and penetration rate in the Gulf region with 67% of the population using the Internet. Females constitute 28% of the population and they make up 29% of the Internet overall users. Males constitute 72% of the population and 71% of the Internet overall users. Nationals constitute 17% of the population and 18% of the Internet overall users. Expatriates constitute 83% of the population and are 82% of the Internet overall users (UAE Interact, 2008).

The Internet plays a critical role in the lives of many people today. It is a tool for communication, education, organization, entertainment, shopping, transport and maintaining the quality of the living environment. Over the past 10 years, the Internet has gradually become so indispensable in daily life that it has become agonizing for many people to live and function without it (Hoffman, Novak & Venkatesh, 2004; Shakir, Shen, Vodanovich & Urquhart, 2008).

A question frequently asked is: do a country’s cultural values affect the development of the Internet in different institutional contexts or is it the Internet that moulds the cultural values of countries? (Straub et al., 2001; Uimonen, 1998). It is the second part of this question, how the Internet affects cultural values that this research explores in the context of the UAE.

As to whether the Internet has been a blessing or a curse to society at large, the topic remain greatly contentious (Sait et al., 2007). It is the purpose of this research however, to focus on the impact of the Internet on the UAE youth and examine whether it is able to mould their cultural values in a society that is struggling to keep ties to cultural traditions. It is therefore important to define UAE youth in this study. UAE youth refers to both UAE nationals and to non-nationals who were either born in the UAE or have been living in the UAE since they were five years old. Although non-nationals might not have direct impact on UAE cultural values, they do constitute the remaining 80% of the population and have done for the last two decades therefore making it impossible to totally dismiss their influence on or integration in the UAE culture.

There is not a great deal of literature published on the correlation of the Internet and emergent cultural changes within UAE society as the vast majority of literature published is based on western countries (Yusof & Zakaria, 2007; Shakir et al., 2008). Among those studies that have been conducted in the UAE, most have focused on Emirati women and their interaction with Technology (Schvaneveldt et al., 2005; Piecowye, 2003; Yusof et al., 2007; Shakir et al., 2008).

Having provided some context for the literature review, this chapter now proceeds according to the three areas identified initially.

2.1 The concept of culture

The terms ‘culture’ and ‘society’ are often used interchangeably, which is erroneous. It is important therefore, to clarify the distinction between the two terms.

Society and Culture can be described and defined in many ways. According to Giddens (1987) society is “humanly created organization or system of interrelationships that connects individuals in a common culture”. Culture, however, has been described as “sets of traditions, rules, symbols that shape and are enacted as feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of groups of people” (Bellah et al., 1985; Bourdieu, 1979; Harris, 1979; Swidler, 1986). It often comprises functional parts such as government and social control, religion, language and communication, economic system, the family, and transformation and technology. Beliefs, values, logic and decision rules are also fundamental parts of a culture. (Chanlat & Bedard, 1991; Culpan, 1991; Ferraro, 1990; Hall & Hall, 1987). Culture is not genetically inherited, but rather it is a learned phenomenon. Those who share a common culture do so because they acquired it as they were raised by parents and other family members who have it (Hofstede & Bond, 1988; Brack, 2006). It is displayed through social behaviours and becomes formed in social institutions through the establishment of social norms (Straub et al., 2001). People learn norms by imitating and understanding the process of positive and negative reinforcements in a society of members who comply with, or stray from, the group’s norms. In this sense, “culture is observable and amenable to empirical description” (Gong et al., 2006).

In general, ‘Culture’ is made up of three levels. The most obvious is the mainstream culture of society. That is the basic cultural values and customs that differentiate a particular society. For example, the shared language, traditions, and beliefs that set each culture apart from another. The second level is called subculture. In societies in which people have come from diverse ethnicities and national origins, they often preserve some of their original cultural traditions and become members of a verifiable subculture in their new society. Their original cultural traditions such as food, language, dialect and customs, set them apart from the rest of the society. The third level is known as cultural universals, which are learned behavior patterns that are shared by all people wherever they live in the world. Examples of such traits include: communicating with a verbal language, disciplining children, distinguishing between what is good and bad behavior (Brack, 2006).

Having identified the UAE is a multicultural society, where nationals have the minority status with only 15-20% of the overall population (Piecowye, 2003). It is their culture however, that is considered the mainstream culture of the UAE as demonstrated by the government’s overall policies and regulations (e.g. Government schools and universities are gender segregated; the official language is Arabic; policies regarding dress code and accepted public behaviors). Therefore, it is important to emphasis that ‘culture’ data collected in this research refers to Emirati mainstream culture as opposed to the broader UAE subcultures. With that broad understanding in place, UAE culture is now discussed.

2.2 Understanding UAE culture

It is important to provide an insight into the type of culture the UAE has in order to understand how the Internet might change those cultural values.

Dodds (1951) proposed a dichotomy between cultures and identified them as either ‘Shame Culture’ (or ‘Honour-Shame Culture) or ‘Guilt Culture’. Benedict (1946) aided American soldiers in the Second World War by studying this dichotomy and illustrating the distinction among these cultures in detail, applying it mainly to Japanese Culture. The framework of the dichotomy is as follows:

Figure 1: Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture Rules

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Shame-Culture and Guilt-Culture Matrix from Benedict (1946)

Both cultures share the same rule when everyone (Others and I) believes “I am not guilty” and “I am guilty”. The difference arises in the face of disagreement. In a ‘Guilt Culture’, the negative emotion is triggered by a belief about one’s own behaviour, whereas in ‘Shame Culture’, the negative emotion is triggered by a belief about one’s character in the eyes of others (Atherton, 2008).

While the western world (e.g. United Kingdom, Australian, US) is classified as guilt-based cultures, the eastern world including the Arab world are classified as shame-based cultures (Muller, 2000; Atherton, 2008; Deepak, 1998; Zimmerling, 2003). The concept of ‘shame’ and ‘shameful deeds’, are deeply rooted in the early Bedouin code of practice, which existed long before the arrival of Islam. This concept still exists today and is very influential not only at an individual-level but at society-level (Hamady, 1960; Muller, 2000).

Throughout history Arabs lived in groups and tended to function from a group mindset. Generally, Arab societies require compliance from their members. Full compliance will guarantee ‘honour’ and social prestige and a secure place in society. According to Fluehr-Lobban (1994) "Honour is understood in a complex way as the absence of shame, for honour and shame are bound to one another as complementary, yet contradictory ideas”. The connection between ‘shame’ and ‘honour’ has long been identified by sociologists of Arab and Muslim cultures and also ascribed to their complicated social rules (Muller, 2000).

Although Arab societies claim they are steeped in religion, it is the traditional customs that often dictate what is right and what is wrong. If an individual violates a social prohibition, ‘shame’ will be inflicted on that individual who has not necessarily committed a sin according to religious doctrines.

Falling prey to public shaming and stigmatisation does not lie entirely on breaking social value, but rather when others discover the act that has been committed. This is well explained by Hamady (1960) who states, “he who has done a shameful deed must conceal it, for revealing one disgrace is to commit another disgrace." To reiterate however, not committing a ‘disgrace’ does not really matter if others believe it was committed as reputation is more about what others believe about a person than the fact.

According to Zimmerling (2003), there are three different motives for norm-conformance with ‘Shame Culture’ rules, such as those in the UAE:

- External motive: The fear of being socially out-cast and disgraced
- Internal motive: A personal conviction to comply with the norm
- Shame avoidance: The desire to prove to the society that one is behaving according to society’s expectations and to avoid failing to fulfil those expectations.

Three dynamics of both cultures were identified (Baurmann, 2002; Zimmerling, 2003):

- In ‘Guilt Culture’, when individual values change this should have instant impact on conformity with norms/rules, whereas in ‘Shame Culture’ it will not be the same as the society’s perception of these values may not essentially change and accept them simultaneously,
- Equally, when social environments change, this should not have a significant impact on the norms/rules the individual will abide by if he/she is a ‘guilt avoider’, whereas it will have an impact on the norms/rules the individual will abide by if he/she is a ‘shame avoider’
- When a society becomes more individualistic and liberal, this is not expected to create conflicts with norm-conformance in a ‘Guilt Culture’. The situation may be completely the opposite in a ‘Shame Culture’, in which such a move will erode its very basis –if it is a tightly monitored society with little to no space for privacy or anonymity. The argument is that the entire new social system of norms and rules is threatened and will be ruined unless it employs external means (i.e. the inducement of prudence like fear of punishment).

In summary, a member of a ‘Guilt Culture’ is the maker and the judge of his/her values –assuming these values do not violate the law. Whereas, a member of ‘Shame Culture’ is expected to behave, at least publicly, according to the society’s rules regardless of his/her conviction. Moreover, ‘Shame Culture’ is more likely to demonstrate objection to liberalism movements as it promises a drastic threat to its basis, assuming members are still clinging to ‘Shame Culture’ characteristics.

2.3 The Internet and UAE cultural values

“The unprecedented rate of change we observe today is creating a new reality, one that affects each and every one of us politically, economically, socially and culturally. Therefore, we realise that the challenges we face are difficult”

H.H. Sheikh Muhammed bin Rashid Al Maktoom, 2001

UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President, and Ruler of Dubai

UAE leaders acknowledge that oil will be gone or replaced someday and that their citizens need to be prepared to live in a technologically fast-paced world without it as the prime source of their national wealth (Schvaneveldt et al., 2005). The combination of the UAE’s relatively young age and its willingness to catch up with the developed world in a quick pace led the country to skip many steps along the way (Bilal, Hassan & Martin, 2006).

Marker (1978) advised that modern society should consider the social consequences of science and technology. He argues that while technological advancement produces expected results, it also produces unexpected side effects. He also noted that in addition to the increased interdependence of technology and society, social values have not kept up with technological change:

“The technology that we led along like a puppy on a lash has now grown to full size and is chasing us around nipping at our heels or at least that is how it seems…. That is that fit between science and technology and our other social values has deteriorated to a point where it is causing us increasing discomfort”

Interestingly, Marker (1978) observed this phenomenon nearly 20 years before the introduction and global expansion of what is known now as the Internet.

The Internet has an extraordinary effect on individuals and societies with its ability and potential, which are unparalleled by any other technological invention of the past century. That is why the Internet was greeted with a kind of euphoria (Solove, 2007).

Unfortunately, the Internet’s great potential holds true for both its positive and negative effects (Sait et al., 2007). The Internet’s unique features are different from any other media. It is decentralized. That is to say it was designed to operate without ‘gatekeepers’ and to host multiple competitive access points irrelevant of geographic locations. Such features have allowed its content to be published outside the control of governments thus allowing freedom of expression in a form that no other medium has ever allowed before (Bandopadhyay, 2008).

The Internet enabled a society that was once secluded from the rest of the world to turn into a society where intercommunications are inevitable. The Internet, which is described as the “hub of free flow of information and ideas of all kinds,” (Bandopadhyay, 2006) changed the life span of information from being “scattered, forgettable and localized into being permanent and searchable” (Solove, 2007). Such changes indicated that the Internet could inflict transformations in cultural values (Sait et al., 2007).

A stranger can take your photo and publish in on the Internet. A friend might share your secrets with the ‘citizens of cyberspace’. Someone might be spreading baseless rumours about you in blogs or online forums. These are examples of worrisome yet potential scenarios of privacy invasion facilitated by the Internet. The consequences of such scenarios can be significantly more serious in ‘Shame Cultures’ where even non-intimate pictures are traditionally not shared publicly. Throughout this chapter, it is important to emphasize therefore that traditionally the public exposure of females in particular in any way including simple images considered totally non-threatening in the west (e.g. passport style photos) is taboo.

As explained previously, the UAE culture is a ‘Shame Culture’. Society places significant importance on what others think about you, therefore an individual has to do his/her utmost best to preserve their honour and avoid shame. For so long the UAE culture succeeded in keeping its society strictly private, but after the rapid expansion of technology traditionally ‘shameful’ acts have become increasingly committed for various reasons (Muller, 2000.).

Also as explained an individual’s reputation in a ‘Shame Culture’ is based strictly on what the society believes and not necessarily on facts. In this sense an individual reputation can get distorted via baseless rumours. However, it is also considered extremely ‘shameful’ to distort other reputations even if they were factual as the very basis of ‘Shame Culture’ rule is to conceal the ‘shameful’ act (Muller, 2000). Therefore, before the expansion of technology and mainly the Internet, for a person to spread baseless rumours and/or expose ‘shameful’ acts of another was rare for two reasons: 1) it is ‘shameful’ to defy a cultural prohibition; 2) the absence of tools that preserve the anonymity of the “tattler” (Solove, 2007).

The Internet’s great potential has facilitated invasions of privacy and the spreading of rumours in a society that was once private and enforced a sense of privacy and therefore security among its members. In the UAE crimes involving the Internet blackmail over photos and videos, and defamations of reputation are on the rise. Such crimes are handled by the police who try to track the ‘disseminator’ of such contents, but naturally they cannot do anything regarding the already disseminated information on the cyberspace.

In addition to such traditional cultural taboos regarding privacy, the Internet can also impact some features of the concept of UAE national identity. National identity refers to the unique features of a group. Examples of these features are language, dialect, food, relationships and marriage, and dress code. Some of these features have direct links to the ‘Shame Culture’ concept, while others do not. For example, a UAE society member eating non-traditional food (e.g. pizza), or speaking English, will not be considered doing something ‘shameful’ whereas if he/she got involved in opposite gender interactions, married outside the ‘circle’, or wore revealing cloths in public, they might. In fact, ‘shame’ in its extreme cases in the UAE might be inflicted among families whose females do not cover their faces or who work in a mixed-gender workplace (Shakir et al., 2008).

In some of these cases the Internet can facilitate the breaking of these taboos. An example of an affect of the Internet on a UAE national identity component concerns the Interactions between males and females outside marriage and relative circles. Traditionally, marriage proposals are made by the to-be-groom’s parents to the to-be-bride’s parents either via matchmaking or arranged marriage. However, Internet networks such MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Facebook and MySpace are aiding the secret liaisons of young men and women (Countries and Their Culture, 2007). Users of such networks can conceal their real names and real identities, therefore having more freedom to exchange information with people. In fact the incidence of individuals using the Internet as a tool to develop secretive paths towards ‘love marriage’ are increasing (Odhabi et al., 2009, BBC News, 2005). These newly Internet-enabled freedoms have found rejection from the older generation who feel the young generation’s way of thinking can get poisoned due to the exposure to ‘foreign’ concepts and values (Shakir et al., 2008).

Having considered some examples of the Internet ability to impact cultural values in the UAE, it is insightful to observe the reaction of governments to the Internet. Given that the Internet does not take into consideration the autonomy or the cultural values of countries, accompanied by a lack of efficient regulatory intermediaries many governments consider their decision to control the infiltration of the Internet, or censor it, as being vital to their self-interests. However, the Internet appears to be a serious challenge to censorship (McCullagh, 2002; Bandopadhyay, 2006; McLaughlin, 2006). In fact some developing countries have sought the assistance of the United Nations to govern cyberspace (WorldNetDaily, 2005; Bray, 2005). China has the world’s most extensive filtering system, depicted online as the “Great Firewall of China” (Brown, 2008). Equally, many world democracies such as France, Germany, Finland, U.K., Switzerland and Italy have asked ISPs to filter their user’s access. Some of these prohibitions have been harmonized in a protocol to the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime treaty (Bandopadhyay, 2008).

In the UAE, households and commercial buildings have their Internet access supplied through proxy servers, which are governed by the ‘Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’ (T.R.A.). The objective of this authority is to close down websites that fall under specific “prohibited content categories” such as sites relating to terrorism, promoting pre-marital relations, pornography, gambling and hate (Guardian, 2008). Below is the message a user will see when attempting to visit such a blocked website.

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Figure 2: UAE site blocked note

Because the Internet operates in a dynamic world, sometimes labelling websites simply as “dating” or “gambling” is not particularly efficient. For example research conducted by Hunter (2000) studied the efficiency of four commercial software filter products and concluded that only when all four products were combined did they successfully block objectionable websites 25% of the time, but also resulted in blocking 21.3% of permissible materials. Another example of inconsistency is of ‘Facebook’ which is described by most people as a social networking site. ‘Facebook’ hosts Texas Hold’em poker tournaments that involve real money. Yet ‘Facebook’ is not blocked in the UAE while other gambling sites are. But with all such precaution taken by governments to filter objectionable materials, determined users can evade filters using proxies and peer-to-peer systems (Brown, 2008; The National, 2008).

This chapter has identified relevant literature on the concept of culture, understanding the UAE culture and the Internet and UAE cultural values. The next chapter will discuss theoretical framework employed in considering the research question and testing the hypotheses proposed in chapter 5.

3.0 Framework

Having identified relevant literature on the study's three key areas of interest in chapter 2, this chapter describes the theoretical framework underpinning this research. That framework utilises two well-established theories that have been used in similar research previously. They are:

1. Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cultural Framework
2. Diffusions of Innovations Theory (Rogers, 1962)

The combined use of these theories for similar studies is established, with Straub (2001) using two dimensions of Hofstede’s cultural framework, along with Technology Diffusion Theory (DOI) to consider the transfer of information technology to developing countries and the influence of culture. The combined use of Hofstede’s framework and DOI was subsequently used by Kifle et al. (2007) to examine culture and telemedicine transfer in sub-Saharan Africa. The use of both Hofstede’s framework and DOI to provide the theoretical underpinnings of this study is therefore well supported.

Both Hofstede’s Cultural Framework and DOI theory are now reviewed.

3.1 Hofstede’s Cultural Framework

A well-known theory commonly used on national culture is Hofstede’s (2001) cultural framework. Hofstede’s cultural framework has been used and tested extensively in several fields of culture and management research (Singh et al., 2003) and information systems research (Gallupe and Tan, 1999; Myers and Tan, 2002). In fact, it has been regarded as the most robust national cultures paradigm and hence is utilised in this research to analyse the impact of the Internet and its relationship with cultural pattern in the UAE.

Hofstede (1991) expressed national culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another”. He followed up by arguing that people share a collective national character, which reflects their cultural mental programming that helps in shaping their individuals’ behaviours, attitudes, assumptions and values. Hofstede (1980, 2001) framework comprises of five empirically derived dimensions, along which national cultures differ; power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term versus short-term orientation. To enhance understanding on the five dimensions, a brief description is provided:

1) Power distance

Power distance is defined as the degree to which the population of a society accepts the inequality of power distribution within the organisation and is related to conservatism and maintenance of status quo (Hofstede, 1991).

2) Individualism-collectivism

Individualism-collectivism refers to the relationship between people and the extent to which they feel that they should take care of themselves, their families or organisations they belong to.An Individualist society is one where individuals focus on being independent by emphasising on personal freedom and individual decision making; in contrast, a collectivistic society is one where individuals are part of cohesive groups where members look out for the good of their group rather their own (Singh et al., 2003).

3) Masculinity-femininity

The masculinity-femininity dimension addresses the degree to which a society is characterised by assertiveness, dominance and achievements versus a society that nurtures its members and quality of life (Hofstede, 1980). A masculine culture is one in which the dominant values are heroism, material success and achievement. Also, gender roles are clearly distinct; males are supposed to be ambitious and focus on performance, whereas females are expected to be more driven to improve the quality of life. On the other hand, a feminine culture is one in which dominant values are based on caring for each other, relationships and equality. No rigid guidelines on gender roles (Hofstede, 1980).

4) Uncertainty avoidance

The uncertainty avoidance dimension reflects the extent to which members of society attempt to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity. Cultures that score high in avoidance uncertainty tend to value security, clear rules and prefer formality over the structure of life. In contrast, cultures that score low in avoidance uncertainty demonstrate greater tolerance towards risk and members of such societies are more willing to experiment with innovations (Hofstede, 1980).

5) Long term-short term orientation

This dimension describes the importance a society attaches to the future, compared to the past and present.According to Hofstede (2001), long term-oriented societies incorporate values such as perseverance, adaptations of traditions to new circumstances, hard work and thrift. Conversely, short term oriented societies incorporate values such as personal steadiness, respect for the past and tradition and reciprocation of favours and gifts.

The values of the first four dimensions, for the UAE, had already been calculated and quoted within existing literature. As a result, the focus of this research will only be on the first four dimensions of the framework, since the value for long-short term orientation has not been confirmed as of yet.

3.2 Diffusion of Innovations

Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) theory is a widely adopted theory that aids in the analysis and explanation of how the adoption of a new innovation takes place within a social system (1983). Rogers defines innovation as “an idea, practice, or object that is considered new by an individual or other unit of adoption”. Additionally, diffusion is defined as the “process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system”. Rogers (1995) had identified four aspects that influence the adoption rate of an innovation:

1) the innovation itself;
2) the communication channels;
3) the time elapsed since innovation first introduced; and
4) the social system

According to DOI theory, analyses can be carried out at the individual level (i.e. measuring adopter perceptions towards an innovation) or at system level (i.e. describing the elements of a given social system). The majority of DOI literature focuses on the “perceived attributes” of an innovation and the three related characteristics: (1) perceived relative advantage; (2) compatibility; and (3) complexity (Rogers, 1995; Tornatzky and Klein, 1982). These factors can be used to contrast the adoption rates of an innovation as well as the degree to which the innovation is adopted within societies. In these kinds of comparisons, culture can play a decisive role (Maitland et al, 2001).

Having discussed the theoretical framework underpinning this research in this chapter, the next chapter will outline the research methodology strategy.

4.0 Methodology

The previous chapter ended with the identification of the theoretical underpinnings of this research. This chapter will outline the specific research methodology, starting with a basic contextual introduction, and followed by a description of the data collection employed.

There have been studies that successfully linked cultural changes to the diffusion of technology in general (Straub, 2001; Kifle et al., 2007). However, those studies did not focus on the Internet as the source of these changes. The primary objective of this research is to explore whether the Internet can mould the cultural values of UAE youth. The primary approach therefore, is to explore UAE youth relationships with the Internet and its impact, if any, on UAE cultural values. In order to collect relevant data on the aforementioned question, a questionnaire was designed and delivered. Additionally, complementary multi-source secondary data was assessed to provide support for the results, increasing the validity and reliability of this research (Saunders et al., 2003).

A “delivery and collection” questionnaire was determined as the most suitable source for primary data collection for the following reasons; (1) to ensure that the targeted respondents themselves will answer the questionnaire, and (2) the fact that supervisors, who are informed about the research topic, are present with the respondents to not only collect the questionnaire but to explain and clarify any confusion.

With the research focus of this paper being UAE youth, an educational institution with the right age group was sought as data collection point. A sample of 150 students, both male and female, from Abu Dhabi University (ADU) participated in the questionnaire, with all respondents between the ages of 18-26. ADU was selected as a convenient source of a large number of respondents. Permission was sought from the ADU Chancellor before the commencement of the questionnaire.

To maximize validity and reliability, the questions were not organised under categories in order to avoid bias from respondents. The objective of the questionnaire was described on the first page of the questionnaire and was verbally explained to respondents prior to the commencement of the questionnaire. Additionally, to mitigate what are deemed as ‘shameful’ responses and comply with student anonymity and privacy, respondents were not asked to give their names and a cover page was added so that they could conceal their answers both while responding and during collection time.

The design of each survey question was determined by the required data to be collected, and in some instances they were adapted from previous questionnaires. All 24 questions were closed-end to provide simplicity, to avoid confusion and unnecessary time consumption. Two types of closed-questions were used; (1) list, where the respondent is offered a list of items any of which may be selected, (2) category, where only one response can be selected from a given set of categories (Saunders et al., 2003).

In order to meet the research objective, a multi-method strategy was adopted. Saunders et al. (2003) list two main advantages for using this strategy: (1) various techniques can be used for different functions in a study; (2) it enables triangulation to take place.

The “mixture” of strategies employed for this research are:

1) Survey: This was employed to enable the gathering of great amount of data from a sizable population in a very economical way. The data collected are, then, standardized to allow easy comparisons.
2) Exploratory: Are important means of seeking out “what is really happening; to seek new insights; to ask questions and to assess phenomenon in a new light” (Robson, 2002:59). The exploratory strategy is conducted through research on relevant literature and trying to relate them, if possible
3) Descriptive: Several related topics are described. These topics had to be described thoroughly and in detail before making any exploratory study. During the descriptive study, data was evaluated and ideas were synthesised.

Secondary data utilised in this study consisted of literature that related to the research question proposed by this paper. Topics such as the following were studied; Internet usage and growth in the UAE, the social impacts of technology, professional reviews on Internet adoption and its effects on the UAE and behavioural patterns of various cultural structures.

The next chapter will discuss the finding of the data collection.

5.0 Findings and Analyses

Having described the research specific methodology in the previous chapter, this chapter will initially outline Hofstede cultural dimension values, followed by the study’s hypotheses and finally will present main findings and analyses.

The Hofstede analysis for the UAE determines that the cultural dimension values were very similar to those of other Arab countries. The common characteristics among the region were large power distance index and uncertainty avoidance index. The following table illustrates the cultural dimension values for the UAE compared to other developed countries:

Table 1: Comparison of cultural dimensions value between the UAE, UK, USA and Japan and World’s Average

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: (Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions, 2009)

As shown in table 1 above, the UAE has no score in the LTO field according to Hofstede as there has been no study yet to evaluate it. As a result, these analyses will not incorporate LTO, but instead will focus on the remaining four dimensions. The values given for the UAE will be used as the bases for drawing the following hypotheses.

5.1 Relation between Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Internet use and cultural values

H1. High UAI will hinder the diffusion of the Internet, therefore UAE youth cultural values will remain unaffected by the Internet.

High UAI score indicates that the country possesses a low level of tolerance towards uncertainty, which translates to a society that strives to minimize uncertainty by imposing strict regulations, rules and laws, in an attempt to avoid the unexpected. There is a general consensus among researchers that as the UAI of a country increases, the adoption and penetration rate of the Internet decreases, as citizens are usually more resistant to change from traditional patterns (Steenkamp et al., 1999; La Ferle et al., 2002; Yeniyurt et al., 2003).

In the case of UAE, it seems a high UAI score did not affect the rate of Internet adoption, as statistics show that the UAE possesses one of the highest Internet growth and penetration rates in the world (Internet World Stats, 2009). This phenomenon could be related to any number of factors and therefore, this study calls for further exploration into why, in direct contrast to the literature, has the Internet been diffused through UAE society at such an exceptional rate given its high UAI.

However, in order to protect its citizens from uncertainty, the UAE imposes strict Internet censorship that attempts to filter any content that goes against what the government deems as against beliefs and social values. In this way, the country has managed to evolve while attempting to protect their cultural values.

In relation to UAI, based on the questionnaire responses, 74% of respondents claim that they have household rules that forbid them from accessing certain websites, regardless of the fact that the country itself censors the web. In another finding, 65% of respondents had indicated they would not upload their photos to social networking sites. Those two findings indicate to a lack of trust in the web and potentially a desire to preserve cultural values.

Another pattern to emerge from the data was that all of those who use the Internet for longer than five hours daily, agreed to have their photo uploaded. It appears therefore, that there may be a positive relationship between the time spent on the Internet and the respondents’ view of sharing their photos online. Another pattern indicated that the most likely medium to influence cultural values, of those provided in chapter 2, is the Internet, followed by foreign friends and then Television. Associated with this is a finding that suggests the more a respondent is exposed to the Internet the more he/she will choose the Internet as the most influential medium on their cultural values. Interestingly, none of those respondents who use the Internet for less than one hour daily chose the Internet as an influence on their cultural values.

Another related finding was that 58% of respondents believe that due to their exposure to the Internet, they now think of their culture as outdated and in need of some changes. Of that 58% of respondents, 80% used the Internet longer than three hours daily on their free time. This finding possibly indicates an aspiration for cultural change may be positively associated with an increased use of the Internet.

The UAE being an uncertainty avoiding country still allowed for the rapid diffusion of the Internet. However as this study indicated, the longer its youth are exposed to the Internet, the more likely they will probably break the uncertainty barrier and ultimately modifying cultural values, resulting in the invalidity of hypothesis H1.

5.2 Relation between Individualism (IDV), Internet use and cultural values

H2. Low IDV will hinder the diffusion of the Internet, therefore UAE youth cultural values will remain unaffected by the Internet.

The low score obtained by the UAE in Hofstede’s IDV scale, indicates that it is a collectivist culture. This translates to a society that is loyal and attached to family, extended family and traditional values (Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions, 2009).

It has been stated that people from individualist cultures, such as the UK and USA, demonstrate a more enthusiastic outlook towards individualism that gives them more freedom to try out new things. On the other hand, those from collectivistic cultures, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, would prefer strengthening their relationship with people within their social group, rather than trying new things (Aaker et al., 1997). Based on this argument, a growing body of literature was born, supporting the notion that individualist countries lead collectivist countries in terms of Internet penetration (Lynn et al., 1996). Although this is the case with the overwhelming majority of countries with low IDV, the UAE is an exception, since its Internet penetration rate is among the highest in the world. As with H1, this stark contrast to the literature necessitates further research.

The combination of collectivism and Internet diffusion in the UAE has perhaps moulded the concept of social gatherings that have been long embedded within the UAE culture. Around 52% of respondents said that they spend most of their free time on the Internet (social networking), while only 21% of them spend their free time “physically” socialising with family and friends. In a related finding, 61% of respondents said they use social networking tools as an alternative to friend and traditional family gatherings.

An additional interesting observation made was that the longer respondents’ spent on the Internet, the more their predominant activity was pointing towards social networking. This finding might indicate that the element of collectivism of the UAE culture, however in a contemporary way.

Another interesting finding emerging from this study was that even though Internet usage is high and that social networking is common among respondents, only 35% of them agreed to have their photos uploaded to social networking sites; among which 78% were male and 22% female. The difference in percentage between male and female, reflect the cultural value whereby a female’s reputation is traditionally more stigmatized than males in ‘Shame Cultures’ for sharing their photos. Nevertheless, regardless of the small percentage of female respondents agreeing to upload their photos, the fact that it even exists may suggest that the future might see a larger percentage of females agreeing to it.

In a related finding, 92% of respondents have disagreed to distributing a photograph of someone doing something socially unacceptable on the Internet. This could relate to the ‘Shame Culture’ driven value, where it is considered a shameful for someone to damage the reputation of another person. In addition to that, about 95% of respondents opposed to the use of the Internet as means of finding a future spouse. This indicates that even though the UAE had evolved substantially in the past 30 years, its modern day youth are cautious to comply with cultural traditions in life changing decisions. This is complemented by the fact that 100% of respondents view the UAE culture in positive light.

Collectivism has perhaps played an interesting role in Internet usage among UAE youth. It could have assisted in the diffusion of the Internet by promoting it as a tool for connecting and keeping touch with family members and friends, which is the principle concept of a collectivist culture . As a result, it does not seem that UAE collectivism hinders the diffusion of the Internet in the UAE and that cultural values have been somewhat affected, hence rendering hypothesis H2 invalid.

5.3 Relation between Masculinity (MAS), Internet use and cultural values

H3. The state of masculinity aids in the diffusion of the Internet in the UAE, which in turn has an indirect impact on cultural values.

The UAE score of 52 in Hofstede’s MAS scale, which is slightly above the world average of 50, suggests that the country possesses a masculine culture rather than a feminine one. A masculine culture is described as a society that values the purchase of new products and innovations. Such acquisition by individuals can be seen as means of reflecting achievement and success. Based on this, several researchers concur that masculinity is positively associated with the rate of Internet diffusion (Dwyer et al., 2005; Steenkamp et al., 1999; Mowen, 1995). Those findings do coincide with the current state of the UAE, as elaborated on hypotheses H1 and H2.

Findings of this research showed that 95% of respondents own a private personal computer and/or laptop. This possibly relates to the purchasing power for innovations among UAE youth. Additionally, 45% of respondents own other devices, such as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and Blackberry, which they use to access the Internet. This again might reflects the high purchasing power for innovations has allowed those youth to be more connected to the Internet.

The fact that the UAE has developed at a rapid pace while skipping some stages of development along the way (Bilal et al., 2006) left many parents unaware of the adverse affects of the Internet on their children’s cultural values. However, participating youth are aware of those changes, as 90% of respondents find the Internet has changed their cultural values from those of the previous generation.

Although this study did not find any direct evidence implying that UAE’s low MAS score has a direct impact on the cultural values of youth, in terms of Internet use, it did however suggests that it does facilitate the diffusion of the Internet, which ultimately leads to the consequential effects on cultural values elaborated upon in H1 and H2. Hence, hypothesis H3 is valid.

5.4 Relation between Power Distance Index (PDI), Internet diffusion and cultural values

H4. High PDI will be negatively associated with the rate of Internet diffusion, which in turn will indirectly impact the cultural values of youth in the UAE.

This hypothesis was mainly inspired by the work of Herbig et al. (1991), who stated that people in cultures with high PDI score exhibit less initiative in the introduction and use of new technologies. Furthermore, Le Ferle et al. (2002) and Yeniyurt et al. (2003) expanded on that finding by negatively associating a high PDI score with the rate of adoption and acceptance of the Internet. However, in the case of UAE youths, a concise analysis of the responses from the questionnaire along with rational use of secondary data, indicate that a high PDI did not hinder the diffusion of the Internet.

The UAE, having one of the highest PDI scores in the world, has still managed to achieve one of the highest Internet growth and penetration rates in the world. The questionnaire results supported that claim and revealed that approximately 99% of respondents have been using the Internet for longer than 3 years, of which 95% used it for longer than 5 years. These findings coincide with the work of Dwyer et al. (2005), who states that PDI has a positive influence on diffusion of innovation rates. Based on this new finding and those from previous literature, it can be assumed that the difference in results was moderated by the economical state of the country.

Like any other country with a high PDI, the UAE government has the overall authority and responsibility of leading the country. It strategizes and develops the country under a competitive incentive: “In the race for excellence there is no finish line" (Muhammed, 2001) . The economic state along with the drive for excellence had enabled the UAE to transform into an Internet-connected country at a rapid rate. That development could be viewed as a double-edged sword, as on one hand it has managed to dramatically develop the country, while on the other hand, it stressed the effects on cultural values elaborated upon in hypotheses H1 and H2.

Thus, while there is a major divergence in empirical evidence within existing literature regarding the association of a high PDI with rate of Internet diffusion, the case of the UAE supports the notion of PDI having a positive association with Internet diffusion. However, in doing so, the Internet has become a tool for moulding the social values of its youth, which in turn validates hypothesis H4.

5.5 Other findings

H5. Internet based self-education may affect the cultural values of UAE youth.

Although a discussion on the potential effects of Internet based self-education does not fit under the umbrella of the two theoretical frameworks used, it may nonetheless influence the cultural values of UAE youth.

When questionnaire participants were asked what they mostly engage in during their free time while on the Internet, the following was the distribution of responses; 65% Social networking, 24% self education, 0.05% blogging, 0.05% shopping and 10% other (mostly reading news). As quoted, almost one quarter of respondents replied that they engage in self-education in their free time while on the Internet. However, the content of topics learned might not be aligned with traditional values of the UAE, which may as a result subliminally change their cultural values.

Although the effects of online self-education and electronic learning on cultural values are beyond the scope of this research, it is interesting to point out that 100% of participating youth that occupy themselves in self-education view changes in cultural values, facilitates by the Internet as positive. Of overall respondents, 40% view these changes as positive, 10% as negative and 50% as neutral.

Having demonstrated the study’s hypotheses, findings and analyses in this chapter, the next chapter will discuss the conclusion and limitations of the study.

6.0 Conclusion

This chapter will summarise the research and conclusion. The research limitations are also provided.

6.1 Summary

The aim of this research was to explore whether the Internet can mould the cultural values of UAE youth. In order to shed light in the matter, relevant literature and secondary findings were sought. Based on the compiled data, a questionnaire was constructed as a mean of data collection and distributed among a sample of UAE youth, students from the ADU. Following this, the responses were processed, and analysed through the lenses of the following theoretical frameworks; Diffusion of Innovations Theory and Hofstede's Cultural Framework.

Findings from this research suggest that the Internet has changed the cultural values of UAE youth. The study indicated that the UAE cultural dimensions’ state of collectivism and high uncertainty avoidance did not hinder the diffusion of the Internet in direct contrast with the literature, which in turn has had a direct influence on the cultural values of youth. On the other hand, the cultural dimensions’ state of masculinity and high power distance did assist in the diffusion of the Internet within the UAE, and has indirectly affected the cultural values of youth.

Thus, the main finding of this research is that the longer youth are exposed to the Internet, the more likely they will change their cultural values. This ultimately addresses the main research question, that the Internet can potentially mould the cultural values of UAE youth.

6.2 Limitations

Although the conclusions drawn from this research are meant to be indicative only, It is nonetheless important to acknowledge following limitations:

- There was limited amount of literature concerning the impacts of the Internet on cultural values.
- The sample population of 150 youth did not necessarily represent the entire youth population of the UAE as the sample reflected only a fraction of the college-educated segment of UAE youth,
- The questionnaire, which was conducted in English language, was distributed among non-English natives. However, the questionnaire was constantly supervised and the institution chosen, ADU, is English speaking one,
- There are chances of response bias, even though initial setup was structured to minimise it.

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Can the Internet and its applications mould the cultural values of UAE youth?
London School of Economics
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Information Systems, Management Information Systems, Social Science, Computer Science and Society, United Arab Emirates
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Mohamed Alsalehi (Author), 2009, Can the Internet and its applications mould the cultural values of UAE youth?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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