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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Qatari-American author explains the problem with malls in the Gulf

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As Qatar and its Gulf neighbors develop at a dizzying pace, Qatari-American author Sophia Al Maria has been cautioning against getting too caught up with “modernity.”

Speaking to design and technology blog Pasta and Vinegar recently, Al Maria explained in detail the concept of “Gulf Futurism,” a term she coined to explain “the quiet tragedy” that is taking place as GCC states embrace mass development at the cost of their identities.

She described the shift as one in which people here are moving away from reality and something that is climate-controlled. One factor that has helped with this is technology, said Al Maria, whose mother is American and whose father has Bedouin roots:

“When I was 16 for a girl to have a mobile was shameful. Now my 12-year-old sister has an iPad but barely enough to eat every day from the rations divvied out between 14 people in a on-salary household. The focus is totally upended. Survival = being on the next level. Not sustaining your body.”

Another symbol of the changing times, according to Al Maria, is the “mallmentia effect.” She continues:

“I can’t tell if I’m in Hong Kong or LA or Dubai half the time I walk into a mall and that happens more and more these days because the mall is the dominant structure of a certain class group of which I am part. I literally find myself in malls whether on holiday or on my way home from work or on a weekend even and I am frequently confused as to how I even got there. It’s a place of weird pilgrimage in an era where to consume is to absolve yourself.”

Al Maria argues that the consequences of such progress are a world that is almost Ender’s Game-esque like The Giver, in which “you don’t have to experience suffering. It will be regulated, medicated, etc. You don’t have to see the grist of the mill, they will be hidden as is the case with labor in the region.”

In previous media interviews, Al Maria suggested that one way to avoid falling into the trap of Gulf Futurism is to step away from what’s artificial. Speaking to Vice in May, she criticized corporate videos in the region that promise investors to take people on a journey from past to future. She added:

“There’s no room for reality and the basic needs of people. For example, young love in the Gulf is so mediated by technology; everything is covert and conducted via phone. And then there’s the artificiality of the landscape—every tree is planted, nothing happens by chance. But when you go out to the desert, it rains, and overnight it’s completely green with little yellow and purple flowers. This sense of dystopia rising comes from being disconnected to the land.”

Thoughts?

15 COMMENTS

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Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
6 years ago

Talk about 1st world problems!!!

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

With a third world mentality

Osama Alassiry
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

We’re in the 3rd world… Remember what 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world means, it’s not a medal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_World

“The three worlds as they were separated during the Cold War era, each with its respective allies as of the period between 30 April 1975 (the fall of Saigon) and 23 August 1975 (the communist takeover in Laos). “

Saleem
Saleem
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

At least not mentally deficient like yourself dude.

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

Yours or hers?

Ugene
Ugene
6 years ago

This is a great article. I grew up in the Middle East, ventured around the world for some time and came back. I think that peoples ideas of what they really need in life is quite distorted and its only a matter of time before people come back to their senses. This is what happened in the west. In the 1950s people were all about consumerism, this continues to the present day but slowly and surely more people are realizing that having healthy body, mind, and spirit is the actual goal. I think that this won’t happen in the Middle East for at least another generation or so. There will be a generation lost to the malls who will end up in their 40s or 50s having realized that they achieved almost nothing from their youth and will finally come to realize how they were being manipulated by certain groups to buy things they never really needed in the first place while ignoring what really mattered. They will also feel quite bad as their real self will have been utterly crushed by the socially inspired need to keep up with the Jones'(or Al-…..’s in this case).

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

What we’ll thought out arguments and I can’t help agree with her. Smart lady.

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

Could it be that the modern young in the Middle East are crying out for excitement and enjoyment in a landscape and a culture that offers so little of either when compared to the trappings of the wider world that they are bombarded with every day through the media? I don’t say those trappings are wonderful but it is understandable how the youth, especially those with rich parents who’s focus may be on supporting their kids a opposed to advancing them, can have their heads turned in that direction and that they become more distant from the “real” world.

Saleem
Saleem
6 years ago

Waste of time

Mohammed Albanai
Mohammed Albanai
6 years ago

I’m just gona be a geek and be happy she referenced ender’s game

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller
6 years ago

Enders Game is my favorite book. It’s awesome. But I think she meant to reference The Giver. Perhaps she was confused because both movies came out in the last year or so.

Shabina921
Shabina921
6 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Miller

Ah yes! This is my fault – I meant The Giver. (haven’t seen the movie though, just read the book). As an aside, Ender’s Game the book is a million times better than the movie!

agenius
agenius
6 years ago

Moderately interesting but academically questionable & culturally suspect.

Has she thought of avoiding the malls entirely!? In the west we have what is known as the alternative or indie crowd. Perhaps it’s a matter of time (& I don’t mean a generation, as a commentator below incorrectly guessed; nothing takes a generation in the age of microwaves & mach 3) before this also is imported. ..

disqus_21uQ1hXhE0
disqus_21uQ1hXhE0
6 years ago

With all due respect Shabina, you’ve made Sophia sound like a Luddite, and I think she’s a little more nuanced than that.

SokhnaFan2010
SokhnaFan2010
6 years ago

“In previous media interviews, Al Maria suggested that one way to avoid falling into the trap of Gulf Futurism is to step away from what’s artificial.” To do that, you are going to need a full tank of gas and a GPS. Better your next blog article be on the “Mallosis” syndrome , ie, lack of Mall access for an extended period of time and it’s mental and physical effects. No doubt some more enlightening quotes shall follow, although “Where to consume to absolve yourself” will take some beating.

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