Social Media and Digital Life in Oman 2: “شوي شوي”

This post begins were the previous post left off: exploring the potential for social media in Oman, particularly as a forum for cultural heritage education, research, and outreach. Specifically, I am interested in considering the ways in which different social media may be leveraged (or created) for Omani cultural heritage.

I had pinned my hopes on an upcoming trip to the Sultanate in June, during which my colleagues and I were to come together with certain department heads of the National Ministry of Heritage and Culture to discuss the future – research, education, outreach, and general development – of Bat. I wanted to brainstorm about digital projects already incorporated into Ministry infrastructure and outreach – and (as I mentioned in my last post) most of these conversations are best done face-to-face. Although many Omanis (and all Ministry employees) have email accounts, in my experience – certainly compared to my American colleagues – they are infrequently used. Yes, if you want to get something done in Oman, you do it face-to-face. Therefore, this short trip to Oman (only 3 days on the ground) would have been the perfect opportunity to discuss things like cultural heritage QR codes, digital repositories and data sharing, online libraries and education, website development for Bat’s cultural heritage, etc. In particular I wanted to learn from my Omani colleagues about Arabic-language websites – blogs, SNSs, etc. – I should be following. In theory I speak/read/write Arabic – but only “شوي شوي” (“very little”).

The phrase “شوي شوي” – which transliterates as something like “shwayye shwayye” – is perhaps one of the most important lessons and cultural characteristics of Omani life. Besides “very little”, it has several other meanings, among them: “slowly, slowly”, “little by little”, and “…careful…” Not a day goes by without that phrase being used, and it expresses everything from the leisurely gait of shoppers, to the lengthy cooking (and eating) processes, to the seemingly endless greetings exchanged between acquaintances. So how is digital – hyped by “faster-is-better” – useful in a culture of “slowly, slowly”?

One of the most impressive aspects of Oman development has been the ways in which they – both the government and the people – have sought to incorporate specific technological, medical, and educational elements common to the “Christian West” (that phrase is in quotation marks for a reason – please, no arguments here on this gloss!). Examples of this have included: the current Ministry of Health initiative to create an integrated record system across the country’s nationalized (but disconnected) health care system; “Omanuna” kiosks located at central markets which give Omanis access to government e-services – everything from their individual traffic tickets to their electricity bills; and this week’s World Telecommunication & Information Society Day 2012. The latter article is government media (and looks, sounds, and feels like it, too), but it is interesting to note that the Omani government is actively seeking to increase the social and economic participation of women, which, at 30%, is the highest of any Gulf nation. “Andy in Oman” has captured one of my favorite billboard signs: “Women are half the population – their success is our triumph!” Women are also rather prolific bloggers. I have absolutely no statistics to back this up, only my experience: my favorite is When visiting the site you can read the side note, which points to the importance of modesty for Omani women bloggers: “Please Be Kind: This blog is [now] a combination of the stories and experiences of three women into the character of one [so no one can mouth one or the other]. Just a quick favor to beg, if anyone reading this blog guesses any one of our IRL (in real life) identities, please hold off on putting it in the comments box.”

I hope to post next on the potential for Omani women (and girls) to go digital, and the ways in which they are already doing so. What does Facebook mean for women who try to remain faceless? And what the heck does that have to do with archaeological heritage management? Tune in next time…