Mobile Tech Drives Social Revolution in Saudi Arabia
(p. 6) RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Life for many young Saudis is an ecosystem of apps.
Lacking free speech, they debate on Twitter. Since they cannot flirt at the mall, they do it on WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Young women who cannot find jobs sell food or jewelry through Instagram. Since they are banned from driving, they get rides from car services like Uber and Careem. And in a country where shops close for five daily Muslim prayers, there are apps that issue a call to prayer from your pocket and calculate whether you can reach, say, the nearest Dunkin' Donuts before it shuts.
Confronted with an austere version of Islam and strict social codes that place sharp restrictions on public life, young Saudis are increasingly relying on social media to express and entertain themselves, earn money and meet friends and potential mates.
That reliance on technology -- to circumvent the religious police, and the prying eyes of relatives and neighbors -- has accelerated since it first began with the spread of satellite television in the 1990s. Saudis in their 30s (and older) recall the days of unsanctioned courtship via BlackBerry Messenger.
But the scale of today's social media boom is staggering, with many of the country's 18 million citizens wielding multiple smartphones and spending hours online each day. Digital has not replaced face-to-face interaction, but it has opened the door to much more direct and robust communication, especially in a society that sharply segregates men and women who are not related.
The spread of mobile technology is driving nothing short of a social revolution in the lives of young people. In this rich but conservative kingdom that bans movie theaters, YouTube and Internet streaming have provided an escape from the censors and a window to the outside world. A young Shariah judge, for example, confided that he had watched all five seasons of "Breaking Bad."
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(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 22, 2015, and has the title "Young Saudis, Bound by Conservative Strictures, Find Freedom on Their Phones." )