Is there a generation gap in Oman?

28 Feb 2018
POSTED BY Y Magazine

The generation gap is no more a myth in Oman. Alvin Thomas & Hasan al Lawati try to learn the ABC of the XYZ gap in Oman

An unrestrained life is what 22-year-old media graduate Nithin* cherishes. When he wakes up in the morning, he reaches out for his smartphone which has been with him on bed throughout his sleep. A second lost online could spell “disaster” for the self-proclaimed “photographer with an edge”.

An hour later, he prepares himself to head into the city to click photographs of passersby and nature to post on his Instagram page. His dream is simple: He wants to become a renowned photographer in Oman.

Armed with his RO1,500 Sony a7R III camera, he heads out, only to be stopped by his father, who is leaving for work.

“Are you going to look for a real job?” asks the father with a smirk. An agitated Nithin replies: “This is my real job, and it’s taking me to places you could never have thought of.”

This leads to a heated argument.

The father believes that Nithin isn’t working to his fullest potential and that he can strike a job with a reputed media firm if he reaches out to them.

“I spent a lot of money on Nithin to graduate from university and also to buy a camera. Now he tells me that he is gaining traction on social media. It’s utter nonsense. Social media isn’t going to make him famous; hard work is,” says the father

During our conversation, however, Nithin is positive that social media is his golden ticket to success. “The number of people that are on social media is at an all-time high and there’s no point sticking to our old beliefs like a dinosaur. Actually, dinosaurs didn’t adapt to times, which is why they’re extinct today,” the confident youngster chimes in.

While some may see Nithin’s attitude as a bit doltish, certified life-coach and marine cadet Aaron Mathew Prince points out: “Both Nithin and his father are right.”

“Nithin’s thoughts are in the right place and he’s probably going to make it as a photo-journalist someday, but his father has seen and experienced all the trials and troubles of life to know that he probably needs to get his chin up and strive to find a full-time job,” Aaron adds, before stating that it’s only a matter of time before one of them would realise that they were wrong.

This conversation that we caught in full picture, according to Aaron, is the perfect example of the gap that exists in the thinking and mindset of individuals of two different generations.

This gap between Generation X and Generation Y – or simply referred to as the generation gap – is a myth no more. In layman’s terms, a generation gap is defined as a difference in the opinions between individuals from one generation to another – typically those from Gen X and Gen Y – regarding various matters, such as beliefs, social values, religion, politics, spending and so on.

Of late there’s been a consensus that the gap has been turned into a full-fledged war between people of different generations – and that the addition of a Gen Z is only adding fuel to the mix.

But to understand this, let’s first define Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z:

Gen X: While there are no precise dates for when Gen X starts and ends, it is commonly classified as individuals who were born between 1966 and 1976.

Gen Y: These individuals are sometimes referred to as ‘Millennials’ and are classified as those who were born between 1977 and 1994.

Gen Z: This term isn’t homologated, but is commonly used to classify individuals who were born in the years following 1995.

During our conversation, Aaron adds: “The advent of technology and social media has definitely made it impossible to bridge this gap between people of two generations. But there are distinct differences between these two sets of people – and it can be attributed to the way each of the parties conduct and perceive tasks.”

We spoke to Ahmed Al Kalbani, a 30-year-old Omani who refuses traditional means of marriage.

“I do not want my family to pick my future wife. I want to find Mrs. Right on my own,” he explains.

Ahmed’s father, however, married at the age of 18.

Talking about the cultural differences between his and his dad’s generations, Ahmed said: “While buying a house is now difficult in Oman, I think that our generation’s mindset is different when it comes to spending habits. Instead of saving money to build a house or get married, I spend money on buying new technology, ‘travelling’ and so on,” he explains.

The young engineer said the older generation found it hard to cope with the ever-growing technology.

“My parents can’t tell if a video or a picture is fake. Newer generations are more tech-smart and can easily distinguish photoshopped content,” he added.

But Ahmed is not a one-off case. More Omanis are delaying marriage as the average age of marriage for males in Oman went up from 24.7 in 1993 to 28.4 in 2010 and for females from 20.7 in 1993 to 26.1 in 2010, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI). 

To understand more on the topic, we talked to several experts in the field.

Hamad al Saleh and Adil al Saleh are a father-son duo that run their family business – a used car showroom in Mabelah – together. Hamad, the 62-year-old founder of the small business, began selling spare parts which were rejected by car garages in the late 80s.

Adil, a business graduate, only took over as the co-owner a year ago to help his ageing father run the business. But, according to the father, his son has a lot to learn if he has to become a successful businessman.

“The issue with Adil – and most kids in his generation – is that they have no hands-on experience or, up to an extent, value for money. I started small to build this business up and I value every baisa that comes into our hands.

“I consider it the rewards that we reap after long years of sowing. But when I see his negotiation and operational skills, I am mostly left surprised.

“Hundreds of Riyals are dropped off the selling price of a car at once – and it can hamper the final profit margins that we make. People can easily take advantage of him.

“Also, if you look at our showroom now, you will see a lot of cars. His policy is that the more cars in the showroom, the more customers feel like it is a reputed brand. What he fails to realise is that all of this comes at a cost in this current market scenario.

He then goes on to elucidate the matter on a macro scale: “This spendthrift attitude is also something I have been witnessing in several millennials of today. I’m not saying everyone is the same but, in general, the youngsters are more educated than us but lack life experience. This means that they can be easily manipulated.

“Just take an example of companies that are benefitting from it: Apple and Samsung. They release a new model of a phone every year and they have these youngsters flocking to
the shops.

“It’s quite rare – unless they are real fans – to see an older person upgrading their phone to the latest one every year. My son has already bought an iPhone X – and he’s proud to show it off to everyone.

“To him, it raises his status – be it in business meetings or while with friends. But I still use an old phone,” he says, raising up his five-year-old iPhone 5S.

This is further asserted by a study that was conducted by Charles Schwab – an investment service company – when they found that despite a low median annual income, a surprising number of millennials spend their money on branded goods and foods.

They also found that a majority of young people have less than $1,000 (RO385) in their savings accounts, and a significant number have nothing at all. The report also clarified that millennials spend more than other generations on comforts and conveniences like taxis, pricey coffee and dining out.

Seventy-nine percent stated that they would splurge to eat at the hot restaurant in town and 69 percent would buy clothes they don’t necessarily need.

The numbers are much lower in these categories for older generations. Moreover, 76 per cent of millennials also upgrade to the latest electronic gadgets when compared to the 66 per cent of Gen Xers who do the same.

Little wonder then that three out of 10 millennials make purchases based on things they’ve seen on social media at least once
a week.

Keeping that aside, the report also reads: “Millennials’ love of the digital world is well-documented, with selfies and social media playing a prominent role in many young people’s lives,” before it goes on to add that this is not the case with Gen X, although the amount of time spent on social media is closer than ever. This has also given birth to a new phenomenon: ‘Virtual friends’.

While the term is self-explanatory, virtual friends or internet relationships, can be explained as friends you meet and communicate with online on social media networks or email.

Khaled al Zadjali, a 20-year-old medical student at Sultan Qaboos University, says: “A lot of jokes are made about us millennials keeping in touch with more friends online. But websites and apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc. are used by everyone. And if anything, I’ve noticed that it’s slowly helping us reconnect with our friends who are away from us. “Something is better than nothing.”

He claims to spend about two hours of his day browsing on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), but in short spells after classes.

But when asked to comment on how social media affects family life and inter-personal connections, Shweta Dey, a 24-year-old flight attendant with a leading airline company, surprises us: “As a flight attendant, I abundantly enjoy the feeling of coming back home to see my family. Connecting with them over social media comes nowhere near
that feeling.

“Yes, it does help me pass information quickly and perhaps share a few experiences, but that can be done without social media too. It’s just that it will take a little more time.

“The use of social media has definitely affected family life – and not in a good way. We are connected and yet so distant. Nowadays, family conversations are no more about sharing life experiences. Conversations are a mere formality and acknowledgement as opposed to sharing.

“For example, Gen X bonded well with their grandparents but we don’t, as we think they are just a call or a text away. Real bonding amongst families is on the decline.”

On the cultural front, however, Gen Y is just as keen as Gen X to upkeep the country’s traditions and heritage – at least in Oman.

Award-winning Omani artist, member of European Artists and supervisor for Fine Arts at Sultan Qaboos University, Yousuf al Nahwi, believes that there is no lack of fervour when it comes to learning about the culture of Oman – be it a youngster or an older person.

“Culture, unlike several other art forms, is colourful in so many ways. Most people around the world use their culture and heritage to identify themselves. This is why I feel that no real damage has been made on our country’s culture in the last two decades,” Yousuf tells Y.

“Social media has also played a significant role in this. For instance, some of my paintings – especially of the Sultan and of the Omani horses – had gone viral on social media. It’s showing the world the beauty of Oman and you cannot put a price on that.

“However, everything must be done in moderation. I insist the youngsters publish their works only after they have completed it. Somehow, there is an urge in them to showcase everything in their life at every moment. That can be very hazardous.”

Nevertheless, Yousuf says that the strength of his class is growing as more youngsters come forward to learn fine arts. Needless to say, he’s confident that the culture of Oman is in safe hands. 

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