Think back to when you were born, if you can. Can you remember how much you knew about trigonometry, or Latin? I’d wager that you knew very little. In fact, I am fairly sure you knew nothing at all. What about running? Could you do that straight out of the blocks? Again, I’d guess not. I bet you walked before you ran, and crawled even before that. Think back to your first swimming lesson; were you as good as Mark Spitz when trying to get your Frog Club 10 metre badge or did you look more like a struggling ox? What about driving? What about working? What about this, what about that? So that you could develop properly, you had to start with the basics and move up.
You can’t just do something straight away; you have to work towards it. You have to toil and trouble, try, fail, try again and so on. It is a right of passage. On an industrial scale, countries have to learn to develop in the right way, too. You can’t just build massive skyscrapers, wild theme parks and malls with the same air conditioning properties of an Antarctic gale and forget to install a basic address system or an ample sewage network. No, you put your pants on first, then your trousers.
Or do you?
Human civilisation wasted its time for 1000’s of years. But over the last 200 years or so we have made monumental strides. The Victorian era in particular presented the world with pretty much everything, chiefly the safe and successful harnessing of electricity. Once electricity had been harnessed there was no stopping us. It wasn’t until the late 20th Century, just about the time when we stopped using monarchs as era classifications, that the internet was born. And that was a real game changer.
I remember being a young boy and accompanying my beloved grandmother to the post office to pay her TV rental bill. After that we would go to visit another office and pay a water bill, and then go somewhere else to pay a phone bill. All we had at our disposal was a number 93 Route Master, an umbrella and the promise of some chips from that famous place in Wimbledon that I cannot remember the name of. An entire day was dedicated to paying the bills. It wasn’t an inconvenience, it was the norm. This was only 1989, and such practices continued up to the late 1990’s.
Of course these days everything is done online; literally everything. Bills are something that can be arranged at the click of a mouse, and my god, how magnificent is that? Gone are the days when you would sit there in your study, prying open the brown envelopes with your brass letter opener, stroking your chin sagely and cross referencing all your receipts with an abacus before catching the tram to town to pay them all. No, now you log onto the website, reset your password because you’ve forgotten it again, type in the magic numbers, click “ok” and complain that because you now have some spare time you don’t know what to do with it.
It is common knowledge, now, that the typical British High Street is in trouble. People are doing everything online; food shopping, clothes shopping, gift shopping, banking and bill payments. Because people no longer need to go and run errands, it means they won’t pop into the WH Smith in the High Street on a whim. They are sitting in front of a lap top with all they need at their finger tips. The local economies are suffering as a result. But things change, the internet cannot be turned off and it isn’t just the future, it’s the now. Those who don’t embrace it will be left behind with their stone knives and bear skins.
Since the UAE harps a chord of modernisation, how can the seventh richest country in the world still have within its borders companies and organisations that have not joined the online super information highway thing? Why is it that everything is a chore? I have only recently updated my phone account so that I can pay online, and I still can’t do it. I have registered both my debit and credit card to help but every time I am told there is problem and that I need to go to the shop. I do, I see the queue, I kick an innocent bystander and pay my bill manually instead.
My bank, which is very good, really, is let down only by the fact that I cannot pay my credit card bill online. I can see it, but I can’t pay it. I need to go to the branch. Then I have to wait, then if I don’t have the exact correct money I am taken downstairs to the cellar and flogged. What are the odds that my credit card bill will be a round figure to the nearest hundred? What do they expect? 17 fil coins don’t exist.
Water and electricity, can that be done online or by direct debit? My foot it can. Once again you have go to the mall, park, study the map, find the distribution centre kiosk, wait behind the plump woman who doesn’t understand that you cannot be rude to the locals, and then kill yourself to make the headache go away.
Then, the biggest joke of them all: the internet bill. Our provider, and yours too, has a tendency to a) never, ever, ever send a bill, b) cut you off unexpectedly and c) actually refuse to tell you how much you owe. I am not making this up, you call the facetiously named “help centre” and you are told to log in online…how the ****ing hell can I do that when you have disconnected my service? They can recall all your details over the phone, your name, address, inside leg measurement and what grade you got for a piece of maths homework you did in 1992, but not how much money you owe them.
The whole process is exhausting, and I think I have worked out why. The UAE’s economy is driven by oil revenue first, and tourism commerce second. You force people to drive so that they use more petrol. Then, as an act of “convenience” you build kiosks for the water place and phone place in the mall. So, you go and shout at the man behind the counter, pay for someone else’s bill because no one else knows what’s going on and then decide that you want a quick coffee, or a sports bra, or a ghastly three piece suite. You may have only spent an extra 100 Dirhams but that all adds up…Is it a coincidence that they cut your internet before you can log on to pay? My suspicions are aroused…
The UAE is trying to avoid the log-on era. It has spent billions of dollars building malls with Alps in them and they don’t want them to become white elephants, gone the way of Wimbledon Park High Street. The internet is a ruthless, business killing machine and will stop at nothing until it has a grasp on everything. It’s a bit like Lex Luthor. The UAE clearly fancies itself as a bit of a Superman. It thinks it can save the day by resisting the internet, but the reality is that it has put its pants on after its trousers and looks very, very out of date.