Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and the fallacy of online isolation

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If you haven't seen Shimi Cohen's video, "The Innovation of Loneliness," from this summer, it's even more relevant today, as movies like Spike Jones's Her illuminate our need for connection- or the illusion of it, in a society increasingly defined by digital connection. 

The film draws from a TED Talk titled "Connected, but Alone?", in which Sherry Tuckle argues, "We're expecting more from technology, and less from each other." By sharing information in a controlled manner online and engaging in shallow connections online, driven by self-promotion, rather than a desire for authentic interaction, humans are becoming more isolated and more lonely, while simultaneously less able to be alone, she explains; the internet is creating islands out of what used to be robust communities.

Not so fast, some argue. Tuckle's argument for digital dualism- that we have separate virtual and physical lives, and one must take priority- has been refuted by several thinkers, including, famoulsly, Nathan Jurgenson. In his post, "Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality," Jurgenson argues that it's simplistic to think that digital interactions are inherently more superficial. What you get out of the internet derives from the intention that you have when using it, he argues.

To further push back against the idea that Facebook and Twitter are ruining our minds, David Banks points to data revealing that internet use has several positive effects, including "enabling closer family ties, allowing youth to find support networks, giving entrepreneurs in isolated regions access to valuable business connections." 

Although there is an emerging body of work demonstrating that using social networks to share or catalog photos and information makes it more difficult to recall, and that consuming more content more quickly leads to difficulty in focusing on in-depth material, the arguments don't conclude that it's the digital nature of these mediums that degrades recall. It's possible that instantly archiving a piece of information offline as well would have a similar effect on recall, or that reading several short articles quickly every day would degrade one's ability to delve into a long book; the internet just rapidly facilitates those processes and makes them a default mode of interacting.

Perhaps the internet is driving us to distraction. But it's not degrading or fragmenting communities, at least among tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East. Increasingly, these online communities have a simbiotic relationship with offline communities; as an online presence grows, entrepreneurs throughout the region are flocking to regional events.

So as a new generation becomes more self-driven and self-actualizing, it's unlikely that entrepreneurs will become more isolated, as they find more support, not less, in coming years, both in their immediate surroundings and regionally.

Many early pioneers eked it out alone, but in 2014, co-working spaces- like Tunisia's New Work Lab, Alt City and Coworking +961 in Beirut, icecairo, and even tasmeemME's fledgling space in Amman- are on the rise (perhaps even Dubai's MAKE will fill the gap that The Pavilion's closure left). Accelerators like Flat6Labs and Oasis500 are going regional, Arabnet is continuing its multi-city approach, and Wamda will continue bringing entrepreneurs together for conversations that can only be had offline, at Mix N' Mentor.

Driven by a common challenges and common goals, our community is hardly becoming more isolated by coming online.

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