Abu Dhabi: it's a place that's been a name longer than it's been a reality to
me. Airport, skyscrapers, sand, indoor opulence, and the external starkness of barren desert – these are the words that associations and assumptions had conjured up for me around the city name before I'd ever spent any real time here. Having been in Abu Dhabi for about a week now on a work-related trip, I'm finding that it's creating a very different set of linguistic locus in my mind – mornings of bird song, pavements with bike paths, and an astounding leap of technological integration, just about everywhere.
From my very Western perspective, there are facets of technology here that feel more and less comfortable. Taxi apps that allow the industry to remain affordable while rivaling Uber, QR codes for pan-industry information services, and not only self-driving cars, but self-driving buses that are bafflingly both free and operate on bespoke routes based on the passengers riding them –
all of these are strides that thrill my California heart. There are aspects of technological pervasion here that are more of an adjustment for me, too. Abu Dhabi has created a reputation for being an incredibly safe city – crime on any scale is almost unheard of – and it's a culture that's been created in part through a heavy utilization of surveillance tools. For example, highway speeds are monitored most often not by a person, but by a roadside camera in a distinctive black and grey striped pillar. These cameras capture car speed and some other traffic infractions, such as concurrent cell phone usage while driving. The cameras also document the car license plate, which is in turn linked with yet another phone application. Within minutes of a camera registering a speeding violation, a fine is sent to the app on the driver's phone. It is not typical to contest it.
The merits and mires of technological monitoring is a topic well- worth reflection, but as a visitor here in the UAE, I am choosing to lean more into curiosity than criticism. Seeing the advances that such a young country has made in terms of technology as a tool is truly just as impressive as the rest of Abu Dhabi's high-rising, heatwave-riding infrastructure.
By Dr. Miceala Shocklee
Dr. Shocklee is a full-timeaquatics veterinarian and part-time science writer and freelance editor.