Hookahs: Does "Modern" Mean "Better"? / Part I

"It troubles me that we are so easily pressured by purveyors of technology into permitting so-called "progress" to alter our lives without attempting to control it -- as if technology were an irrepressible force of nature to which we must meekly submit." -- HYMAN G. RICKOVER, quoted in The American Land, 1979.

Technology vs. Tradition

Modern technology is, in countless ways, a double-edged sword. While our gadgets provide us with convenience and short-term pleasure, many of them also imprison and isolate us. Devices that we attach to our heads or plug into our ears may give momentary pleasure and distraction, but they also have the power to isolate us socially and imprison their users in a cell of ignorance. At the university where I teach, students meander through the quad and hallways with various and sundry devices attached to their heads and no social interactions taking place among their peers. Instead of the sound of lively after class discussions of lectures as students move from one class to the next, the loudest noise heard in the halls of academe is often little more than the click-clack of heels on the waxed tiles. Technology has usurped tradition on many university campuses and although students seem to prefer being "plugged in" and "dropped out" of social interaction, the meteoric rise of the hookah trend shows us that appearances can be truly deceiving.

The h
ookah has been Middle Eastern cultural icon for centuries. Visit the oldest parts of any Middle Eastern city, and you will find a qahwa (Arabic for coffee shop). The qahwa is a hub of social activity; it is the place where friends gather to share a cup of tea, a game of cards, backgammon or chess, politics, jokes, and a hookah. As Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel Prize winning author, writes in his novel, The Children of Gebelawi (Awlad Haretna in Arabic), the qahwa is the place where the memories of the glorious past meet the hardships of the present and both are shared with friends. Sharing, the very essence of the hookah culture, is a tradition that contributes to the proliferation of hookah lounges across the US. They are places where young and old can unwind from the stress of work, home, and school; reconnect with old friends and meet new ones; and most importantly, once again engage in the traditional act of face-to-face socializing that technology seems to have stymied.

Since hookahs take center stage at the qahwa of the Middle East and the lounges of the West, it is important that we take a look at how technology has impacted them as well. And that discussion will come in Part II.

Comments (0)