Rendering Reality: Dubai's Digital Self-Reinvention

03.05.2024|Christian Kreutz

The role of social media in promoting tourism is growing, as it serves as both a tool for advertising destinations and a platform for sharing personal experiences. We are currently experiencing a post-digital era where the line between physical reality and digital representation is becoming increasingly blurred. Many people rely on influencers who highlight certain locations, only to later document their own experiences at the same place through various online platforms. As Marshall McLuhan famously said: "The medium is the message." The influence of this digital portrayal often surpasses that of the actual location itself.

Zoe Hurley, a researcher from LSE, presents her findings on the trend of social media influencing in Dubai in her new book: "Social Media Influencing in The City of Likes". Known for its iconic landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai has positioned itself as one of the most Instagrammable cities. Despite lacking traditional tourist attractions, Hurley notes that the city has effectively crafted artificial points of interest and seamlessly incorporated Wi-Fi and social media frames into its urban environment, blurring the lines between online and offline worlds. By using influential figures to promote Dubai, city promoters have demonstrated how a manufactured narrative can stand independent from a city's true history and realities on the ground. This is a stark contrast to other tourist destinations which typically rely on their rich cultural heritage to attract visitors. Only time will tell if this is simply an in-between stage towards virtual reality travel, as these artificial attractions are proving to be incredibly appealing already.

Video presentation of the book by Zoe Hurley

Photo by Steve Jurvetson @ Flickr