FOR Mr Jonathan Tan, the mobile phone has become the annoying, uninvited guest during gatherings with friends.
When the 24-year-old meets his peers, he faces competition for their attention from the constant stream of social media updates on their mobile devices.
"I'll be talking to them as they scroll through their Facebook feed and when I'm done they'll look up and ask me what I just said," lamented the Year 4 advertising student.
As a solution to this "prevalent problem", Mr Tan and three of his schoolmates from Nanyang Technological University have launched a campaign to highlight the importance of quality, face-to-face interaction.
The campaign, called "Put It On Friend Mode", was started last Friday by Mr Tan, Ms Lee Yumei, 22, and Mr Malvin Chua and Mr Chan Jing Hao, both 24, from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information as part of their final-year project.
The 10-week long initiative encourages users to switch their phones to "friend mode" by placing their phones in a face-down position.
Doing so is a show of commitment to stop the habit of responding to unimportant messages or the leisurely browsing of media feeds, such as Twitter and Instagram, during social occasions.
Mr Chua said: "It is a simple call to action that everyone, regardless of the make or model of their phones, can take part in."
The group is targeting the 17- to 25-year-old age group, which has grown up with social media.
People can visit www.putitonfriendmode.com to find out more and to register a pledge to put their phones face down when with friends.
They can also watch videos and take part in contests, such as a photo caption competition, on the group's Facebook page.
But to ensure their online presence does not defeat the purpose of the campaign, the website's mobile version will allow users only to register a pledge. They will not be able to access other site functions while they are on their phones.
Mr Chua said this is done to encourage people to browse on a computer, when they are usually alone.
The team also plans to set up booths in schools so youngsters can pledge to join the campaign.
It is hoping to collect 2,000 pledges by the time the campaign ends on Feb 22 next year, when participants will be rewarded with special dine-in privileges at selected cafes.
About 100 pledges had been received by yesterday afternoon, though the number is expected to rise when publicity efforts are ramped up.
Student Glenn Choo, 25, applauded the initiative. He said: "If a friend would rather go on social media when hanging out with me, I would rather just hang out with that friend on social media."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 21, 2013
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