Incentives to put away the phone

KUALA LUMPUR: In a sign of the times, Malaysians are being offered incentives to put away their mobile phones during meal times under a Government-backed campaign that they be mindful of their social graces.

About 14 restaurant chains in the Klang Valley have signed up for a “No Mobile During Dinner” campaign by Focus on the Family Malaysia (FOFM) to bring back real life social interactions during meal times – something which its organisers feel is seriously lacking in today’s modern world.

Families, couples or friends, would be asked to put their phones in a box to be tucked away, while restaurants would provide them a conversation starter wheel with random topics to help them through the “awkward silences”.

If they get through the meal without checking their phones, the groups will be rewarded with discounts or a free dessert or drink.

Restaurants taking part include BarBQ Plaza and My Elephant. The campaign is endorsed by the National Population and Family Development Board of Malaysia (LPPKN).

“It is sad. We are observing that families are just not communicating with one another. You can see even dating couples sitting across one another but they seem busy on their phones. To me, the saddest thing is seeing families with young children who are being ‘baby-sat’ with devices while their parents are also busy on their own gadgets,” said FOFM executive director Lee Wee Min.

The campaign, which began on Friday, will run until Nov 30, with as many as 50 restaurants expected to join.

FOFM is also looking at introducing conversation starter wheels in family home dinners.

“We feel one of the key ingredients for any family is meaningful communication. How do you build understanding with one another if we just keep to our own devices?

“Phones should be kept at bay during dinner when the family comes together. There should be at least a half-hour conversation,” he said.

Over half of Malaysians use mobile phones on a daily basis and a survey once found that 76.3% of Malaysians would make a detour home if they had left their devices in the house.

In 2014, the Malaysian Communi­cations and Multimedia Commission found that 71% of Malaysians would check their phones even though they know it did not ring.

Though FOFM conceded that majority of the device-reliant Malaysians might not be too privy to the idea of having both hands free during dinner time, it hoped to bring back a small dose of actual face-to-face meals again.

LPPKN director-general Datuk Dr Siti Norlaisah Ismail hoped the campaign would strengthen family relationships and create an awareness on the importance of eating together as a family without distractions.