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New challenge gets people out and off their phones by … using their phones

It’s a one-month challenge to tackle loneliness and promote more face-to-face interactions, but it uses the same tools that often prevent in-person socializing.

#FacetoFaceFeb is a project by post-grad students at Centennial College who are aware of the apparent contradiction.

“It’s not about getting off your phone completely; it’s not about shunning technology,” said public relations grad student Jessica Richard .

Instead, Richard says, it’s a challenge that encourages people to take part in a different activity that includes human interaction on each day of February, then post about it on social media. Each challenge is posted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

“There’s definitely a little bit of irony there but, I mean, everyone’s going to use the technology anyway. It’s just a matter of finding that balance.”

Richard and four of her classmates in Centennial’s public relations and corporate communications program came up with an idea to focus specifically on loneliness and isolation among students.

They decided to go in that direction after experiencing the challenges themselves and reading statistics on isolation among people in their age group.

Centennial College students Jessica Richard and Mubashira Farooqi with their three classmates who came up with the #FacetoFaceFeb campaign to decrease student loneliness. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

In Richard’s case, she’s an only child with a small extended family so she became accustomed to spending time alone.

Her classmate Mubashira Farooqi says everyone working on their team felt drawn to this project because of a personal connection to loneliness and isolation.

“That’s what drives us to try and make this campaign a success and allow other students to see that they’re not alone.”

Farooqi says for her, those feelings came due to the stress of managing post-secondary education. Using social media seemed like the best way to engage with other students.

The challenges are fairly simple: on Feb. 1, the initiative called on people to compliment three strangers,

Monday, people were supposed to have lunch with a classmate, then the following day, they were asked to go to the library with a friend to learn something more about black history — a nod to Black History Month.

They’re working together with the GenWell Project, a non-profit that works to increase social connections.

Its founder was blown away by their plan to brand an entire month.

“It was a no brainer,” said GenWell’s founder Pete Bombaci. “It was, ‘That’s a brilliant idea, let’s go forward and make something happen.'”

Though he sees decreased social interactions affecting people at every stage of life, he liked the focus on young people.

“Telling them to put down the phone as we’ve been doing for 15 or 20 years, how’s that working for us so far? What we all need to understand is we’re in this together.”

Bombaci may not be in their target group, but said he is still trying to do as many of the challenges as possible.

In just the first few days of the challenge, Randi-Lynn Paul has already chatted more with friends and family. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Randi-Lynn Paul, a Centennial student who’s participating in the project, planned to meet a friend at the library to look up more about Harriet Tubman for the Black History-related challenge, followed by dinner.

She altered Sunday’s challenge to watch the Super Bowl with friends and instead got her family together, making sure to catch up during commercial breaks.

“It’s just fun to spend time with them and get to talk,” she said.

“Monday to Friday, everyone’s busy, you’re working, everyone’s rushing around, you don’t have time to sit down and be like, ‘Hey, this is going on in my life. What about you?'”

In her case, she said she did learn new details about her family.

And there are still more than 20 days left in the challenge.

CBC

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