While dropping off his seven-year-old son at school, writer and film-maker Ken Kwek, 39, saw a group of older students glued to their phones while crossing the road.
Shocked, he said: “That is dangerous, don’t you think? They could be killed.”
Kwek, however, was even more thrown by his son, who replied: “Maybe they are doing their homework. If they don’t finish, they are dead anyway.”
This incident inspired Kwek to write his first children’s book – Timothy And The Phubbers – which was published this month by Epigram Books. It is about 12-year-old Timothy Pong, whose parents refuse to give him a mobile phone because he is too young.
His family members, however, are phubbers and interact with one another only through their devices.
Phubbing is the act of ignoring one’s companions while using mobile devices.
Timothy has to learn how to deal with bullies in secondary school without a smartphone.
Kwek said: “It is common to see families at restaurants bent over their screens. It is funny and a little sad. Everyone is guilty of phubbing and everyone experiences being phubbed every day.”
Since 2011, Kwek has been producing and directing his own films, including the award-winning 2014 comedy thriller, Unlucky Plaza, which is about a Filipino immigrant who takes a group of hostages after falling for a local scam. He also directed Sex.Violence.FamilyValues (2013), which features three short stories and aims to challenge mainstream cinema in Singapore.
Kwek is also an instructor for WritersLab 2018, a screenwriting programme conducted by Lasalle College of the Arts.
His fondness for old-school Super 8mm film cameras, which he often uses in his work, inspired him to feature this piece of equipment in his book.
Kwek said: “Having Timothy fumble with an old-school film camera is fun, and for the adults, it is a throwback… Parents will find this book relatable because every parent today has to deal with their children bargaining for more screen time.”
Timothy And The Phubbers is priced at $12.90 and is available online from Epigram Books and LocalBooks. It can also be found at major bookstores.
Kwek will be at a meet-and-greet at Books Kinokuniy in Ngee Ann City on June 9 at 2pm.
A version of this article first appeared on The New Paper.
(Photo: The New Paper)