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Tock it out: Students design anti-social media app to combat phone addiction

Rachel Samples and Jacquie Greco want you to look them in the eyes when they’re talking to you.

That’s why they created Tock, an anti-social media iPhone app and a winner in Syracuse University’s Fast Forward competition.

Tock is designed to combat what Samples, a senior television, radio and film major, calls phone addiction, or the constant need to check one’s social media profiles, text or take a selfie during social situations. Phone addiction serves as a social crutch, Samples said, giving people the option of simply burying their face in their phones, rather than talking with and meeting new people.

When Samples and Greco, a graduate television, radio and film major, teamed up for their new media entrepreneurship class, they didn’t know they were already behind.

Sean Branagan, professor of the class, said that the class is geared around launching digital media businesses. When Samples and Greco created the Tock team, it was the only group still open to accepting new members and defining its concept.

The brainstorming process was extensive, Samples said.  The team even had a thick yellow pad with pages of what they called “crazytown ideas.”

However, over Winter Break, the idea for Tock hit them. It turned out that all they needed was some parental guidance.

“Over Winter Break, I was at dinner with my mom, and at our kitchen table I was on my phone and she just looked me dead in the eyes and was like ‘Come on,’” Samples said.

Greco had a similar experience at home, saying that she would be in the living room with her entire family and would be buried in her phone for no reason.

“I guess you don’t really notice it until somebody calls you out for it.  Over Winter Break both Rachel and I got yelled at for being on our phones so much,” Greco said.

When they got back to SU, Samples and Greco witnessed widespread phone addiction amongst their peers, and decided that they would do something about it.

When Branagan heard the idea, he was sold.

“They convinced me they were going to come up with something good, and they blew the doors off of that and have really come up with something spectacular. Now they have to execute on that,” Branagan said.

Tock facilitates face-to-face contact by making a game out of who can stay away from their phone the longest.  When Tock is downloaded, users create a Tock profile, which syncs information from various social media profiles. Once a user creates their Tock profile, they can invite their friends to Tock.

When two or more users Tock, they agree upon a certain amount of time they must stay away from their phones, and whoever swipes in first loses.  The winner then has points added to their profile, which can be redeemed for real-life rewards.

“We’re still in development, but hopefully it’s going to be this addicting game and you also get the tangible rewards of meeting people face-to-face,” Samples said.

While the app has not yet been developed, the Tock team has been busy promoting its idea. Since winning the Fast Forward competition, the team won the top prize in the Raymond von Dran IDEA Awards and has been invited to the New York State Business Plan Competition to compete for up to $50,000.

The team is also launching the first of many Tock events on April 23 at Chuck’s Café.  From 9–11 p.m., the Tock team will collect people’s phones, and in return give out a free drink voucher for every hour people can resist the urge to check their phones.  Greco is confident the event will be a success.

“People are just going to fall in love with the idea, and after this event they are going to realize they don’t need to be on their phones all night when they can just have a good time with their friends,” she said.

Samples and Greco are eager to see how people respond without their phones, and believe that it can be a first step in solving the problem of phone addiction.

So far they have received very positive responses, and many people, especially parents, have asked how to download it, Samples said.

Branagan believes Tock will take off, and that Samples and Greco have created a product that can change social conduct and behavior for the better.

Said Branagan: “You just watch how people entertain the thought of it. It could be a movement; it’s got the potential to be bigger than just an app.”

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