For Singaporeans who served National Service before mobile telecommunication devices became commonplace, downtime was spent chatting with one another on any topic under the sun (described in fragrant Singlish as "talking cock") or catching some Zzzs. The 1977 painting by Ho Kok Hoe, titled Conversation, above artfully captures the moment.
Face time that citizen soldiers from the First and Second Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) invested in one another often resulted in firm friendships that spanned decades.
The contribution such long-lasting ties made to camaraderie and unit esprit may well be imagined, as soldiers who were familiar with one another's personal strengths and foibles might be expected to work together better as a team, running the extra mile with and for one another.
The SAF has indeed recorded many instances where full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) or Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) willingly stepped forward to put in extra time with their respective units, just to be with those they grew up with while serving NS.
These days, downtime might look like this:
The drop in face time among today's NSFs should be obvious to anyone who has spent time observing how our fellow citizens interact with one another while off duty.
The penchant for youngsters to gravitate towards electronic games or plug into cyberspace at every given opportunity doesn't necessarily mean that ties among them are any weaker than NSFs who served Singapore in the pre-handphone era.
Indeed, one could argue that today's NSFs establish face time in a different way as opportunities for interaction among such NSFs using social media can take place anywhere, anytime and with anyone (see the conclusion to this post). This compares to the pre-handphone generation where face time ceased the moment cohesion activities or unit outings ended.
Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF officers tasked to cascade defence information would doubtless have recognised the need for, and relevance of, online media platforms as part of their publicity plans.
If you look at the glass as being half full, this means that conversations with NSFs and NSmen can be sustained far longer and in more creative ways that cultivate stronger mindshare than the previous method of having a conducting officer stand in front of the men to rattle off the key points.
In addition, a wider audience can be addressed. This includes families, friends and employers of citizen soldiers, whose awareness of, and support for, defence activities are integral to raising and sustaining commitment to defending Singapore.
To be sure, command presence from establishing face time with the men is still vital. But the point is that the interaction can continue on social media, should the SAF's Services make the effort to engage their audience in the online world where youngsters tend to spend their time in. These could include platforms like Facebook pages for the respective Services, though one should always be mindful that the sphere of influence in social media extends way beyond Facebook alone.
The potential is tremendous, if face time in the real world is complemented by an adaptive online media plan that reaches out to tech-savvy NSFs and NSmen in new and exciting ways.
Tapping on online platforms can extend one's reach to a new audience, erstwhile strangers, whom one might otherwise not get the opportunity to meet and greet in person.