Paperman: A Few Thoughts on Making Human Connections

I adore Paperman.

It’s a brilliant, simple short film by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by John Kahrs, it is nominated for an Oscar. Originally shown before Wreck-It Ralph in theaters, it is now available for free viewing on YouTube and I urge you to see it – even if you have already, see it again. It’s that good.

Many people have gone on and on about the technical aspect of the short, and while I do find that fascinating, here I want to share my thoughts on what this short means to me on a philosophical level.

Every day there are thousands of tiny human interactions. You hold the door open for someone at the bank. You say “excuse me” when you pass someone in the aisle of a grocery store. It happens, and maybe there could be a connection there, but then it’s gone and you never see that person again. We’ve all wondered, who was that person, where are they now, and what might have happened if fate brought you and them back together. Everyone loves a good reuniting story. Many people have said they got teary eyed while watching this little 6-minute short.

Do people still meet for the first time in person? Has online dating taken the spontaneity out of romance? Are we living too comfortably, too reliant on technology to take a chance?

Thanks to the Internet and social media we are more connected to each other than ever before. And yet… concurrently, these same tools often make us feel more distant than ever before. (Not to mention, more jealous.) It’s the ultimate irony – the more ways we have to connect with each other, the fewer meaningful connections actually take place. Why? Because it allows us to be lazy.

Why give me a call or come over to visit when you can send me a quick text instead? Why bother asking for my opinion or advice when you can Google it and find the same information? Perhaps we gain a little time saved, but what do we stand to lose? Are we reduced to hiding behind a profile picture that may not even accurately depict us, so intent we are on avoiding that bothersome thing called human interaction?

By being so engrossed by what happens on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. (there’s even an acronym for this: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out) we tend to miss out on what’s going on around us.

I’ve been guilty of this. Often when I visit a theme park, I’m so busy documenting what I find with a camera or on Twitter that I forget to enjoy myself and the company of who I’m with. You’ve encountered people like this before, and it’s rude. You miss so much of what’s going on in reality when you’re absorbed in some other digital universe.

That makes chance human connections, like the one depicted in Paperman, that much more special and rare.

Like the male character in Paperman, you may find yourself waving your hands out the window, desperately trying to get the kind of connection we all really want – with a living, breathing human being. The paper airplanes could represent any of the various ways we try to stay in touch – Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram pictures, etc. They’re a shot in the dark. You fold it and you throw it out, hoping it will fly on course and land in the right lap.

Of course, in classic Disney fashion, the paper airplanes come alive and help bring these two people together. I don’t think social media is inherently a bad thing. For instance, Twitter has introduced me to some really fine folks I never would have talked to otherwise, and some I have met in person.

We just have to be careful not to let secondary forms of communication dominate our lives. It will never replace face-to-face human interaction, so make the effort to see the people that matter to you. And don’t miss out on real life – you never know what (or who) might catch your eye.

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