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.

What Would Walt Tweet?

walt trainWalt Disney would have turned 111 years old yesterday. It was touching to see photos and messages from various folks on Twitter paying tribute to this great man. Although he said it was “all started by a mouse,” we know it really all started with Walt. Without him, this community wouldn’t exist, this blog wouldn’t exist, and you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

One follower asked: If Walt Disney was alive and had a Twitter account, what would he tweet?

My immediate response was, No, he wouldn’t be on Twitter. Walt was a busy man with important STUFF to accomplish. He didn’t make movies and build mountains by standing around retweeting fluffy inspirational quotes like “If you can dream it, you can do it, you know.” He was a dreamer, true, but he was also a doer. A man of action. Surely, he had better things to do than tweet pics/video of the New Fantasyland dragon all day … right?

But the more I thought about it, the more I started to think that maybe, he would have used it. And here’s why.

walt tvWalt embraced new media. When television was first introduced in the late 1940s/ early 1950s, it spooked the big movie makers, big time. They saw it as a threat to their business, stealing away their audience.

But not Walt. He saw television as an opportunity to reach his audience:

“I have more latitude in television than I ever had before. If I had an idea for something, I had to then go and try to sell it to the distributors, to the theater men, and everyone else. With television, I just get my gang together and we say we think that will be something interesting – let’s do it. And I go direct to that public.”

It’s not hard to imagine Walt saying something similar about social media as we know it today.

And he himself appeared on TV. Although reluctant at first, Walt agreed to be the host on his own television show. He used it to entertain people and excitedly show off his upcoming projects. And his efforts paid off. That’s how America came to know him as “Uncle Walt.” That’s how he got the funding to build Disneyland. That’s how the word “Disney” became synonymous with quality entertainment.

(For further reading about Walt and television, I highly recommend Walt Disney Family Museum’s article here.)

So, what would Walt tweet? I imagine if he handled it himself at all, it would be done similar to how our current president tweets. Barack Obama occasionally leaves quick messages, signed “-bo”.

Would he have done live Q&A sessions? Video chats? Tough to say. We know he made us feel right at home on his television show and generously signed autographs and posed for pictures at Disneyland. It’s not outrageous to believe he would have found the technology useful – exciting even – as a personalized way to reach his audience.

By the way. The Twitter account @waltdisney is apparently owned by Disney. It has no profile picture, a mere 300 followers and 0 tweets. No one is saying things on his behalf on Twitter.. thank goodness.

What do you think? Would Walt have used Twitter? Or would social media make him roll around in his grave? Leave a comment below, and be sure to follow me at @DLthings for updates!