Human relationships are always evolving, as are the ways that humankind itself evolves. Throughout human history, technology has evolved in a way to help grow every medium of communication. The term ‘Hyper-personal’ has been used to describe the farthest extent that people take social media communication. Nowadays, we see this happen with people over-sharing information on social media. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to interpretation. The 2009 Stop-motion animated feature Mary and Max explored a Hyper-personal relationship that started, and flourished, using letter writing. Despite being an older platform for communication, the ways that letters were used in the film exhibit many traits of a slightly-anonymous hyper-personal relationship.
The term ‘Hyper-personal’ comes from Joseph Walther, a communication professor from Singapore. It helps describe behavior seen over communicative technologies. It comes out of a greater sense of connection exhibited from communicative technology. It’s common to see people become really personal, really quickly after using such mediums as the internet or print sources. There are multiple reasons this happens. It starts with senders that can edit their perceptions of themselves to fit a specific persona that may not necessarily be true of their real selves. Specifically, it gives leeway to only portray positive images about themselves for another party to receive.
A receiver of this kind of information generally overestimates their similarities with a sender, which in itself can only come from very limited cues. It’s important to remember that all of these messages and conversations are traditionally sent from messages which can be edited, planned, and changed before sending. This channel of communication also runs without inherent limits on time, even if everyone is communicating on different times. This helps people change their feedback, and overall opinions on any given situation. Not only do people have different perceptions on other people, but can now create a new perception for themselves. Generally the interactions defined by hyper-personal relationships come from online sources in general, however it’s not internet exclusive. A story like Mary and Max showcases hyper-personal communication through letter-writing.
Mary and Max is a film made by Australian animator Adam Elliot, and focuses on the lives of the 2 titular characters. Mary is a young Australian girl who just wanted a pen pal, and randomly chose a name out of a phonebook to find the name of Max. She starts writing him one day, out of a general curiosity and a desire for a friend in her life. Max is a 40 year old man living in New York with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as other emotional problems. We see their lives grow for a span of about 20 years, where Mary and Max spend all that time exchanging letters about a wide range of topics that over unimportant topics to extremely personal details. What really gives the film its power is from the many personal issues both protagonists face. Mary starts off as a lonely child with uncaring parents but faces issues such as alcoholism and suicidal tendencies as she grows up, and Max is a man who deals with a mostly parentless past filled by many traumatic bullying experiences that sometimes cause mental breakdowns and high class anxiety attacks. Yet throughout every issue they have, they manage to stay happiest when writing to each other and telling each other their lives. A lot of this is because they become very interpersonal very quickly.
The relationship becomes hyper-personal almost immediately in the film. When Mary sends her first letter to Max she includes a lot of very personal information. She quickly talks about her parents and pets, and the relationship she has with them. Being an eight-year-old, she had little trouble asking him if he knew where babies came from. When Max responds, he also gets really personal with her. Every time he refers to his therapist, he writes his full name down. Max also details his Overeaters Anonymous meetings, as well as why his parents were never in his life. On the 2nd letter we heard a lot more personal details from each side, where Mary talks about her loneliness, and her neighbors history in the military, and Max talks about his detailed eating schedule and favorite lottery numbers. Throughout the film they share a lot of raw information about each other, which is filled with dark backstory and deep issues that are in desperate need of fixing. While many traits of hyper-personal communication are shown, it still doesn’t portray the full scope of the theory.
While Mary and Max shows the two protagonists grow very close very quickly, it generally doesn’t follow every detail of the theory as written. They write each other letters, and this gave them a lot of room to exhibit the many traits and ideas presented by hyper-personal theories. The theory describes falsified or exaggerated persona’s exchanging information to each other. In the film, Mary and Max sent each other unedited pictures of their daily normal selves and tell each other a lot of raw, truthful information. They don’t even have a lot in common either, and they never thought they had a lot in common. Despite this, they still communicate and maintain a pretty personal relationship. Their friendship rides a lot on simple kindness and the willingness to respond to each other. It also helps that most other relationships they have in their lives are incredibly unstable, (at least the one’s that actually lasted). Them keeping in contact likely helped keep them grounded when their worlds around them would collapse. Even though their communication and feedback follows the same pace as Hyper-personal relationships, it doesn’t generally follow the other substantial criteria. The lack of a falsified or exaggerated persona on both ends disagrees with how Hyper-personal relationships are thought to function. This isn’t necessarily an issue on the end of hyper-personal communication as a theory, but is more of Mary and Max being an odd case study in general.
Hyper-personal communication is simple, has predictive power, and can easily explain behavior over the internet. It’s unfortunate that an idea like this can’t be fully explored since it is so hard to control enough to test via social experiments. This still takes into account how easy it is to get in a hyper-personal relationship over the internet, which likely happens everywhere in these technological days. It seems like anyone gathered in like-minded communities can easily find people to communicate with, giving this idea so much practical utility across the world. We may be used to it on our Facebook or Twitter pages, but Mary and Max applied this to a completely different platform. The relationship that Mary and Max had is one of the most well-written in animation, and rightfully carries the enjoyment of the film.
This has been AniMo on Animated Monologues, thanks for reading and have an animated day!