DENVER — Randy Boyum seems a bit frustrated with the state of the world these days, citing what he considers a literal extinction of person-to-person connection.
“When smart phones first came out, I noticed within a year or two that people who got those phones stopped looking up,” he said. “People were absolutely glued to these things, and I couldn’t understand why."
Boyum — who said he waited a decade before purchasing his own smart phone — has long wanted to create a social commentary on the decline of face-to-face interaction. That’s how his clay animation short film “The "Extinction of Up” was born. Released in 2020, Boyum’s depiction relates how he feels about society’s focus on technology while ignoring face to face communication.
“[Smart phones have] become so prevalent,” Boyum said. “Years ago, I started joking with my friends, saying, ‘You know, in one generation, people will no longer be able to look up.’”
Randy Boyum Clay artist
“The "Extinction of Up” shows how Randy Boyum feels about society’s focus on technology.
Boyum owns his own studio and has been a clay and stop motion animator for 33 years, producing dozens of short films, corporate productions, and advertisements. “In 1989, I got my hands on a Super 8 camera and thought 'I’m going to mess around with some clay animation,’" Boyum said. He eventually opened his own studio after working for other companies, choosing to focus on a style he describes as “cartoony clay.”
His short film “The Extinction of Up” depicts two young people sitting next to each other on a park bench, communicating via text; instead of looking at each other and talking. Boyum said the short film was inspired by his own observations of day-to-day life.
“I saw this guy, and it was an incredible day, but this guy was standing at a stoplight [waiting] to cross the street and he was on his phone,” Boyum said, adding that he watched the man cross the street without looking up. “I just sat there with my mouth hanging open,” Boyum said.
Recent studies have shown that smart phones are designed to keep people constantly staring at their screens: excessive use can be addictive for people of all ages, causing negative neurological issues; including increased anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and compulsive disorders.
Boyum is surprised at how his short film has resonated with younger audiences. “A lot of young people who watched it said that in the beginning they thought it was kind of funny and amusing, but in the end, it was kind of sad,” he said. “I said, 'What are you talking about?' and they said, 'I hope we don’t end up like that,’” referring to the two figures hunched over their smartphones with long, evolved thumbs from constant texting.
Boyum jokes his main fear is that eventually, people won’t be able to look up from their phones at all. “Everyone’s just doing this," [he put his head down] he explained. “People’s necks are going to lock into this bent place.”
“The Extinction of Up” has been in more than 40 film festivals, which Boyum considers a measure of success. He is eager to spread his message.
“Everyone is spending way too much time ignoring the world around them so that they can have a quick, little dopamine rush from some article ... and the next one, and the next one, and the next one,” he said. "People just need to put those phones down and have a real conversation.”