Tiffany Shlain is the founder of The Webby Awards, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and creator of the Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change short film series. Her films and work have received over 50 awards and her feature documentary entitled “Connected” has been highly praised by The New York Times, among many other publishers. Known for her fascinating TED talks, Tiffany has recently released a TED book entitled, “Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, from the Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change series.” She has also been recognized by Newsweek as “one of the woman shaping the 21st century”. Heavy Chef got the chance to chat to Tiffany about her views on how technology is impacting our lives and what the future holds for women in power over the next decade.
Hi Tiffany. How do you think technology will affect our lives in the future? Will it become more harmful than helpful?
I believe that technology is an extension of us and like us; it can be both good and bad. Technology is a great tool for discovering and sharing new ideas and for building worldwide compassion but we must be careful in how we engage with it so it does not interfere with developing and strengthening our personal relationships. I believe humans and technology are evolving together. That’s actually part of the focus on my latest film and TED Book. It is called “Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, from the Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change series.”
You speak about the beginning of a participatory revolution. Can you unpack this for us?
Well, there are more than two billion people on the planet online and now that cell phones are leap-frogging the traditional infrastructure that was once needed to get on the Internet, that number is steadily increasing. It might be just five to seven years before we have everyone on the planet online who wants to be. A time when we’re all able to participate, collaborate, contribute, learn, and communicate through this global infrastructure together. That’s the participatory revolution. We’re at the very beginning right now and I’m very excited to see what will be possible, like the ability to tackle some of the world’s problems as a global community, once we’re all online participating and contributing. It’s been proven throughout history that innovation has occurred when people from different perspectives come together around ideas. Matt Ridley wrote a great book about this called “The Rational Optimist.” Now we have this global framework for participation.
I just hope that we all don’t get global ADD before that happens. I worry sometimes about how we’re online. To stay balanced, I unplug one day a week with my family, which has changed our lives. We’ve done it for almost two years now. If we can mindfully use technology and disconnect when we need to, I think there’s real potential there for everyone.
‘A Declaration of Interdependence‘ speaks about shifting from independence to interdependence. Do we lose our independence as we become more interdependent, and can we be both or only one?
I think you can be both. I think the value of an interdependent system is that there are unique points of view that are contributing to this interdependent network, and that’s where things get really interesting. So I don’t think you lose yourself. I think you just have more of an awareness of how you fit into the larger picture and how your unique perspectives fit into history and into a global picture. It just gives you more context.
I do think there is sometimes lack of attention. I think we are training our brains to have a shorter attention span with technology. That’s the potentially bad part. But again, this goes back to my need to unplug at least one day a week so I can remember this other mode of thinking where I’m very focused. Humans are very social creatures and we require authentic connection for survival. Ultimately once we get married and have kids, all of those things will require real attention. When you’re not paying really good attention to your marriage or your children, things start to fall apart. So the glue that holds us together is real attention. So I don’t think that’s going away. We just have to be mindful about the way we engage with technology.
Statistics show that even though women have the potential to be the leaders of the future, they are still a really small minority in the workplace, at least in top positions. What do you think will bring about a tipping point?
I think we need to change the framework to what is considered a top position. Are we going to be able to work 80 hour weeks at a corporation that’s away from our children? No. I really feel like the framework that we currently live in is very patriarchal.
I’m a mother and I spend a lot of time at home, but I’m also trying to figure out how to be very efficient with my time for work. I’m trying to scale the impact of my work so I’m working less but having a greater impact. I think in a lot of ways, women are just going to need to figure out how to use technology to leverage their impact, but I really don’t know if we’re going to all be like world leaders in 50 percent of political systems. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen because women have children and children are always going to take precedence over other things. They just do.
We’re also raising the future of this world. So I think participatory husbands, I think redefining what contributors to our society are and kind of re-imagining a framework where women can participate in a more meaningful way.
You mentioned filmmaking in the cloud – what does this mean and how will it affect traditional filmmaking?
Abraham Maslow said that if you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. And I’ve kind of updated that statement if you have a camera in your hand everything looks like a story. Right now, there are more than two billion people with cell phones and soon they’re all going to have cameras. They don’t all right now, but the ability for people to all collaborate creative movies together is very exciting.
Cloud filmmaking is a process that invites people from around the world to collaboratively create impactful films about issues and themes that connect the global community. It started out as an experiment with the first film in our “Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change.” The response we received from our first call-for-submissions was fantastic, and with each film we get more and more contributors. I authored a Cloud Filmmaking Manifesto earlier this year that talks about how my team and I came to create films through this collaborative approach. You can read it here.
You founded the Webby Awards – what do these awards recognize?
The Webby Awards is a leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet, including websites, interactive advertising and online film and video. It recognizes the best of the web in a multitude of categories from all over the world.
Lastly, we heard you have worked with Harrison Ford. What can you tell us about him that would surprise us?
I don’t know if this would surprise you, but I’ve worked with a lot of actors, and he was like a one-take wonder. He would just nail it on every take, it was amazing. I grew up on Star Wars, and I just took my kids to the 35-year anniversary. He was the one in Star Wars that used to make my heart beat faster.
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