Tiffany Shlain on Connectedness

For me, Tiffany Shlain is a source of great insight and hope on culture, communication, technology, and life, so I’m pleased to share my recent interview with her:

Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Tiffany is a filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.   Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology, her feature documentary about the good, bad, hope of connectedness, launched last year.  This year, she is working on a new film series which is paving the way for a new kind of collaborative filmmaking she calls “cloud filmmaking.”

She talks with me about:

  • why this is the most exciting time of our lives
  • how it’s a human desire to be a part of something
  • how companies can join in the participatory revolution

So take a listen.  Also check out Tiffany’s website, Twitter feed, and Facebook and YouTube pages — and be prepared to be challenged and inspired!

other interviews:



Denise: Last year, I had the opportunity to hear Tiffany Shlain speak about connectedness and the intersection of culture, science, technology and life, really, and I was so challenged and inspired, I just had to invite her to share her perspectives with my listeners, so today, I am pleased that we are joined by Tiffany, who is an award-winning film maker. She’s a founder of the Webby awards, and one of the women shaping the 21st century, according to Newsweek, so, welcome, Tiffany.

Tiffany: Hi. Happy to be here.

Denise: Hi. I’m so glad you’re here, and I’d like to first start off talking about the future documentary that you released last year, ‘Connected’, an autoblogography. I’m going to have you say that word, about love, death and technology. How do you say that?

Tiffany: Autoblogography. We made up the word. I know. No one says it right, but, we’re kind of playing with the idea of an autobiography and blog.

Denise: Yeah.

Tiffany: So, it’s an autoblogography.

Denise: Autoblogography about love, death and technology. So, tell us, what is it about, and why did you make it?

Tiffany: Well, the film looks at, what does it mean to be connected in the 21st century, and you know, I’ve been involved in technology my whole life, with starting the Webby awards, and I was interested in, historically, where does our desire come for connecting, and where are we today and where are we going? The good, the bad and the potential of all of this connectedness, so the film really takes a historical look as well as, it has a very personal story woven into it, with me trying to understand, what is all this desire to text and tweet and email and, what’s at the core of it, which I think is a very, kind of, human trait of our desire to connect. So, it was in theaters around the country in the fall, and, now, people are hosting screenings all over the world. The US State Department selected it, along with USC, to be one of the films to represent America at the embassies around the world, so, I’m going to South Africa in a couple of weeks with the film and, it’s just been so exciting, the response.

Denise: Wow, congratulations on that.

Tiffany: Thank you.

Denise: So, what have people been saying about what the film makes them think, makes them feel? What has the response been, in general?

Tiffany: Well, I think everyone’s ready to have the conversation. I mean, I think we’re all just changing so many aspects of our lives, of how we’re doing everything, how we’re working, how we’re interacting with the people we love, how we’re existing, that the goal of the film is to really stop, and let’s actually talk about, what do we think the best things about it, what are the parts that aren’t so great, what are the parts that…you know, technology is really us; it’s an extension of us, so, how can we be more  mindful about the way we use it, and, what’s the potential? So, on the one hand, I think it’s the most exciting time to be alive, when we’re going to connect all the minds on the planet, and the potential of tackling the world’s problems, with all of these different perspectives is so powerful. That’s the ‘plus’ of it. The concerned side of it, is that I don’t think it’s healthy. I mean, I know it’s not healthy for our brains and our minds and our souls to be wired 24/7, so, since making the movie, I actually unplug with my family one day a week, and it’s been very life-changing, and people want to talk a lot about that at my screenings, too. So, our goal is really just to trigger conversation, so, we have a whole discussion kit that goes with the movie. We have a curriculum for educators, so it’s being used all over the world at universities and high schools, and we have an app coming out, and really, just deeper ways to delve in to this issue of the good, the bad and the hope of connectedness in the 21st century.

Denise: Mm-hmm. And it sounds like that whole package is facilitating connectedness about connectedness, so, it’s kind of meta in that way, but it sounds like that’s your objective; is not just to create this film, but to really facilitate that dialogue.

Tiffany: That’s right. The film is really the trigger, and the discussion that everyone has is the goal. So, all of my films…this is my eighth film, and they all come with these very in depth, robust discussion kits. To me, films are these emotional triggers for these bigger conversations, and most of my films deal with conversations I think we should be having as a society, and I use a lot of humor and emotion in this one, to delve into, kind of, to crack the issue open.

Denise: Mm-hmm. So, now, you are working on a new film series, which is paving the way for a new kind of collaborative film-making that I understand you call cloud film-making. So, I’d like you to explain that a little bit. It seems quite a different approach from the traditional writer/director who has this kind of, creative vision and drives the translation of that vision into a film and then, that’s released to an audience. It seems this is a whole different way of thinking about film-making and what a film is.

Tiffany: Yeah. It’s so exciting to me. I mean, I studied, and, you know, film-making is such an expensive practice in general, so, out of every art form, you know, you’re dealing with that juggernaut, like, let’s make a movie that is going to make your investors money or, whatever the mechanics of it are.  But, what’s so exciting right now, is that the tools got so much cheaper to record, and everyone’s got a cell phone in their hand that has a camera on it, and a video camera.  And that’s just extremely exciting.

Then, you have YouTube where you can upload it and share it, so, the last scene of ‘Connected’, we called the ‘Participatory Revolution’ and that’s, like, what’s the potential of 5,000,000,000 cell phones that currently reside on the planet? I mean, that’s so many cell phones. So, that last line of “Connected” is “Perhaps it’s time to declare our interdependence”. So, we rewrote the Declaration of Independence into a “Declaration of Interdependence”, and made it into a one-minute script and posted it on the internet, and invited people to read it on video. So, we were just blown away. We got videos from Rwanda and Haiti and England and Japan and China. It was everywhere, and we edited it together, and Moby did the music and we made this really cool four-minute film, and then we posted it on the internet, and we had a big screening in New York and then, YouTube featured it on their home page, and people started translating it, and now it’s been translated into 65 languages.

Denise: Wow.

Tiffany: By, just people on the web. Yeah. And now we’re making catered, free customized versions for non-profits, so, we’ve already made 90, and we think we’ll make 300 by the end of the year, so, it was such an exciting experiment, that we’re making a whole film series based on this, so, we’re working on one right now called, ‘Brain Power’, and it’s all about the potential of how to best nurture a young child’s brain, and we’re looking at the parallels between nurturing the brain and nurturing the internet, and, we’ll make three versions of this film as well, and then, we’re going to have one about the importance of engaging in society, and that’ll come out in time, with the election. But, it’s this whole different way of making movies, where we’re inviting the world to send us videos or artwork, and then we edit it together, create one version, and then make a whole bunch of different versions for non-profits.

So, we just wrote this cloud-film-making manifesto that we kind of, lay this all out. And it’s just such a totally different way to make movies; and it could not have been possible if there wasn’t the internet, and there wasn’t as many people online with the cell phone cameras and all of the stuff.

Denise: Right, right. It’s like taking connectedness into this world of film-making.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Denise: So, what is the benefit, of, kind of blurring the lines between film-maker and audience, or creator and audience, or participant and audience? I’m curious as to, what do you see as the good that comes out of it? And then, maybe, what are some of the challenges?

Tiffany: Well, I think the good is, is that everyone wants to be involved in something, and that’s what’s so wonderful about being human, is we all want to be a part of something. We all want to connect. So, to allow people to make the film with us, it’s like they’re a part of it; it inspires them, I think, for more engagement. I mean, that’s the thing that gives me the most hope about our world, is how much people all want to do things together.  And collaborate. I think they’re going to look back at this era as the age of collaboration. Because the internet is opening up all of these new channels to collaborate, so, that’s the good of it. I mean, the challenge is, oh, gosh. What’s the challenge? Still haven’t gotten an entry from Antarctica.

Denise: Do cameras work down there? I don’t know.

Tiffany: I mean, you’re just experimenting, so, we’ve done so many little experiments, and some totally didn’t work. Where we asked people to send in a video, and our question was too complicated, or, you know, you’re just thinking, and that’s a big part of our ethos, is you have to experiment, and throw it into the ether of the internet and see what works.  And you’ll know immediately if it works, because you’ll get responses, so, it’s all a lot of experimentation. You have to be comfortable with failure, which I am, and trying things out and just pushing on the envelope.

Denise: Right.

Tiffany: Which is what’s happening.

Denise: Right. And, again, that’s so different from the traditional film-making model, where you pour all of this time and energy and money into this film then you put it out on opening weekend, and you cross your fingers, or you kind of hold your breath, and…

Tiffany: Right.

Denise: Find out whether it really was, you know…

Tiffany: No. I mean, I really do engage my audience the whole way along, which is fun, you know? They’re part of it with me.

Denise: Right, right.

Tiffany: And I think, I know you talk a lot about marketing, and, I think engaging people in whatever it is, that is how you really have a dialogue and an investment from people and bring them on whatever you’re doing, whether you want to make the world better, whatever you’re goal is, it’s really about engagement and connecting with people.

Denise: Mm-hmm. Well, that leads me to my question about, you know, since my focus is on businesses and how they build brands and how they build customer relationships, what advice, or what comments do you have for business people as they are thinking about how to connect with customers, with their employees, with other stake-holders, like, investors or business partners? What principles or what do you have for that world?

Tiffany: Well, I think they should read the cloud-film-making manifesto, because, it actually applies to anything. The kind of ideas that we’re talking about, but, I think one of the biggest things, is, you have to be authentic. I think, that that’s what the internet has really laid so bare, is people can just smell, if it’s not authentic. And if it’s not, you know, and don’t be so careful on everything that you spend five months to get a message out, that you’re not really engaging in an authentic way with your audience.

Because they want to feel engaged, and that’s just a whole trust level. They’re going to teach you things about your product. You want honest feedback. There’s a transparency and an authenticity that people really want. And when they get it, it’s great, and you can just see, when people small, but they can’t quite put their finger on it, but something’s inauthentic in the marketing, or in the messaging. I just think people know.  And, so to be as authentic with your audience as possible. Trust them, trust your message, be as honest as possible, and that will really build a lot of trust, and people wanting to rally around w hat you’re doing.

Denise: Wow. Well, that is great advice, and I think that’s a great way to wrap up our time together. For my listeners, I want to let you know that, there is so much to learn about Tiffany and her work, I really encourage you to go to her website, tiffanyshlain.com. I encourage you to follow hereon Twitter. I do, and I love here tweets. Her handle is tiffanyshlain, and I should spell. It’s T-I-F-F-A-N-Y-S-H-L-A-I-N. Also, ‘Connected’, the film, has its own Facebook page and YouTube page, so, it’s all one word, “connectedthefilm” that you can found out more information about that film, as well, and then, of course, read up on the cloud-film-making manifesto, because it does sound like it would be very provocative and applicable in many areas of our lives. So, Tiffany, thank you so much for spending the time with us. Really appreciate it, and best wishes on all of the endeavors that you have going on right now.

(transcript by Speechpad)

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