Tiffany Shlain has been honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” plus she’s an award-winning filmmaker, public speaker, writer, and best known for being the founder of The Webby Awards, and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Alex H. Yong had a chance to speak with Tiffany Shlain directly about her thoughts on tech, life, and her new AOL Original series, The Future Starts Here. Alex shared his thoughts about what he saw, as well as the actual interview with Tiffany, found nowhere else.
Bevs Lim: Hey Alex, is this the first time you interviewed a filmmaker? It seems like you like interviewing artists and people who create. Did you talk about lifestyle trends and culture? When was the film preview?
Alex H. Yong: Yes and yes. Tiffany Shlain’s preview was on the night of October 10, 2013. Plus I considered it an honor because she’s an in-demand influencer with a very full calendar. One thing worth noting is that Tiffany’s gone on record saying she considers herself "a conversation-maker, not a filmmaker." When I heard that, I thought it was such a cool statement, because I assumed every filmmaker says they’re a filmmaker! This is the interview.
Alex H. Yong: Hi Tiffany. It’s awesome getting to interview you on your latest series. Of the films in it, which one do you feel might resonate the strongest with the widest range of people, regardless of demographic? Technology Shabbat is the one I feel would do that.
Tiffany Shlain: Yes, I think what can resonate is owning the fact that we can make these decisions, and reclaiming that. A lot of people say “Well, I already unplug on vacation.” The thing is, vacations happen once or twice a year, and there is a difference between doing it every week versus once a year. The most recent one was just so great to hang out with my family, doing art projects and things. Plus I felt so relieved, it was fun. I’ve been doing these every week for the last 3 and a half years, so now I run toward it. And they get better. I have schedules for them, almost. I know if there are really fun things I want to focus on, I plan for those on Saturday. In my talks, I like to mention how Albert Einstein understood motion and how time is relative, and the speeding up of time. I meant to include that in the film too, to let people know it’s possible to take one day and make it feel like it’s 4 days long, and then to feel so relaxed afterward. When my father died, I went through a lot. It was profound. When someone close to you dies, you just think about time, all the time, how precious that is, and you can die at any moment. I didn’t need any neuroscience to tell me it wasn’t good to be that wired and to be increasingly distracted. And I was listening to myself. I think when someone dies, you really go deep into what life’s about, what you want in life, and how you want to be. I wanted to, and needed to stop the distractions, the onslaught of data coming at me, just one day a week, because I also love the connectedness, I really do, but I knew it wasn’t good all the time.
Alex H. Yong: You opened The Future Starts Here saying you love technology. If someone asks you to demystify the trend of long lines and camping gear in front of Apple Stores before a device launch, what do you tell them? Your Episode 5, Participatory Revolution, resonated with me because now I think I have a new explanation for overnight lines, and an a-ha moment on why I chose TechMania411 for my domain name. I wasn’t sure why I chose the word ‘mania’ but as the film said: We’re creative beings and we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves! It’s also wonderful to hear that the responses to A Declaration of Interdependence exceeded your expectations. I didn’t see that film, but tying it to the 4th of July was pretty brilliant.
Tiffany Shlain: Oh! Definitely see it. A Declaration of Interdependence is part of another film series we’re working on called Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change. Basically we do these collaborative films; we’ve made 3 and we’re just about to premiere our fourth one this December. They’re really fun. You can go to LetItRipple.org and see a lot. They’re a completely different way of making films that I’ve ever made. As for the overnight fans in front of stores, I don’t know. Even with me for example, I saw something the other day about that slow-motion feature on the new iPhone, and I’m like, “I want it!” And then there’s also the excitement factor of ‘new, novel, fresh.’ I think you can probably say that about anything new. We like new and shiny things, and yes, they’re also creative tools that allow us to try new things. So I think there’s a ‘cult factor.’ (laughs) I mean I was into Apple products ever since I was a kid and I’ve always been excited when something new comes out. I don’t always get it right away, like the ones who camp out, but I’d say they’re ‘passionately obsessed’. They want to have the newest thing the second it comes out.
Alex H. Yong: What were some of your standout memories of doing A Declaration of Interdependence?
Tiffany Shlain: Just the response overall, and to be sitting in our film studios everyday was like I was directing from there! People being at their own locations shooting, and the power in building all of it, there was something very raw about that that came through in the footage.
Alex H. Yong: Was it easy to decide the order of appearance for the films?
Tiffany Shlain: We thought Technology Shabbat showed the way I currently feel about technology, which is this love-hate relationship. With that film as the opener, we felt it would best set the stage for this series, in the sense that I love technology, but I also worry about what it’s doing to us, and we need to be more mindful. And then the other films go in unexpected directions.
Alex H. Yong: As we move closer to the midpoint of this decade, have you experienced or heard of anything your instinct tells you might become the truly next big thing?
Tiffany Shlain: Yes, my 10-year-old daughter is coding in a visual coding language. I think that’s going to open up a huge number of people coding - and it’s visual! I’m interested in seeing where that goes.
Bevs Lim: Nice interview, Alex. On the points Tiffany Shlain made, what do you agree with? Since we’ve known each other for years, do you have any custom picks for me out of the 8 films?
Alex H. Yong: I agreed when Tiffany mentioned we should be mindful of what technology is doing to us, and her finale, Episode 8: A Case For Optimism touches on that. I finally saw A Declaration of Interdependence, and as a finished project, it keeps you glued to the screen, even though it’s just 4 minutes long. I’m not a filmmaker, but I can tell there were complex steps required to make it, like getting translators or polyglots involved. Knowing how you like positivity, I think you could appreciate each film because they’re all thought-provoking and positive, but Episode 6: The Creative Process In 10 Acts has extra inspiration. In it, Tiffany mentions how she dedicated 4 years to one project which ultimately failed, and she talks about the fear she felt, and how she built up her courage over the next 12 years to try again. Episode 2: Motherhood Remixed comes to mind too, because it touches on parenting, taming a busy schedule and more.
Bevs Lim: Oh goodness, don’t get me started on busy schedules and needing more hours in a day. Anyway, about those long lines in front of Apple stores, so now you consider it a type of “mania?” I remember you once said you felt it wasn’t too fashionable to be seen in an overnight line with camping gear. To be blatantly honest, many tech enthusiasts today are not addicted to "Apple Kool-Aid" because they prefer something fashion-forward, innovative and on trend that surpasses expectations, such as Samsung. Ever since Samsung introduced the Galaxy SIII, many iPhone users woke up and discovered bigger and better things. Then the Galaxy Note II excited many smartphone users including iPhone devotees. When the Galaxy Note 8.0 mini-tablet came out, people knew they could use the S Pen instead of putting fingerprints all over the screen! Next, the S4 and S4 Active over-delivered on many users' expectations.
Alex H. Yong: Oh (laughs) did I say that about lines? Well, I’m not the best person to determine what’s fashionable and what’s not, that’s why I like asking you for feedback on my outfits and shoes! And as you know, I’m into Samsung phablets anyway, with minimal first-hand knowledge of the Apple cosmos. Personally I don’t recall ever seeing long retail lines for Samsung, or maybe I just don’t watch the evening news.
Bevs Lim: But when we attend private previews, we wait on lines. Well, VIP journalist lines move fast, thank goodness.
Alex H. Yong: True, a journalist line is never overnight in a tent! (mutual laughter) But yes, now it seems like long retail lines for new smartphones and tablets reflect a kind of mania, regardless of brand. It’s sort of like an excitement knowing the device can help the buyer be part of something cool or social, even cultural. And because social media keeps getting better and better, people are seeing the fun and value of being in the mix.
Special thanks to Alex H. Yong. Alex is the editor of Techmania411.net, a site that blends technology news, reviews and entertainment.