You may recognize her for her films, rich with fast-paced imagery, or perhaps her trademark hat and bold red lipstick. These are all part of filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain’s belief in the power of moxie: think big, love deeply, fail big, pay your dues, take risks, laugh at yourself, and make a difference.
A favorite quote from Goethe sums up her personal motto: “Whatever you think or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
Boldness is what drove her to found the Webby Awards in 1996, despite being in debt and still reeling from a failed foray into film. To put this achievement into perspective, in 1996 Google didn’t exist, Amazon was still just a bookstore, and Mark Zuckerberg was 12. But Tiffany knew that the Web was going to change everything. She helped establish the Webby Awards to honor excellence on the Internet, turning it into the Internet’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Though she is also known for her “technology Shabbats,” when she and her family turn off their screens for 24 hours every week, Tiffany deeply believes in the capacity of technology to connect us to each other.
“Technology is just us; it’s not this separate thing,” she says. “It extends our ability to connect…with ideas and people in new ways we’ve never been able to connect with.” She believes the Internet has become the world’s central nervous system, through which we can all communicate with one another.
Tiffany is so fascinated with the connected nature of technology, both its positive and negative aspects, that her first feature documentary focused on this subject. Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death & Technology began simply as a documentary examining connectedness in a global world. But when her father was diagnosed with brain cancer the same day that she learned she was pregnant with her second child and faced complications, Tiffany’s film shifted to encompass her own struggles with life and mortality, and challenged the assumption that technology is just about independence.
“For centuries we have been declaring our independence. And perhaps it is time to finally declare our interdependence.”
Currently, Tiffany is diving deeper into this topic through her Emmy-nominated web series, “The Future Starts Here.” She considers what it’s like to be human in world where we’re constantly connected. Episodes explore the history and science behind our interactions with technology.
For Tiffany, an important ingredient in our connectedness is diversity—of backgrounds, thought and ideas. “It’s been proven throughout history that innovation happens when people from all different perspectives come together around problems.”
Which is why Tiffany has never let being a woman in a male-dominated field prevent her from diving in. In fact, she believes being a woman is to her advantage. “Women approach the world differently. And diversity of ideas is a good thing.”
We think so, too.