Tiffany Shlain

by Wendy Jewell from The MY HERO Project

"We can ignite a lot more change together than we can apart."
Tiffany Shlain at the 10th Annual Webby Awards (The Arty Semite blog)
Tiffany Shlain at the 10th Annual Webby Awards (The Arty Semite blog)

On the 4th of July 2011 award-winning Director and Founder of the Webby Awards, Tiffany Shlain and company posted a request online to participate in a short film rewriting the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a Declaration of Interdependence. Artwork, videos and translation submissions emerged from around the world, in over 50 languages from English to Swahili to ASL (American Sign Language.) The result was Declaration of Interdependence: a Cloud Film by the Moxie Institute that became an exhilarating montage of user-generated content, a global mash-up demonstrating the vast potential of creative collaboration in our times. It just won the 2013 BEST OF FEST at the MY HERO International Film Festival in Los Angeles! CONGRATULATIONS TIFFANY!

When Tiffany Shlain graduated from University of California Berkley in 1992 the World Wide Web was barely on the horizon. But this forward thinking innovative filmmaker, who Newsweek honored as one of the "Women Shaping the 21st Century", soon started the Webby Awards, the leading international honors show for websites. Since its not so humble beginnings 16 years ago, the Webby Awards have grown into the "internet's most respected symbol of success, receiving 11,000 entries from all 50 states and over 60 countries worldwide" taking part in 100 categories.

After 10 years nurturing the Webbys,  Tiffany moved on in 2006 to embrace her own passion for filmmaking: merging the worlds of film, the Internet, and social media to tell stories in new ways to make change in the world.  And boy is she making change! Her artist statement reads in part: "As an artist I love to explore complex issues in unorthodox ways. My previous work founding the Webby Awards allowed me to look at the Internet and its effect on society for a decade. My films, Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness (Sundance 2003) looked at reproductive rights in America and The Tribe (Sundance 2006) explored cultural identity in the 21st. Century. My feature documentary Connected (Sundance 2011) tackled the subject of interdependence. " Tiffany went on to say: "I believe that by engaging people to talk about connectedness in their own lives and in the world, the ripple effect of these conversations will have far reaching impact for good that will create lasting change."

Tiffany Shlain, daughter, sister, wife, filmmaker, mother, founder of the Webby Awards, TED speaker, winner of many awards, sculptor, visionary, curious about everything, always wears red lipstick and likes hats. Wow.  The MY HERO Project caught up with Tiffany this week after she returned from a trip to Israel where, through the US State Department, she screened and spoke about some of her inspiring film work.

Why do you think heroes are important in this day and age?

Our next film is the Science of Character and it's all about believing you can be your biggest potential. People can be their own heroes but to do that they often need to be inspired by people who are living an authentic life and in full command of their own potential. The MY HERO Project exemplifies this.

What role has the Internet played in giving women and girls a voice?

I like to think of it as the women's wide web. It plays to all of our strengths: we like to collaborate, we like to connect, we are multi-taskers and we are very visual.

You have done SO much. If someone asked you, who is Tiffany Shlain, what would you say?

Huh. I would start and go outward: daughter, sister, wife, mother, filmmaker. Start from my source and work outward. It depends on who I'm talking to. If I'm talking to a mother I'll connect as a mother. If I'm talking to another filmmaker, I'll be the filmmaker.

You've done about 4 lifetimes of work, living and achievements is there anything that you are most proud of?

Being a mother to 2 amazing children and my marriage are really important to me. I come from a divorced home and I am so blessed and proud of our marriage and partnership. Work wise, giving the commencement speech at UC Berkley when I was 40 made me very proud. They asked me to teach 11,000 people what I had learned to this point and I was so nervous but was still able to convey who I was and what I could impart to the next generation of graduates. Pretty intense but I was able to just be me and it forced me to articulate what I had to offer the world."

During that speech Tiffany talked about engaging people on: "what this can be, this thing called the WEB. I wanted to create an Academy" she said.  "We called it the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Lot of moxie, right? I felt so lucky I got to honor people with the Webbys. We got to say good job, you've done a good job and this amazing ripple effect can happen when you put that kind of good energy into the world. It was a very exciting time. I'll never forget, it was in 2000 that these two young guys, no one knew, rollerbladed onto the stage to get their first Webby Award and they were wearing capes and they were the founders of Google."

That must have been some commencement party after a speech like that!

Tiffany and daughter Odessa (2003) (The Chronicle Photo (Scott Sommerdorf))
Tiffany and daughter Odessa (2003) (The Chronicle Photo (Scott Sommerdorf))

I read with great interest about your Technology Shabbats and then watched you talk about them and the light bulb went on. So, a Technology Shabbat as explained by its creator Tiffany, is this. "Every Friday at sundown, we all unplug from all of our technologies and don't turn them on again until Saturday evening. Unplugging for a day makes time slow down and makes me feel more present with my family. I not only appreciate this quality time with them, but it has also makes me appreciate technology in a whole new way. By Saturday night we can't wait to plug back in."

How long have you and your family been doing Technology Shabbats and how has it changed your lives?

It's been almost 4 years and it has changed my life.  It's about balance and wanting to be present and it has helped my feeling of everything and I think my work got a lot better and it slows down time.

Slows down time?

It does. What is the one day of the week you want to feel longest. Saturday, right?  The video on Technology Shabbats is the most popular viewed (over 2 million times) in our The Future Starts Here series on AOL. 

Does technology ever scare you?

I think technology is just an extension of us as humans so it doesn't really scare me. We need to feel more empowered to shape it and people need to be mindful and not let technology overtake them.

Tiffany with her father Leonard Shlain (
Tiffany with her father Leonard Shlain (

You have met a lot of amazing people, do you have a hero and if so why? 

On the one hand my father. (Leonard Shlain was an American Surgeon and writer and when Tiffany was making CONNECTED, she was pregnant and also learned her beloved father had brain cancer and was given 9 months to live. She said it made her realize the importance of time and what we are doing with it.) 
As a woman Gloria Steinem as a living hero is so amazing because she has clarity and humor and a directness that has represented women and equality in the best terms. She delivers what she says with laughter but it is very clear. I met Malala and that was the most amazing meeting ever. Malala. She is courage. She is a hero. I'm so glad we have her in this world right now. 
I have a list of heroes I am always adding to. Men heroes, women heroes, couples, comedians, artists. I love looking at them and thinking about what I admire about them. If you had the attention of the world for 5 minutes what would you do or say? 
Technology Shabbats (
Tiffany with husband Ken Goldberg (
Tiffany with husband Ken Goldberg (

Is there anything you would like to say to the MY HERO Project's global audience?

I love the spirit of what you are celebrating at the MY HERO Project. I'd love for your audience to engage in our focus cloud, for the premiere of our 8 minute film, Science of Character. It will premier February 5 with people around the world watching at the same time on the same day.

I also invite everyone to join our Facebook Page (Tiffany Shlain and the Moxie Institute Films) where we will launch our new call for entries into one of our collaborative films. We are trying to elevate the conversation in the world and are offering ways to have people use our films or make a film with us. Declaration of Interdependence was our first Cloud Film.

What is next for you?

A lot of projects are brewing. We will be making more cloud films and then weaving all the shorts we have made into a feature film about what it means to be human in the 21st century and how can you live to your full potential and how can humanity live to its full potential?

When Tiffany Shlain addressed the graduates of UC Berkley she ended with a short film she had made just for them. These are the words that were on the screen:

have moxie.

think big.

love deeply.

fail big.

pay your dues.

take risks.

laugh at yourself.

make a difference.

one more thing before you fly out of here.

Then she ended with her favorite quote by Goethe:

"Whatever you think or dream you can do. Begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it.

Page created on 3/1/2015 2:22:56 PM

Last edited 11/22/2017 1:20:51 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Tiffany Shlain - Find out all about this visionary woman!
Moxie Institute - FILM STUDIO + LAB.The Moxie Institute was founded by Tiffany Shlain and UC Berkeley robotics professor and artist Ken Goldberg, who have over 20 years of experience with films, the Internet, live events, symposia, and a variety of new media projects that deliver powerful and resonant experiences in support of social awareness and change. Professor Goldberg is also the director for UCBerkeleys Center for Data and Democracy. Along with its many film projects, The Moxie Institute also hosts conferences and symposiums about new forms of filmmaking and distribution. The last two events they co-hosted included one at Columbia University in NYC and one at UCBerkeley in the Bay Area.
Tiffany Shlain's UC Berkeley Keynote Commencement Speech - UC Berkley 2010 commencement speech delivered by former student Tiffany Shlain.
The Webby Awards - Sixteen years ago, Tiffany Shlain founded The Webby Awards, the leading international honors for websites. As business leader and creative director for nearly a decade, Tiffany Shlain along with Maya Draisin and hundreds of others built The Webby Awards into a global institution and industry bellwether, attracting thousands of entries from more than 40 countries and all 50 states.

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