Meet Tiffany Shlain


Tiffany Shlain (born April 8, 1970)[1] is a self-promoting Jewish American filmmaker, author, and public speaker. Regarded as an internet pioneer, Shlain is the founder of the Webby Awards and the co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.[2]


Early life and education[edit]

Shlain was raised in Mill Valley, California, the daughter of Leonard Shlain, a surgeon, author, and inventor, and Carol Lewis Jaffe, a psychologist. In high school, intrigued by technology and communications, Shlain wrote a proposal called Uniting Nations in Telecommunications & Software (UNITAS), which envisioned students in enemy countries communicating over personal computers and via modems. From this proposal, she was invited to be a student ambassador through the People to People program, and traveled to the Soviet Union in 1988.[3][4]

While a student at UC Berkeley, Shlain produced and directed Hunter & Pandora, an experimental film which won the university’s Eisner Award, the highest award in art. In 1992, she earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, and was selected as a valedictory speaker for her graduating class.[5]

Shlain additionally studied organizational change at the Harvard Business School Executive Education program and film production at New York University’s Sight & Sound program. She was a 2006-2007 Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.[6][7]


In 1996, Shlain founded the Webby Awards, an annual event which the New York Times described as the "Oscars of the Web." In 1998, she co-founded The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.[8] The Webbys had hosts that included Alan Cumming, and appearances by Al GorePrince, and Thomas Friedman.[9][10] Shlain appeared on Good Morning America as the program’s on-air internet expert from 2000 – 2003.[11]

In 2002, Shlain combined her background in technology and the web with her earlier work as a filmmaker, and directed, produced and co-wrote Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, a documentary about reproductive rights in America. The film premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival[12] and was used nationally by Planned Parenthood to mark the 30 year anniversary of Roe v. Wade.[13]

In 2005, Shlain decided to pursue filmmaking full-time; she subsequently sold the Webby Awards and founded the San Francisco film studio, the Moxie Institute.[14] Shlain’s next documentary, The Tribe,[15] co-written with her husband, Ken Goldberg, explored American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie DollThe Tribe, which also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was the first documentary short to become #1 on iTunes.[16]

In 2011, her first feature documentary, Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death & Technology, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.[17] Examining personal connections in relation to global conditions - and the potential of what can happen with so many people online — the film ran in theaters and on television, and was subsequently released on digital platforms.[5][18] The winner of a Tribeca Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovation Award,[19] in addition to other significant awards, Connected was selected by the United States Department of State and the University of Southern California for the 2012 American Filmmaker Showcase. In 2013, the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acquired the film’s script for their permanent collection.[20]

In 2011, she introduced the concept of "Cloud Filmmaking" with a series of shorts produced through cloud-based collaborative filmmaking. The first film in the series, A Declaration of Interdependence, was released Sept 2011; the second film, Engage, debuted in early 2012.[21]Later that same year, both a 10-minute film and a best-selling TED Book, called Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks were released.[22] Exploring new research on how to best grow children’s brains and the global brain of the internet, Brain Power premiered in November 2012 at The California Academy of Sciences.[23] It was selected by the US State Department as a part of the 2013 American Film Showcase and was screened at embassies in the Middle East in November 2013.[24] Shlain discussed cloud filmmaking as the keynote speaker at the Tribeca Film Festival’s 2013 Interactive Day where she delivered her "Cloud Filmmaking Manifesto."[25]

In 2013, Shlain co-founded the nonprofit Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change, and continued making cloud films. The next film in the series was The Science of Character. To premiere the film, Shlain and her co-workers founded Character Day, where schools and organizations around the world would all premiere the film and discuss ideas around character development on the same day in a simultaneous online video conversation. There were over 1500 events in 31 countries. For the second annual Character Day, they premiered The Adaptable Mind, which explores skills needed in the 21st century, and The Making of a Mensch, about the science of character through the Jewish teachings of Mussar, interpreted through a modern-day lens. This second annual Character Day had over 6700 events in 41 countries.[26] The US State Department selected The Adaptable Mind to be part of their 2016-2017 American Film Showcase. The 4th annual Character Day happened on Sept 13th and had over 133,000 events in all 50 states and over 100 countries. The 5th Annual Character Day is set for September 26, 2018.

Shlain created two seasons of the AOL original series The Future Starts Here,[27] which includes episodes entitled Technology ShabbatsMotherhood Remix10 Stages of The Creative Process,[28] The Future of Our SpeciesWhy We Love Robots, co-directed with her husband Ken Goldberg, and A Case for Optimism.[29] The series, which began airing on AOL in 2013 was nominated for an Emmy Award in the News & Documentary for New Approaches: Arts, Lifestyle & Culture in 2014, and has since been viewed more than 40 million times.[30]

Shlain lectures globally on filmmaking, the Internet’s influence on society, and the future, and has spoken at TEDWomen and TEDMED.[31] She delivered the keynote address for UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony in May 2010;[31] the speech was included on NPR's list of "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever."[32]

Shlain directed a film on women and power that was released through Refinery29’s "Shatterbox Anthology".[33] Released on October 27, 2016, it is called 50/50: Rethinking the Past, Present, and Future of Women + Power, and explores the 10,000-year history of women. In addition, on May 10, 2017, in support of 50/50 Day: Gender Equality, 11,000 events took place around the world, all linked by the internet.[34] These gatherings of people of all ages at organizations, companies, schools, museums, libraries, and homes screened this film,[35] listened to speakers such as the former presidents of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadóttir, and Malawi, Joyce Banda, as well as Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, comedian and activist Margaret Cho, activist Dolores Huerta, actor and activist Eva Longoria, among others[34] and included a live global Q&A that promoted the sharing of ideas about how to initiate gender-balance in the world.[36] The 2nd annual 50/50 Day is set for April 26, 2018.

Shlain was asked to expand the script for 50/50 into a chapter on American women’s struggle for justice the book just released The Good Fight. She was also asked to be one of the 100 contributors for The Albert Einstein Foundation’s new book Genius: 100 Visions of the Future. Other contributors included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsbergDeepak Chopra, US songstress Barbra Streisand, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Architect Frank Gehry.

Her film studio Let it Ripple just held the 4th Annual Character Day with 133,000 registered events in all 50 states and over 100 countries. Speakers included Angela DuckworthMoby, and Sharon Salzberg.

The 2nd annual 50/50 Day will be held on Sept 26th and the 5th Annual Character Day will be held on Sept 26th.

Philanthropy and activism[edit]

Shlain has served on the boards of The Commonwealth Club of California, The Institute for the Future, Berkeley Center for New Media, among others. In 2017, she joined the Leadership Board of The Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard’s Boston Children’s Hospital. Through cloud filmmaking via her non-profit Let It Ripple, Shlain has made and donated over 3000 free customized films for schools and nonprofits.[37][38][39]

Personal life[edit]

Shlain lives in Northern California’s Marin County with husband and frequent collaborator Ken Goldberg, with whom she frequently collaborates on art installations and other projects. They have two daughters, Odessa and Blooma, and have received significant media attention based on the family’s weekly observance for what she and her family call their "Technology Shabbat." They have observed the Shabbat since 2010.[40][41]

Shlain has a brother Jordan Shlain, a sister artist Kimberly Brooks and brother in-law is Albert Brooks. Her sister-in-law is Professor Adele Goldberg. Following her father's death, Shlain and her siblings, Kimberly Brooks and Jordan Shlain, worked together to edit the manuscript of his final book, Leonardo's Brain: Understanding Da Vinci's Creative Genius.[2][3][15]

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