Tiffany Shlain became Wikipedia-worthy (and very busy) back in 1996, at the ripe age of 26, as the founder of the Webby Awards. Today Shlain juggles motherhood (seven-year-old Odessa and almost-two-year-old Electra) and her filmmaking career, praising the Internet for allowing her to work from home sometimes and motherhood for reminding her of the importance of tickling, baking and butterfly spotting. Having grown up in Mill Valley (a Mill Valley Middle School Panther!), she and her family moved back to town from San Francisco in 2006 in search of redwoods and simplicity.
Favorite memories of growing up in Marin? There was this magical, funky place across from Mill Valley Market in the ‘70’s called the Unknown Museum. As a child it was like walking into a Terry Gilliam film…there were art cars covered with Barbie dolls, mirrors and things like Atari handsets. There was also a life-size horse completely covered with plastic objects from our collective experience. Other memories include rafting down Miller Avenue during the floods, my mom’s jean jumpsuit covered with sports car patches as she cheered us on at baseball games at Boyle Park and then the geodesic dome my dad built in our backyard complete with a hot tub.
Your June 2010 commencement speech at UC Berkeley went viral; was this expected? I was so honored to be asked to give this address. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had just lost my father (Leonard Shlain), turned 40 and had a new baby. It pushed me to articulate where I was in life, what I had learned so far, and then present this to 12,000 people. Yes, I was nervous. However, connecting with those graduates that day was a peak experience. And to see how many people have watched it since on YouTube was definitely unexpected.
What are you wearing? So glad you asked. Gold boots by Bay Area designer Martha Davis, clothes styled by my friends Kelly Sparks and Kat Yeh of StyleKouncil, and my hair and makeup were done by Persia Matine, who does the best work in the Bay Area; all can be found on my website.
Did you expect the Webby Awards to have such staying power? When I first saw the web, I knew it would change the world. I worked hard establishing the Webby Awards for its first decade as I saw how the web was changing our lives. And as the technology continues to change, I believe the Webbys will continue to honor technology even if it grows beyond the web—just as the Grammys are named after the gramophone.
Your last two films premiered at Sundance; are you working on anything new? I have a new feature documentary that is almost complete called Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence. It addresses the Internet and the way it’s changing our lives. It also tells a personal story about my own experience of connectedness.
You have a film at the Guggenheim Museum? Ken, my husband, and I wrote a short script called “Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’.” My team and I turned it into a film and were all thrilled to hear it was selected out of 23,000 entries to make the first round of a competition that the Guggenheim Museum and YouTube conducted this year. Its basic message is “don’t forget to unplug” occasionally.
While your list of achievements is long, anything you want to improve on? My husband and I try to do technology Shabbats. Not that it always works, but we try. As wired as we are, I know life is better when we unplug one day a week.
What’s your favorite drink and where do you like to drink it? Having a margarita, watching the sunset with my family in Hana, Maui.