Renew Your Creativity And Connection Through Digital Balance With Tiffany Shlain
The book 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, written by Tiffany Shlain, is about remembering the pleasures of the analog world. People need to learn how to balance both technology and humanity. Because when you disconnect from your screens, you get to really find and discover yourself. Join your host Katherine Twells as she talks to Emmy-nominated filmmaker, speaker, author, and so much more, Tiffany Shlain. Tiffany explores the relationship between humanity and technology, the future of work, neuroscience, and creativity. Learn more about her book and why she wrote it. Discover how you can disconnect from technology despite it being all around. Find out how she does it today! Find out what brings you joy!
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Renew Your Creativity And Connection Through Digital Balance With Tiffany Shlain
How Turning Off Screens One Day A Week Can Transform Your Life
In this episode, I welcome the incredible Tiffany Shlain. She is an artist, writer, filmmaker, mother, visionary, public speaker, and so much more. What stands out for me with Tiffany is her dedication to asking us provocative questions about where we have been, where we are going, and our balance between our humanity and our technology, so that we can build a better more beautiful world.
Her work dives deep into how will we approach work in the future? What is our digital wellbeing and how can we embrace neuroscience and creativity to understand even more? The Museum of Modern Art in New York premiered her one woman-spoken cinema show called Dear Human, right before the pandemic hit. She has been honored by Newsweek as one of the women shaping the 21st century. She’s an Emmy nominated filmmaker, founder of The Webby Awards, and author of the national bestselling book 24/6: Giving Up Screens One Day A Week To Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection.
We are going to dive into the content of this book in our conversation. It is a very important thing for us to examine in our current age so that we learn how to master technology so that technology does not master us. She has also received over 80 awards and distinctions for her films and work. Including selection by the Albert Einstein Foundation, as one of the 100 visionaries who carry on his legacy.
She’s an amazing person, but more than that, she’s someone who cares deeply about our conversations with each other, our understanding of the current state, and how we can evolve into the best possible versions of ourselves. Without any further ado, please enjoy the conversation with the very passionate Tiffany Shlain.
Tiffany, it is so great to see you and I am very grateful you are taking the time to have this conversation. Thank you so much.
I’m so happy to be here.
We have a lot of ground to cover. I don’t know how we are going to get to everything we can talk about, but we are going to get started. I always begin the conversations with your origin story, because I will have shared your bio which is remarkable in so many ways, but there’s so much texture to the story of our lives. Can you ground our readers with your origin story? How did you come to be who you are?
There is so much that happens when you grew up and I have two amazing parents, one is still with me. My childhood felt very idyllic up until when I was eight and then it felt like everything crashed around me. My parents had a very dramatic divorce because it was before the conscious divorce. My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was quite young, so we thought that he was going to die when I was quite young.
That was a big part of my upbringing too, but I did see him look at life in a new way and as a second lease on life. I always went to the movies every Sunday night. It was the one tradition that remained even in the divorce where so many things change. We would go to the movies every Sunday and use films as a way to talk about the meaning of life, values, goals, what people felt and choices they made. It was my temple. It was the way that I discussed the meaning of a good life, bad choices, good choices or everything.
What a great catalyst when you think about using film in that way because there are these dramatic stories of love, loss and adventure. What a great way to do that growing up.
It was and it was such an entertaining way because we would go to the movies, and then we would go to Chinese food and ice cream, dissect the movie and have these great meaningful discussions. I was supposed to be a doctor. My father was a surgeon and bought me the book The Making of a Woman Surgeon on several occasions. My mom went back to school to get her PhD in Psychology when I was eight. We would study side by side and she was working her way through school while being a mother and breaking free of a mold that she was supposed to be a mother.
They had a profound influence. I make so many films about Neuroscience and Psychology that come from both my parents and making movies. Both of my parents’ work is about giving back to society as healers and helping people’s health or their mental state. I try to do that with my movies and moving people’s ideas and making them feel, wrestle with, examine and explore ideas. I got a Macintosh, the first Mac, when my parents had gotten divorced. It was like this portal to another world. It was almost like I grew up at the altar of the screen of cinema and the screen of my Macintosh. They were these portals to this other world and it was very exciting.
The way I would pay for a lot of my movies, because filmmaking is not a very likable income, is I would work in technology because I was always super into technology. I was working on a CD-ROM to pay for one of my movies and someone showed me the web. I was like, “This is going to change the world.” I started The Webby Awards and rode that rocket for a decade, establishing The Webby Awards and then wanted to get back to filmmaking. I have made movies for many years. The last part of it that I will tell you is that screens, as much as I was at the altar of them, I saw them taking over people’s brains and lives in not a good way.
It was wearing me personally and it was wearing me on a societal level too. My husband and I are Jewish but not religious, but we started doing something called Tech Shabbat where we turned off all of our screens one day with our family and with our kids. This was several years ago and no one was talking about screen addiction. I knew I did not need any research to tell me, “This is not good for our brains. I don’t feel good. I feel distracted all the time. I’m not present.” It completely transformed our lives. I wrote a book about it called 24/6, which has been such an interesting journey, and then where I am now after COVID is my creative work has turned into visual artwork, which came from me spending so much time in nature during COVID.Dramatic things that happen to you in life could be sources for your greatest work. Click To Tweet
At my film studio, we are working with companies like Coca-Cola and we have that wonderful program with you. We’re working with companies helping them navigate this transition period after COVID back to a more thriving hybrid workplace. We rethought everything during COVID, including how we work. It feels fulfilling. That origin story, everything starts when you are young. Even with the work around Tech Shabbat and 24/6, I realized how much it was important to carve out space in my home life for my family.
That also probably stems from what happened to my family. I feel like traumatic things that happen to you are the sources of your greatest work. My father passed away and I was very close to him and I’m very close to my mom. I do think that whatever your origin story is, it makes you stronger and it can be the source of your greatest work. What I love is everyone has a different origin story and that’s why we have such unique perspectives on everything. I’m so glad you started with that. A lot of people, especially if you are successful, it’s like, “How do you do what you do,” and they romanticize what it is. Everyone has had challenges they have had to get through or things that drive them. They are gifts if you look at them the right way.
That’s so beautifully said and I believe that wholeheartedly. As I have listened to the origin stories of various guests on this show, you can see how the dots connect. It is something that happened. It was a challenge. All of a sudden, things became very ungrounded and there had to be new ways for you to find that grounding.
I wish that enlightenment and bliss came from easy streets I’m sitting around, but it is through the dark night that we ask the much deeper and more provocative questions. I think the release of 24/6 in this conversation is so exquisitely timed because this has been a long time coming, but it’s getting to a point where we are going to have to make some intentional choices or we will lose ourselves.
Life & Death
It’s very scary to not have that control. We are going to dig pretty deep into the 24/6, but I want to stick with your origin story. Something I do know about you from knowing you is that your father had brain cancer so did mine. We share that loss from the same illness but for you, it was the same time that your daughter was born. You shared that story on the CompassionLab with us, but that was such a powerful story. Can you share a little bit more about the impact of life and death being so closely connected?
I found out that my dad had stage-four brain cancer with nine months to live, and literally the same week, I found out I was pregnant after multiple miscarriages. I also had trepidation about the pregnancy. It was not a sure thing. It was a gift. Brain cancer is not super painful. My father did surgery on the brain and wrote about it. He knew what was happening and what was going to happen. We treated that time together. Sometimes he only had one good hour a day, but we were present and we talked.
This life was growing inside of me and my best friend was dying and we were so close. It was like life came into crystal focus like what matters and being present. I would always turn my phone off when I was there. He had one good hour. I was going to be completely present and it was a gift. I feel like there was not one thing unsaid.
To be able to think about those things for nine months was super intense and beautiful. He died and then she was born days later. I was asked to write this six-word poem and it was right after that happened and I wrote, “Father’s funeral, daughter’s birth, flowers everywhere.” It was so much and then that’s when I started doing Tech Shabbat. I was like, “I have to change the way I’m living. I need to be more present in my own life.”
I’m like everyone. I’m juggling a million things. I’m a working mom. One day a week a lot of that falls away and I’m present. I’m only thinking about the people that are here. I’m only doing what I’m doing. I’m not thinking about what anyone else is doing or people that need to get in touch with me. It’s such a relief each week to get back into my body and my presence.
Embodiment is big. Especially in the Western world, sometimes I feel like we are so in our heads. We walk around and our bodies are speaking to us all the time and giving us clues, whether it’s through emotion or through physical pain, about something we need to pay attention to, but the distraction often takes us away from that. As I have known you and as I hear you talk right now, you have always had a way of not being where you are, but being able to see what is on the horizon.
To your point, seeing that, “What’s technology going to do and how’s that going to affect us?” It’s amazing the paradox of the gift and the curse at the same time. I wrote down a quote that you had said at one point, “Does it amplify or amputate?” You had talked about that because here you made this unbelievable film about our inner connectivity. You talked about a declaration of interdependence. What year was that when that came out?
It was 2011.
Here we were realizing and COVID has taught us this. What happens on the other side of the world affects us. How has that idea of interconnectivity and the blessing of that, but also where are we not connected because of this lack of presence? Can you share a little more context about those relationships?
I had made this feature film called Connected before A Declaration of Independence, where I was exploring the idea of connectedness through all the different permutations. We are biologically, politically, environmentally, and financial networks connected. It was so complex how that all affects each other, and then we are emotionally and technologically connected.
I think that I was starting to see clearly how much it was affecting everything, and then the screens were pulling us out of being present. We’re so jacked into this interdependent network, but we were not seeing what was right in front of us. Interdependence as a theme has always run through my work. When I was in college, I was an Interdisciplinary Studies major.
That’s very ironic that you did that.
At the time, it was unusual. I’m like, “I want to take some Science, History and Philosophy.” I want to connect them all and Film. I had to get two different professors from different departments to approve this made-up major. I don’t know how we landed in the Rhetoric Department, but I have always been interested. My dad wrote about the connections between disparate things. I’m sure that that’s where a lot of that comes from in his books. That was a gift of COVID. There were many gifts in that very painful time. One of them was we asked these big philosophical questions that I asked in that year when I was losing my dad.
For two years, everyone had death all around them. Everyone was scared of those fear and there was a time. We were not moving around so much. We were able to think of the big questions in life which are, “What’s the meaning of life? What am I doing with my life? Who do I want to be with? I could die. Am I happy with what I’m doing? Do I want to live where I’m living?”
I knew so many people that moved during COVID. That was huge. It was like a two-year gift for the whole world. It was not just a gift because it was a lot of pain and suffering. Within that suffering, there are always things that can come out of it. The thing for us was that we got to ask the big questions. Even right now, what we are experiencing in Ukraine is affecting us. It’s all interdependent.
The more we understand that and the more we make decisions through that lens, the better off the world will be, that there are cause and effect to everything. We need to be mindful of our choices because they are going to affect so many things. My film studio is called Let It Ripple because there’s a ripple effect of everything and the choices that you make.Before COVID, a lot of people's lives centered around work. But during COVID, they were centered around their lives. Click To Tweet
I am amazed as I look around. I look on social media and there is a lot of finger-pointing. There is a lot of divisiveness in the world of, “You are wrong. I’m right,” of people not seeing or seeking to understand at a deeper level. To your point, how we show up, whether it is through our presence or kindness or through seeking to understand, that ripple effect you talked about is powerful. If everybody minded their own store in a more conscious way, and these are little things but COVID made us think about big things.
Rethinking The Workplace
There is no denying the suffering. As I talked to friends about this, I have my disclaimers. I’m not saying I’m pro-pandemic. Don’t be confused. However, if we have to go through this with our personal lives, we learn from the challenge. What a collective lesson for this Earth school that we received and are still receiving. It’s 2022. The pandemic is still happening although lessening or going closer to endemic states. We are learning more every day about that. We are learning how to co-exist with this virus, but now the pace is starting back. I see it at work.
The travel and conferences starting up again, “I got to be here. I got to be there.” You mentioned Ukraine and the world events. There’s this collective pressure and fear that is still hovering and has been hovering for a long time. Our nervous systems were not designed to handle sustained stress over this period of time. I’m very concerned about mental health. People are walking a thin line. They want to say “we are back to normal,” but a lot has changed. I always joke about the Thelma & Louise, “Something has crossed over me and I can’t go back.” How do you think we reassimilate now with all that’s happening?
The Future of Work Program that I did with CompassionLab is a lot about that. There was a great article in the New York Times that said, “We have been through a two-year fifteen-million person experiment in the workplace where everyone completely changed the way they worked.” Now a lot of workers are like, “I don’t want to go back five days a week.” The one size fits all mentality did not work. It’s an opportunity to re-imagine what the workplace can be because work is not going to go back five days a week and what does it look like?
Before a lot of people’s lives were centered around work and during COVID, they were centered around their lives which is better and they were working. How do you rethink the workplace so we can still be productive? I’m a very productive person, but after COVID, I don’t want to work as many hours as I used to. Almost every person I have talked to from all different walks is saying the same thing like, “Why were we working?” What was the purpose of that? It was at the expense of our lives and our health and our mental health.
Now it’s like, “I have to have a long walk every day. That is absolutely necessary for my thinking and my mental health, my happiness. I don’t want to go back.” There are choices I have made. When I look at certain projects, I’m like, “That’s interesting but that would work me to the bone. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sacrifice that much anymore.” It’s interesting like, “Were we working too much? Can we be smarter with the way we work?” On the flip side of that, so many people are working from home. Even if they are doing hybrid a couple of days a week, a lot of people are.
Our home personal spaces are now this workspace. I am a big believer that you need to create boundaries around that because your home is your sacred sanctuary. If work is always in your sacred sanctuary, you are not going to get that feeling of calm and safety that you feel. How do you create boundaries? The promise of technology was that it removed so many boundaries. In the early days when I was running The Webby Awards, that was what was so exciting. I think the pendulum swung too far and now it’s like, “We need some boundaries. I need the weekend back.” I love the new upgrade on my iPhone. I don’t know if you saw, but there are so many more settings for the silence feature.
What I have always wanted was a Tech Shabbat mode, but if you open your iPhone now and you go deep into the settings on your silence notifications, I love it now because when I text people it will say, “They have it silenced right now.” I love knowing that. I’m so nervous about writing to my daughter who is back East in college. Am I going to wake her up? I get that little note, “She’s got it on silent.” I’m like, “That’s cool. She will see when she wakes up.” It’s becoming more expected that you can be like, “I’m not available on text.”
Even when I’m doing my Tech Shabbat, people still write to me on Saturdays forgetting that I’m not available. I think, “They think I did not respond.” At the end of the day, when I see them, I write, “I just got back online from my Tech Shabbat.” They are like, “I see.” There need to be better technologies to communicate when people need a break and they are not available to communicate. Even with family, sometimes you need a break and you need to listen to what you are thinking and you don’t need to be interrupted. I’m hopeful that there has been enough conversation about all of this stuff that we will create better tools to create better boundaries. We ultimately can work better and live better.
The Reliance On Technology
You are doing pioneering and critical work around this conversation. I would also encourage anyone who is a leader in the workplace, the Future of Work program that Tiffany leads is a powerful dialogue with your teams about how do we create boundaries and how do we become aware. Part of it is awareness. Let me ask you this because the dopamine hits are real.
We both have teenage children and because my kids were born within the same year that the iPhone was born, it’s a fascinating thing to watch. They have never not known technology. For them now, if they don’t have it, they are very discontented. This idea of boredom which is the birthplace of creativity for all of us, every ounce of space is getting full. You sit at the doctor’s office and I’m going to be on Twitter. Look around. Wherever you are and when you are waiting in line, how many people are standing there allowing space to be versus, “I’m sitting here.” Even at a stoplight, you pull up your phone.
That’s why in so many of my talks, I go deep into neuroscience because the reason why people like neuroscience and if you know the science on the why, you are going to be more inclined to change behavior. It’s what my Tech Shabbat is getting a whole day where I’m you letting my mind do its magical thing throughout the week. As you are saying, when I get into the shower, I used to turn on and listen to the news. Now I know that some of the most magical thinking happens when you are in the shower because your brain goes into this default mode network.
It’s not like I’m telling you that every moment that I’m waiting in line, I’m not on my phone. That’s not true because it’s an activity every day. That’s why the one complete day of nothing allows me to live analog and my kids each week. It is hard. Here’s the thing. We are setting with our kids and they are being stimulated, entertained, and all these things so much.
It sets your dopamine levels so high that when you go away from the phone, how could anything compete with that? Splashy videos and dopamine hits from texts and notifications and games. It’s so much and then you go off and you are like, “The real world is so much less fun.” That’s not the way you want to live your life. You don’t want to have to need something so much that it’s going to do the work for you. If you are retraining, find the pleasure and joy in the simple things.
You are going for a run, a walk or a good meal. Put the phones away during a meal and you are going to enjoy that meal more because you are looking and experiencing what you are eating and appreciating it. I think as parents when you only have two more years that they are going to be in your house, what are the things you can do? I go into it a lot in the book 24/6 that carve out space for that cognitive space.
That’s what it is. There is this great new book called The Upgrade. It’s all about the brain of a woman from 40 upward and we are talking a lot about cognitive space. I like the way that sounds because it’s like an opening. You need to create cognitive space to be in yourself, to appreciate the moment, to be present with a friend. They will find out that relationships require that.
They are still teenagers but when they get older and they are in relationships, they require a connection. They won’t last. If you don’t make eye contact and you don’t connect, it takes energy, time, intention and presence. I do think so much of life is life cycles. I remember in high school. I did not love high school. Anything that would get me through walking down the hall without the mean girls or whatever. I did not have a phone then. There were no phones but if I had a phone, I would have used it to look down at my phone. Even if I was not looking at my phone just to get through the hallway if I was feeling insecure or uncomfortable.
The most awkward time in human development is the teenage years. You are not a kid. You are not an adult. You are in this in-between middle space. I do think that people evolve out of that. As parents, it’s our role to try to model behavior and show them why that’s important or why does that feel good? Lead by example that thinking of activities that don’t involve screens that are super fun and try to plan them more because they won’t just happen.
Sometimes, it’s spontaneous that this happens and we’re like, “We had so much fun.” You are then like, “I got to plan more of that.” I’m like you, “My daughter went to college and I did not hear any more.” My younger one is thirteen so I have five more years to think of creating cognitive space as much as I can so it’s baked into them enough when they leave. That’s what a lot of the book 24/6 is about. It’s my own views of technology and humanity, and the history of work and rest. Ideas on how you can create space with your partner, yourself or your children to remember the pleasures of the analog world.
The reason we do our own work is to create our own cognitive space and remind ourselves of those pleasures right of the analog world, that’s how we can teach our kids. We are the first parent generation having to grapple with this. There are these parenting moments. It was one Christmas and we were driving and I said, “Let’s go look at the lights on the homes.” We are driving around the neighborhood and I glance in the rearview and I see one of my boys has his iPad out and he’s not even looking. I said, “Don’t get so lost in the virtual world that you miss the real world.” Do you want to know what he said? He said, “What if the virtual world is better than the real world?”Some of the most magical thinking happen in the shower. That's the time your brain goes into its default mode network. Click To Tweet
Finding Joy Away From Technology
I was dumbfounded. This was a while back but I said, “There’s beauty all around. Take a moment. I want you to see it.” We had the same battle driving along Big Sur, which is probably the most spectacular ocean experience in the world. The struggle is real. In the book 24/6, what are some of the ways that you guide people to find cognitive space and joy in moving away from technology? What are some things you can tell folks that they can consider?
Everybody knows the people in their lives and what they love doing. Some kids love sports. They love Frisbee. My daughter loves the Thrift. My other daughter loves the library. My husband loves to cook. Everybody’s got a different thing. I love to journal. I love to take long walks in nature. I think if anyone just sat down and spent 5 to 10 minutes and write down what do you love doing, and who you live with. If you live on your own, just with yourself. What do you love doing? I love going to the farmer’s market. I’ve never made enough space for it. Wherever I go, I’m like, “That made me so happy. The bounty of life and fruits and vegetables.”
On the front page of my journal that I go to every week on Tech Shabbat when I do my deep writing, I have a list of things that bring me joy. I’m always trying to add to it when I think, “That made me so happy.” What I would say is that for each person is if you could spend 5 or 10 minutes and write the things that bring you joy, and then if you live with people and kids, write what brings them joy? I would try to plan a day in the very near future where you feel the day with that. Hopefully, those joyful things do not involve screens.
I even have a section at the back of 24/6 that I could not believe I wanted to include but I did. It was like, “Excellent things to do without screens by age.” I have 5 to 0, 5 to 10, 10 to 12, 12 to 18, and 18 to 90 because we have forgotten so many things that are so wonderful. I recommend trying a full day off of no screens because I struggle like you during the week. My daughter is hooked on Grey’s Anatomy which is great. All these strong surgeons and good more role models but I was like, “You can’t watch more than a show or two a night. Come on now.”
It’s late-night, “Are you still watching,” because you have fallen asleep after ten episodes.
I have a “no screens in the bedroom” rule, which is always exhausting. During COVID, that all got thrown out the window and then we had to bring it back. I would say the struggle for me is always during the week, and then on Tech Shabbat, there’s no struggle because it’s not a discussion. I hate the negotiation of like, “Ten more minutes. I’m watching this.”
Ten more minutes is always like 45 more minutes. I will go back. I’m like, “Ten minutes.”
There was one parenting book that I love the tagline. I can’t remember the author’s name but it’s like, Parenthood: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It.” I was like, “Yes. That’s exactly the way I feel.” There are so many moments of joy, and then there are so many moments of frustration. It’s a hard thing to do. Parenting is tough. Teenagers are the toughest period. This is the hard part. I’m trying to get my kids to eat healthy all the time.
On Shabbat, we eat ice cream and all the sweets. I’m learning that but it’s all about self-regulation. Don’t play on the screen all the time. That’s your reward after your homework or whatever. I do think screens can make you feel connected and that’s real. I don’t think like Instagram and all that. I don’t like that rhetoric of, “It’s all making kids depressed.”
They have done studies that a certain amount is okay and good. It makes them feel connected, especially during COVID when they don’t see as many people. It’s the overindulgence and the bingeing on shows, screens and food. It’s all about the bingeing. I don’t want to live it. I even hated that word like, “I binge on that show.” I was like, “I don’t want to live in that world.
There’s gluttony. It’s one of the seven deadly sins. It’s too much of anything. Isn’t that also how we curate those experiences? If you curate on Instagram and you follow people that are very positive and are always inspiring you. You are like, “I got a dose of positivity. I feel great,” versus you are curating messages that are about fear, difficulty or low-grade things.
I do curate. I have a tightly curated Instagram feed. There are a lot of friends who I love and adore, but they post too many pictures of their fabulous life and it does not make me feel good. I don’t enjoy it. I like little fun moments but I don’t like it if you are posting every day about something you did. It’s too much. I have a curated feed of the people that inspire me. They post interesting things. Cool visuals.
On Twitter, I’m much more open to a lot of different perspectives. I do get a lot of news that way. On Facebook, I am very curated on people that live far away because I like seeing their kids grow up. I have different philosophies and different intentions for the different social media. I am on it. I enjoy it until I don’t. Until I have been on too long and I’m like, “Get off of it.”
You get that feeling that it creeps in your life and it’s too much.
It feels bad because it’s about self-regulation. I think what you are trying to do as parents are teaching them to self-regulate about everything. Hopefully, you are modeling behavior and we are not perfect. Parenting life is messy and sometimes you do it right and sometimes you do it wrong. Every week I’m like, “Maybe I should have said that.”
I remember my dad used to say, “Parenting is the one job that once you have got it all figured out, you are done,” and the job’s over, but I don’t think parenting is ever really over. The one thing I do think we did right was this Tech Shabbat. That’s why I wrote the book. I was like, “This is this ancient idea that’s so beautiful.” Yoga and meditation are these ancient ideas from other cultures and this idea was from my own culture, but most Jews will do a Shabbat dinner but only Orthodox Jews do a full day off.
I was like, “Why are they the only ones that get that? It’s such a great idea, especially now.” I wanted to write the book to liberate it from being such only observant religious Jews do Tech Shabbat. Everyone can do a full day of rest. It’s the fourth commandment in the Bible, in Christians, Muslim and Jewish communities. Why is it that only the most observant are doing what is the best idea, which is a full day of rest? It was about liberating the idea and playing with the idea. Let everyone make it their own. I do it from Friday night to Saturday night. Maybe you do it on a Sunday or in the middle of the week.
Carve out cognitive space for joy, presence, family, relationships, nature, beauty, hobbies and things that bring you joy. There is something about the blurriness of the 21st century like your phone. You open it up and there’s work, news or friends. It’s so much coming at you. I shared when I did the program with Coca-Cola about the strategies around working in this blurry tech-filled world. I go back to centering myself, what are the rituals I can do to ground myself each morning and center my goals for the day for work. You are going to be pulled throughout the day by so many things on the screens.
You need to have the courage to make boundaries and make space for both work and your life. It takes courage because everything in our society is trying to pull your attention to binge-watch the show, to be on your phone, to look at the stressful news, to eat sugary food, to not be healthy or whatever it is. When you invited me to the conference, I think they were introducing the smaller Coca-Cola drink and treating it more like a dessert. What struck me is like, “It’s not that things are bad or good. It’s moderation.” It’s having specialness and sacredness around the things so that you are not overdoing it, and then it becomes unhealthy. How do you do that?
It’s so interesting because I’m listening to you and I’m thinking if I was some alien and I landed on the planet, “Tell me about your planet.” I hear you talking about, “Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email and Netflix. Not just that, there are fifteen different streaming services and all these channels.” There’s so much noise that drowns out our own sacredness and that inner knowing, that inner calm.More scarcity will happen if you come from abundance. Click To Tweet
Patterns always emerge through conversations on this show and at work, certainly as we are going on the journey of the CompassionLab at Coke, where we are talking about mindfulness, wellbeing, resilience and all those things. This idea of recovery is coming up a lot. This idea of discernment. I was in a conversation. I had a team dinner and I was talking to one of our sales leaders. He said, “When I first heard about the CompassionLab and close your eyes, what is all that stuff?”
People are like, “It’s soft. Maybe I’m uncomfortable with it. I don’t know what it is.” To his credit, he engaged and started learning and doing. He said, “I finally understand. I feel calmer and better. I’m able to do more.” When you bring in neuroscience, it also helps those who think it’s this warm fuzzy thing to understand.
It helps them believe it. It makes it has more teeth.
Silence The Noise
It’s one of the most powerful things you can do. Think about everything we have talked about in this conversation, COVID, the suffering, the challenge, the introspection, the continued evolution of technology, which is faster and faster. We are at the crossroads of unbelievable choice. What would you say to people, “Moving forward, we have to co-create a new world.” What are some of the qualities that you think we need to cultivate together to make that world better?
Going back to what you are saying about feeling calm is that when you quiet the noise, there’s so much noise in our world. When you quiet the noise, you are going to hear what you are thinking. The whole advertising model is to influence what you are thinking and what you want and to try to inject it into people’s minds to make them want that thing.
When you quiet the noise, you are like, “What do I want? What do I feel? What do I need? Where do I want to go?” It’s important to have that space to think about how you feel. Life’s journey is to understand that. We are at a real opportunity in the workplace. If you would have told me years ago that some companies are not sure their employees are going to go back to the office or maybe a couple of days a week. As a working mom, that’s what every working mom or caretaker wanted, the flexibility to take care of your family and contribute to society.
To me, that feels like this incredible opportunity if companies and managers have the courage to listen to what their teams and employees are saying and think about it together. We are starting at ground zero. People have not been to the office in two years. What can we do? What do we want it to look like? What could it be if we are hitting our sales goals or whatever goals markers you have? What matters and what is the culture piece? What is that about? What is important about that?
Re-look at that because, at least in the Bay Area with all the tech companies, they were trying to make the company everything but life, you never have to leave. You have got massages, great food and people doing your dry cleaning. That’s all good. We get to rethink everything. What is your goal with your team? Do you want them to live a good life? Do you want them to contribute to society in other ways or just through the company? What is that answer? Taking the time to not go back. It’s not going to go back to the way it was because everyone has gone through this two-year profound experience. How do we take that as an incredible opportunity?
That’s why I’m so excited about this Future of Work stuff because it’s a moment. When I first started The Webby Awards, it was also a moment. The web was just starting. I’m like, “What could this be?” I created The Webby Awards as a framework to understand this new medium. I feel like we are at another one of these moments, “What could this be? How can we rethink things?” Those are the most exciting moments for me. It’s not when there’s already structure there. It’s when you get to build it. We are at an exciting moment.
I love the positive spin on this. As I watch any of your short films, you talk about the nature of the challenge, the evolution or whatever has happened, but you always talk about the possibility that sits within that. This is an important thing to emphasize in this conversation. It’s very easy to be like, “The noise, the dopamine and our children are becoming zombies,” the fear narrative. We are creatures of creativity. We have so much power. We get to choose. It’s not always easy like getting yourself to go to the gym and exercise your muscles or not eat the whole bag of potato chips.
Even with women’s rights, I have made a lot of films reframing women in power because I feel very powerful. I feel like if we come from a narrative of scarcity, more scarcity will happen. You come from abundance and we are all incredibly powerful. We were worshiped as goddesses many years ago, even though patriarchy changed that up, but we can get back to where we were.
I put the positive psychology framing on a lot of things because to me, it’s a much more empowering place to come from. It puts me in a more powerful position to make a change. The main themes in my film are neuroscience, creativity, technology and women’s rights. They are all from like, “What could this be? What are the good, bad and potential?” That’s the way I look at any subject. It’s an exciting way to look at it. It’s like, “How am I going to be involved in creating this?”
How do you put your fingerprint on it? It goes back to the choices each of us makes are making every moment of every day in all roles that we play as leaders, as parents, as friends or as speakers in the world. What are we putting out there? You are such a wise guide to do that. If they want to engage more with your work, where do they find you? If you are a company that wants to engage in Future of Work, where do you go? How would people find you?
They go to TiffanyShlain.com. There’s information and you can see all my movies. You can get information about my book and all my talks. I do talks on a lot of different subjects from this program in the Future of Work, creativity, to women’s rights, and all these subjects. I am on social @TiffanyShlain and I do a monthly newsletter that I have done for many years of not only what I and my team are working on at our film studio, but all the things you should be reading, watching and listening to.
It’s my cultural lens and it’s such a gift to do because I see all these projects more people need to know about. If you could say there was one common theme in my work, it’s like, “This is an idea everyone needs to wrestle with.” I’m going to make a movie about it because this is a book everyone needs to engage with. Maybe write a book about it or here’s a newsletter. Everyone needs to see these things and these shows. I think I’m always wanting to ripple ideas out further and scale.
You are asking these great provocative questions. Everything begins with an inquiry into ourselves, into our choices, habits, outcomes and relationships. It’s a fascinating journey and one that is never done. Parenting and leadership are never done. The human experience is a constant emergence. That’s all we are doing together. We’re emerging together so let’s all take responsibility for ourselves in that emergence. Tiffany, I have known you for several years. I have huge respect for the light that you are, the person, the work, the beauty, and the passion that you bring. I could talk to you forever. As we close out this beautiful conversation, any parting words of wisdom you would want to leave our readers with?
I think it’s always good to question what you are doing and how you are doing things. That is a positive way to go through life that you should always be asking the big questions and you’re never sure how to answer those big questions. That’s exciting. Sometimes outside events force you to ask that question or you can ask yourself that question when you have a moment in your journal. I think questioning what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what you want to do in the world are questions you should ask again and again forever.
It’s beautifully said and I would add one piece to that. Be compassionate in the process, know that those answers are not always what you want to be, but that’s okay. We are all taking baby steps into our higher selves. Be gentle with yourself and others along the way. The world needs a little kindness.
As we mess up and as we fumble, I love that idea of compassion towards ourselves because we are all trying to do so many things and we are not going to do them perfectly and that’s okay. I think that more people acknowledge that. I will tell you my one last thing. I have always thought that bios list all your accomplishments, but more interesting bios would list your failures too. It’s like, “She tried to do this. It did not work out, but that’s what she learned from this.”
I think that would be perfect.
It’s much more interesting. Thank you so much.
This has been fantastic. Thank you for your time, your wisdom and everything that you do every day.
- Tiffany Shlain
- Dear Human
- The Webby Awards
- 24/6: Giving Up Screens One Day A Week To Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection
- Future of Work Program
- The Making of a Woman Surgeon
- Let It Ripple
- The Upgrade
- @TiffanyShlain – Twitter
About Tiffany Shlain
Tiffany Shlain is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, filmmaker, and public speaker. Her work explores the relationship between humanity and technology, the future of work, digital wellbeing and happiness, gender and women’s rights, to neuroscience and creativity. The Museum of Modern Art in New York premiered her one woman spoken cinema show Dear Human right before the pandemic.
Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century, Tiffany an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and author of the national bestselling book 24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection, which won the Marshall McLuhan Outstanding Book Award. She has received over 80 awards and distinctions for her films and work, including selection by the Albert Einstein Foundation’s as one of the 100 visionaries who carry on his legacy, inclusion on NPR’s list of Best Commencement Speeches, film premieres at the Sundance Film Festival and the US State Department selected Tiffany and her films to represent America at embassies around the world.
Working across film, animation, video and performance, her new visual artwork recontextualizes images, sculpture, photography and collage to see new insights about perspective, scale, humans, nature and time. Tiffany is the Artist-in-Residence for 2022 at Shack15 on the top of the San Francisco Ferry Building and will have a solo exhibition of the new artwork this fall. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.