Creativity in the Cloud: From the Big Bang to Twitter

What's the Big Idea?

What does it mean to be connected in the 21st century? Hope, interdependence, and possibly the creation of a new consciousness, says Tiffany Shlain. Shlain is the founder of the Webby awards and creator of a new documentary, Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology, which premiered this year at Sundance.

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Shlain believes the Internet has inaugurated a new era of uber-transparency in which academics, scientists, business people, and artists exchange inspiration and teamwork around the world like one big giant creative brain.

It's a lot to ask of a system of computer networks. True, the internet allows us to access an unprecedented amount of  information, but so did the Dewey Decimal system. Perhaps what's so uniquely revolutionary about the web is that it's overwhelmingly public -- impacting not just how we catalogue and find information, but how we find each other. 

"They've done studies that when you get texts and tweets and cell phone calls, you get hits of oxytocin, which is this hormone in your body that makes you feel more empathetic and inclined to collaborate," she says. "I think that the internet in a lot of ways is creating this global network for oxytocin to flow. We've only just begun to see how much collaboration is going to completely transform society." It's the difference between a repository for data and a tool for learning: networks broaden our understanding while deepening and enriching it.

What's the Significance?

The new culture (and science) of sharing is reshaping everything from our relationships to the way we make art. Digital cameras, open source software, and ISPs like Youtube allow young filmmakers to create and upload their original work at relatively low cost, and to mash-up the old with the new. Of course, if the fury around the recent SOPA legislation was any indication, Hollywood is not taking it well. But Shlain sees it as an opportunity to expand our definition of authorship, not a problem.

The future of film, she argues, is collaborative storytelling. "I cannot tell you as a filmmaker how exciting this is to me. The fact that I can collaborate with people from all over the world because of the cloud and we can work on movies together is so exciting." Right now, Shlain is working on a new series of 20 films made entirely through what she calls cloud filmmaking. To create the films, she rewrote the Declaration of Independence as a declaration of interdependence -- an open call to send her videos and art work for the film.

Entries came from all over the world and were edited into a 4-minute short which was then post online. True to form, an amazing thing started happening: YouTube featured it on their homepage and people began to translate it. It's now in 65 languages. "It just feels like I'm able to kind of edit together the human spirit," she says.

Follow Tiffany Shlain @tiffanyshlain

Cover image courtesy of 

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