Ten Minutes with Regina Lewis ’91

Regina Lewis ’91, AOL Consumer Advisor, tech-trend expert, and host of DIY Network’s Tech Out My House, knows the tips, tricks, secrets, and shortcuts for making technology work.

A mother of three, she’s been cited on Capitol Hill for her work championing online kids’ safety. She is also author of the best-selling Wired in a Week.

Lewis first appeared on the CBS Early Show in 1999, went on to become an expert commentator for network and cable programs such as the Today show, The View, ABC World News This Morning, Good Morning America, and Rachael Ray, among others. In the late 1990s, when America Online (AOL) was synonymous with the Internet, AOL hired Lewis as a consumer advisor, a title, she says, that was created for her based on a growing societal need. Deanna McLafferty ’11 talked with Lewis about her career and what people should know to be safe online.

What societal need did your title reflect?

We got our first inquiry in 1998, and the press call sheet said, “Is it true you can shop online? What can you buy, and is it safe to use a credit card?” AOL was deluged with these basic questions, and there was an unprecedented demand for information about this new thing called the Internet. We were getting so many customer service calls for questions like, “What do I do if I forgot my password?” or “How do I use the mouse?” We needed to take to the airwaves and give people news they could use about the Internet.

How did you become the person taking to the airwaves and contributing to shows like the Today show, Good Morning America and The View?

When I first started out in my career, I helped prepare other people to go on TV, so I never expected to have the front role. The switch happened because I had prepared so many talking points and prepared so many executives to go on TV that, at some point, they turned to me and said, “You tell us what to say, why don’t you go do it?”

Do you have any advice for those seeking to break into television?

A lot of it has to do with being very flexible and opportunistic. It all happened for me around Thanksgiving, so one piece of advice is work holidays, weekends, early in the morning, and late at night when their A-listers are not available. There is a lot of demand because television is 24/7. Also, you have to have really good tips, and you have to have an opinion that’s worth hearing, and that has to be the reason you want to do it.

You wrote a book to help people get connected on the Internet. What was your advice then and are there any other books in the works?

My first book, AOL Wired in a Week, helped bring America online. It was the first paperback about that. There were all these “dummy” books and 500-page bibles, but it was the first digestible consumer paperback. What I hope to write this time is something called “Wired Enough,” dealing with the notion that now you can do anything. Your phone can do 9,000 things. What are the nine things you really need it to do? People are overloaded with choices, and especially if you’re over 25 and certainly over 35, you’re not going to be as tech-savvy. I’m trying to take the pressure off everyone. You don’t need to do all 9,000 things on your phone. You’re probably only doing three, and I will teach you six extra and some strategies.

What are some of those extra things people can do?

People are turning smartphones into a GPS through, doing price comparison shopping with and iPhone apps like RedLaser, taking photos and videos, updating their social networking status, and getting breaking news alerts.

The Internet is constantly changing. As a trend expert, where do you see technology headed?

In terms of trends, one biggie is definitely video. The Web is going to become a lot more video-centric, and not just user-generated video like funny cats doing things or full-repurposing of television or movies like Hulu, but made-for-Web TV. And status updates will probably become video instead of text. Also, the iPad is probably going to become a magazine. So, if I was a young person in journalism, I would try to imagine or reimagine what a magazine is in an iPad world. It’s a very interesting time. Soon, you won’t differentiate between the computer screen and the television screen. They’ll just be one and the same.

Considering the popularity of social networking sites, how can users retain their privacy and security on the Internet?

It comes down to who you accept on your friends list. Make your profile “friends only,” unless you’re a band trying to build a fan base or a restaurant attracting customers. Then be judicious with who you accept. The fastest-growing group on Facebook now is women over 55 and a lot of times they are getting on because they want to see pictures of grandchildren. In some ways, social networking sites are more valuable the older you are because you’ve lived longer. You have more former colleagues, neighbors from your first home, and so on. Even if you don’t maintain an ongoing dialogue with them, which you don’t if you look at the Facebook statistics, it’s nice to know that they’re findable. People love getting Christmas cards from families. Well, now you see the equivalent of a Christmas card every day.

You have been a champion of kids’ safety on the Web. How do you advise parents to keep their children safe?

It’s not only about safety, but also etiquette and judgment when it comes to the cyber-bullying discussion, even saying mean things inadvertently in an e-mail or posting things on Facebook. Parenting is about helping your kids make good decisions, and the Internet tech-world is a little tricky for parents because it changes the paradigm. You know how to drive better than your kids, but they know technology better than you, so it puts parents in a weird position. Try to figure out what is age-appropriate and what is practical. It’s an important part of modern-day parenting. Technology is going to be an important part of their future. The people who are tech-savvy have an advantage, so it is something you have to play offense and not defense on.