The other day, I was reading about this thing called a light-field camera that claims to let people “shoot first and think later.” Essentially, the light-field camera by Lytro allows photographers to take a photo on the fly and adjust its focus after the picture has been taken. The technology that Lytro has introduced not only allows us to capture specific memories in time but also lets us change and distort how they truly were. Reality and technology have fused together in such a way that our concept of memories and feelings are rarely free of outside technological influences. We immortalize a great meal with Instagram photos and even edit our experiences, like in the case of Lytro’s light-field camera.
As technology and the human experience blend more each day, does this mean that our memories will never be pure? Will technology dictate what we can and cannot remember, or will it simply enhance our memories even as we are experiencing them? Illustrator and creative digital pioneer Shilo Shiv Suleman believes that technology, even as it impacts every aspect of life, can be used to strengthen life’s beautiful moments.
Suleman was recently the focus of Cisco’s newest series of digital shorts titled “My Networked Life.” Cisco’s digital web series takes individual looks at young artists and entrepreneurs as they build and create through networked technology.
In “My Networked Life” Suleman explains her career as a digital storyteller as being akin to “a digital gypsy.” Suleman’s blog, which blends images and narrative, was also discovered by the INK conferences, which lead to a TED Talk appearance. The emphasis of her TED Talk and “My Networked Life” episode was on her mobile application “Khoya.” The app blends story and imagery together in conjunction with technology in an attempt to explore how technology, reality and magic can all be synonymous.
I caught up with Suleman to talk about modern storytelling as well as preserving memories with and without new technologies.
In your TED Talk and also in “My Networked Life,” you mention that you want to bring the concept of magic into technology. But at some point, hasn’t technology just become modern magic?
Shilo Shiv Suleman: Of course technology is modern magic. When we’re flying through the sky in planes, it’s much like magic carpets. We’re realizing magic with technology every second. But I feel what really is missing is the sense of wonder, of fantasy and childlike-ness that makes it less about the functionality and usability of technology and more about the magic. It’s this kind of obsession with functionality that I try and stay away from. While most people see an iPad as a great thing to watch movies on, or make lists, or create calenders and check mail, I see a device that’s really revolutionizing the way we tell stories.
Your idea of blending images and story — did you take any inspiration from classic comic books and the digital comics that Marvel and DC just began rolling out for the iPad?
Suleman: Well, this is something I’m juggling at the moment, actually. With the current version of Khoya, it’s a lot of text, it’s a lot of imagery, it’s a lot of interaction, it’s a lot of animated screens. The balance of interaction-sound-video-text-illustration and user interface is pretty tricky, and with each children’s book out in the market I see people trying different things. With Moonbot’s books, for example, I see them bringing their Pixar background to create essentially interactive movies. With us — we do want kids to get back to reading too, so we’ve maintained a lot of text. But no, I haven’t actually seen the Marvel and DC iPad versions. With the next book of Khoya though, we’re experimenting with episodic smaller books (more comic book style) rather than a big chunk of a book at once. It’s all a big experiment though, so lets see how it works.
Much of your art is a surreal style, yet technology is so grounded in reality and hard cold truths with little room for interpretation. How do you blend these two things that are so different?
Suleman: When I was in Paris, I bought French lace and hot chocolate. In London, I bought crochet and flowers for my hair and hipster glasses. In India, I buy spices and embroidery and silks. In Berlin, I found big industrial boots and heavy jackets. Our markets have always had things that have been so unique and so beautiful. But somehow, this hasn’t translated to the digital realm at all. Why are our digital markets so plain? So that’s also what I’m trying to play with: being a crafts person, an artisan in a digital world, and bringing a bit of a cultural, handmade thing to the digital world. I don’t think it’s hard either. I think it just needs a bit of a mind-shift away from what we expect to see on digital spaces.
In “My Networked Life,” you mention that digital networks are making education more available. Do you also believe that being connected to literally everything may also steal some mystery and wonder from the world?
Suleman: I think it’s something we’re all learning. Families and technology, travel and technology, moments and technology. It brings people all over the world together and keeps relationships alive and creates new relationships but also has the danger of taking away from one-on-one time with our families, It has the danger of making us people who are constantly distracted.