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Shilo Shiv Suleman: Using technology to enable dreaming

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My story begins right here actually in Rajasthan about two years ago. I was in the desert, under the starry skies with the Sufi singer Mukhtiar Ali. And we were in conversation about how nothing had changed since the time of the ancient Indian epic "The Mahabharata."

So back in the day, when us Indians wanted to travel we'd jump into a chariot and we'd zoom across the sky. Now we do the same with airplanes. Back then, when Arjuna, the great Indian warrior prince, when he was thirsty, he'd take out a bow, he'd shoot it into the ground and water would come out. Now we do the same with drills and machines.

The conclusion that we came to was that magic had been replaced by machinery. And this made me really sad. I found myself becoming a little bit of a technophobe. I was terrified by this idea that I would lose the ability to enjoy and appreciate the sunset without having my camera on me, without tweeting it to my friends. And it felt like technology should enable magic, not kill it.

When I was a little girl, my grandfather gave me his little silver pocket watch. And this piece of 50-year-old technology became the most magical thing to me. It became a gilded gateway into a world full of pirates and shipwrecks and images in my imagination. So I felt like our cellphones and our fancy watches and our cameras had stopped us from dreaming. They stopped us from being inspired. And so I jumped in, I jumped into this world of technology, to see how I could use it to enable magic as opposed to kill it.

I've been illustrating books since I was 16. And so when I saw the iPad, I saw it as a storytelling device that could connect readers all over the world. It can know how we're holding it. It can know where we are. It brings together image and text and animation and sound and touch. Storytelling is becoming more and more multi-sensorial. But what are we doing with it?

So I'm actually just going to go in and launch Khoya, an interactive app for the iPad. So it says, "Place your fingers upon each light." And so -- (Music) It says, "This box belongs to ... " And so I type in my name. And actually I become a character in the book. At various points, a little letter drops down to me -- and the iPad knows where you live because of GPS -- which is actually addressed to me. The child in me is really excited by these kinds of possibilities.

Now I've been talking a lot about magic. And I don't mean wizards and dragons, I mean the kind of childhood magic, those ideas that we all harbored as children. This idea of fireflies in a jar, for some reason, was always really exciting to me. And so over here you need to tilt your iPad, take the fireflies out. And they actually illuminate your way through the rest of the book.

Another idea that really fascinated me as a child was that an entire galaxy could be contained within a single marble. And so over here, each book and each world becomes a little marble that I drag in to this magical device within the device. And it opens up a map. All along, all fantasy books have always had maps, but these maps have been static. This is a map that grows and glows and becomes your navigation for the rest of the book. It reveals itself to you at certain points in the book as well. So I'm just going to enter in.

Another thing that's actually really important to me is creating content that is Indian and yet very contemporary. Over here, these are the Apsaras. So we've all heard about fairies and we've all heard about nymphs, but how many people outside of India know about their Indian counterparts, the Apsaras? These poor Apsaras have been trapped inside Indra's chambers for thousands of years in an old and musty book. And so we're bringing them back in a contemporary story for children. And a story that actually deals with new issues like the environmental crisis. (Music)

Speaking of the environmental crisis, I think a big problem has been in the last 10 years is that children have been locked inside their rooms, glued to their PCs, they haven't been able to get out. But now with mobile technology, we can actually take our children outside into the natural world with their technology. One of the interactions in the book is that you're sent off on this quest where you need to go outside, take out your camera on the iPad and collect pictures of different natural objects.

When I was a child, I had multiple collections of sticks and stones and pebbles and shells. And somehow kids don't do that anymore. So in bringing back this childhood ritual, you need to go out and, in one chapter, take a picture of a flower and then tag it. In another chapter, you need to take a picture of a piece of bark and then tag that. And what happens is that you actually create a digital collection of photographs that you can then put up online. A child in London puts up a picture of a fox and says, "Oh, I saw a fox today." A child in India says, "I saw a monkey today." And it creates this kind of social network around a collection of digital photographs that you've actually taken.

In the possibilities of linking together magic, the earth and technology, there are multiple possibilities. In the next book, we plan on having an interaction where you take your iPad out with the video on and through augmented reality, you see this layer of animated pixies appear on a houseplant that's outside your house. At one point, your screen is filled up with leaves. And so you need to make the sound of wind and blow them away and read the rest of the book.

We're moving, we're all moving here, to a world where the forces of nature come closer together to technology, and magic and technology can come closer together. We're harnessing energy from the sun. We're bringing our children and ourselves closer to the natural world and that magic and joy and childhood love that we had through the simple medium of a story.

Thank you.


Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 16 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 214
Posted by: tedtalks on Feb 17, 2012

Has our technology -- our cell phones and iPods and cameras -- stopped us from dreaming? Young artist Shilo Shiv Suleman says no, as she demos "Khoya," her new storybook for iPad, which floats us through a magical world in 7 minutes of pure creativity.

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