The Silent History is an app that tells the story, via first-person accounts, of a strange phenomenon sweeping through the world. Records begin in 2011, with the discovery of ‘silents’: children born without the faculty of communication. They can hear, see, even engage in rudimentary vocalisation; but their brains are incapable of processing any form of communication at all: spoken, written, gestural. The Silent History is the documentation of this phenomenon, showing how the silents impact on those around them, and what effect their silence has.
The app has two parts:
Available to everyone who downloads the app, Testimonials are short stories (approximately 1,000 to 2,000 words) released day by day. They fall into six ‘volumes’ of twenty sections and can be purchased volume by volume (at a couple of dollars/pounds each) or as a set (for a slight discount).
The testimonials are standalone accounts, sometimes linked by a name or a place, which I assume will gradually build up a picture of the progression of the silence, forming a cohesive whole by the time they are done.
At the moment we’re still on the first volume, with four accounts left to go, and so far I’m intrigued. The accounts are well-written and engaging, focusing on the human element and what people do when confronted by a child with whom it is impossible to communicate. Some try to force them to speak; some just ignore them; others use them for religious and spiritual ends; while a few are just out to make money.
This is the unique selling point of The Silent History. Field Reports are GPS-activated short stories that pop up when you are in a certain location. They can only be read when you are standing within 10 metres of a particular point, and they are always tied in with some element of the environment: a place, a building, a stain on the pavement. They provide additional depth to the story of the silence, but they are not vital to the overall story arc.
I read my first field report the other day. It was located in an alleyway in the East End of London, in the area where Jack the Ripper carried out his attacks, and centred on a patch of waste ground squeezed between empty buildings. The account was given by a man whose sister carried out a series of murders inspired by Jack the Ripper and the silent phenomenon, tearing out the throats of children. The patch of waste ground was where she first killed.
The story genuinely sent a shiver up my spine. It was eerie to stand in the place and have the narrator describe details of the environment around me, and the story was touching and poignant.
Here’s the thing: anyone can write and submit a field report. This is what the creators of the app want to encourage — a collective effort world-wide to bring together different views and cultures and examine how we as human beings would be affected by something like this. Oh, and tell a great story.
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So what do I think of the app? Amazing. Like I said, the writing is consistently touching, always character-driven, and always engaging. The interactive nature of the app is a fascinating way to drive forward the idea of electronic literature and story-telling, breaking away from the linear structure of books and ebooks and making full use of the mobile nature of the iPhone and iPad.
Which brings us to my constructive criticism. I have two points to make, both minor, really, but in the nature of unbiased reporting here they are:
Firstly, the app is currently only available for Apple iOS. The developers tell us an Android version will be coming soon, so props to them and thank you very much.
Secondly, it strikes me as odd that a story of which at least 50% depends on current locations and objects should begin in the present and continue into the future. I would have felt a little more comfortable with a story that began in the past and maybe ran up to the present, making sense of ‘found objects’ and ‘historic’ locations in the real world now. I struggle to think how a mural painted, say, in 2021 by a Silent could be here in 2012, for us to see and read about. For me it breaks my suspension of disbelief.
But as I said, these are minor criticisms. The app is very well designed, elegant and intuitive, the writing is immersive, and the price is fair.
I would recommend this app to everyone. Yes, I mean it! Go and buy it, read, enjoy, and contribute. The more people who write Field Reports, the richer the story will be.
And now I’m thinking I’d like to try something similar …