The year is 2014, and people have begun to notice something strange about certain children. Born after 2011, these kids are completely silent and unable to use or comprehend language. Parents and teachers find the situation baffling, and after further study, scientists and doctors label the condition "emergent phasic resistance." The story spans 2011 to 2043, and the scenario sets the premise for The Silent History, a serialized digital storytelling project, designed specifically for the iPhone and iPad, that has the potential to redefine storytelling as we know it.
Eli Horowitz, a former managing editor at McSweeney's, is part of the team behind The Silent History, which calls itself, ambitiously and correctly, a "new kind of novel." The book takes advantage of new technologies, all without tossing out a good, old-fashioned love for the well-written story. The team also includes Russell Quinn, co-founder of digital agency Spoiled Mark and the software developer behind the McSweeney's iPhone app and website. It was written in collaboration with two writers: Kevin Moffett, the author of Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, and Matthew Derby, author of Super Flat Times. Horowitz came up with the premise and the storyline arc, but worked in collaboration with Moffett and Derby to fill out the plot and characters.
The project arrives at a time when the rise of e-books shows no sign of stopping. In 2011, 43 percent of Americans read an e-book, or other long-form digital content on a device. Ownership of e-book readers grew from 10 percent in December 2011 to 19 percent in January 2012. Usually, though, e-books are lighter but lesser forms of an already existing book, says Horowitz, in an interview near his home in Forestville.
"E-books are selling themselves short and not thinking about the possibilities," he says. "It's not like I was mad about not being able to smell the paper or something, it just felt uninspired."
Ten years of designing and editing books at McSweeney's gave Horowitz plenty of insight into the book business. Rather than complaining about the lackluster transition that often happens when a paper book jumps to the Kindle, he decided to build upon the possibilities of the digital form. Thus was born Ying Horowitz & Quinn, a company specializing in the creation and implementation of new digital storytelling forms with the purpose of "bridging the gap between old and new media." The Silent History is one of the first projects out of the gate.
Upon downloading the free app from iTunes, readers have the option of purchasing the book on a volume basis ($1.99) or in its entirety ($8.99). Readers receive an installment on each weekday. Launched on Oct. 1, there are a total of six volumes, with breaks, so that the whole thing ends up stretching out over the year. The app can be downloaded anytime, and readers can use the break to catch up on the archive. Written over the past year, with Horowitz acting as "story-runner," or guide, The Silent History comprises two core components. The first is made up of testimonials (one is set in Monte Rio and features defunct dive bar the Pink Elephant) by teachers, parents, faith healers, doctors and other children who've come into contact with "the Silents." These form the backbone of the story, says Horowitz. The result is the equivalent of a 160,000-word (or 500-page) novel.