It's been nearly a year now since a couple of McSweeney's alums released The Silent History, a story in app form about a near-future epidemic of EPR—emergent phasic resistance, "a congenital disorder characterized by the inability to generate or comprehend language of any kind." It was all very meta—a story about the loss of language, which of course is the tool we use to tell stories, that was itself a re-tooling of the way we tell stories. It was also beautifully written and published and inventively structured—an intriguing exploration of new possibilities for narrative. But now that it's been out for awhile, what does it tell us about the future of storytelling?
Yesterday I had a chance to talk this over with Eli Horowitz, the ex-publisher of McSweeney's, who created The Silent History with McSweeney's former digital media director, Russell Quinn, and writers Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby. Along with novelist Paul La Farge and Andrea Phillips, author of A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, I took part in a Google+ Hangout with Horowitz organized by the Future of StoryTelling folks. We talked about participation, serialization, and immersiveness and came away with what I'd consider three key lessons about storytelling in the digital age.
1. Binge viewing isn't for everyone.
Although it's a novel, not a TV show like The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad, The Silent History resembles them in that it was presented in serial form—one chapter per weekday for roughly six months. Thanks to Netflix, which facilitated binge viewing of network shows and then cemented the practice with its own release of House of Cards, serialization seems a bit old hat right now. But I agree with Horowitz's take on binge viewing: "You lose anticipation, you lose cliffhangers, you feel kind of gross"—in short, it's a lot like binge eating.