On Our Location Harvard Crimson When you read “The Silent History,” you are using a smartphone—a device that, similar to literature, is used to distance ourselves from reality—to see your environment with new eyes and connect with other readers.
The central narrative, though beautifully written, is not what distinguishes “The Silent History” from other serial e-books. The branches are where it gets interesting. “The branches of this tree are the field reports, and these are shorter pieces that are written in the fictional world of the app/novel,” Derby says. It is up to the readers of “The Silent History” to participate in writing the story. A reader can fill in the gaps between the characters’ perspectives by crafting fictional field reports of their own, which can only be read by other readers if they travel to the location of the anecdote, guided by the GPS in their iPhone or iPad; the Silents’ Pole is actually the subject of a field report. “We’re trying to create this experience in a reader where…this little tract of land, whether it’s a street corner [or] some tree in the middle of a field would be forever bound to this fictional experience that they had while reading this little vignette,” Derby says.
A connection like this is rarely a part of the traditional literary experience; the project diverges from the print book’s escapism because the world about which you are reading is before your eyes. But although the experimental method behind “The Silent History” may seem like an attempt to change the way we read, it actually reinforces an ancient and inextricable tie between story and setting.