Ep. 1: The Silent History
Episode 1: The Silent History is a remarkable piece of work. Originally published in serialised form in 2012-13, it imagines a near-present generation of children born lacking any facility for speech or, by extension, communication of any kind. The form - daily instalments delivered to a subscriber's tablet/phone was not especially radical, rather the considered form of the app, and the potential for reader contribution enables it to stand out as a piece of digital-first literature. It is also the only entry Tom wrote solo for the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
Links and references #
- The subject of our discussion: "The Silent History"
Transcript (computer generated) #
Tom Abba: [00:00:00] Okay. So hello, if you're listening to this. So this is by way of a very brief introduction to explain the massive plot hole league exists in our podcast series. I'm Tom Abba, and he is. And you're going to listen to us for the next sort of 45 minutes or so. Um, talking about media forums and talking about things interested.
But, um, we didn't have a title for this podcast series for the first four or five weeks. Um, we
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:00:25] didn't have a clue
Tom Abba: [00:00:27] what the title was going to be. Um, we used to do a podcast called, this is not a book that was following and reinterpreting and talking about a book we'd written, and we're going to about five or six years now, but this was something different.
So. It took us a few weeks from the title. Obviously you're listening to this on some kind of service. You subscribed or you're just dipping in, or you downloaded the wrong podcast by accident, in which case thank you and welcome. But just as an explanation, the reason that you'll see, you'll hear two men talking about it and it makes you fashion the fact they don't know what this thing is [00:01:00] called and the fact that it does have a title.
Is a peculiar trick of what we're going to call a kind of time travel dilation thing. So we're, we're recording this now after who recorded the sixth episode in the series in order that this will be placed back in our past on the first three or four, which from our point of view is in your future. So if you, if you're confused by that, just so much in how we are.
But yeah, this is called not the doc, his timeline, and thank you for subscribing and we'll get out of your way now. Thank you.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:01:32] Yes, please enjoy.
Tom Abba: [00:01:35] Okay, so Holly, um, my name's Tom Abba. You are.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:01:41] Awesome.
Tom Abba: [00:01:42] And this is the, this is the first proper podcast in a series two, which we haven't actually gotten titled yet.
So the song being whatever you downloaded this is', it'll sound like that. But I think the plan, um, if I can be so bold, is we're going to do a kind of uncommon, um, a. [00:02:00] A two come much friendly, middle aged Leedia specialists, literary critics, peoples for years and years and years. Looking back at a kind of history of interactive media and picking out things that we think worked or maybe we're ahead of their time, maybe pointed to things that have happened since then.
And the plan is to spend sort of half an hour, 45 minutes each time just pulling apart why we think they're important. Does that sound reasonable to you?
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:02:26] It sounds like a plan.
Tom Abba: [00:02:27] I shouldn't lose two things. One thing that we have a little bit of a debt because it's clear in the first episode, zero if you like, that I've been listening to the HP Lovecraft Metairie podcast for the last two or three months, and that's really influenced our thinking in a way that there is something useful to be done in applying what we know and our opinions and our thoughts into this space.
So if I do a little preamble and then we start the conversation rolling, um. As a way of kind of launching this. So was released in 2012 written by Eli Horevitz, Kevin Moffitt, and [00:03:00] Matthew Derby, and all the act development was done by a, a brick Russell Quint, and now lives in the States. It's a piece of digital media.
It's, in one way, it's very conventional. As a, as a reading experience. This is a set of testimonials or were in the first person that narrate an emerging story that runs forward into what kind of future history. What's interesting about it, I think is one, the way it was released in the way it's constructed, and also the way it would engage is with a kind of extended narrative, which is sort of problematic in how it's.
How it's constructed and how it's used within the app, but actually does, for me at least interestingly point to a way of kind of mitigating user engagement and the kind of, I want to say a kind of shed, well, it all the shit, but a way of bringing your readers into the development of a story.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:03:53] I don't think it was clear a clearance.
So it's an app that was tied in with a book. I think it's very easy for people who weren't [00:04:00] familiar with it. To not realize that it could. Yeah. It was a app delivered for tablets.
Tom Abba: [00:04:08] It's not public and they only exist in its first iteration. Only exists as an app for it's really important to say is, um, there is a book version, which I have in front of me, which is a big way to traditionally published, it was published by Jonathan Cape is my addition in 2014, which.
Which collates all of the testimonials, all the first ones, and after a little bit of kind of conceptual stuff. But no, the initial edition, the initial edition of the first version of it is entirely digital. It only exists as an iOS app. I think it was iOS only, or on iOS and Android. And yeah, that's it's, it is.
And I think arguably importantly, it's complete in and of itself in that form. It doesn't extend into other media. It doesn't kind of require the presence of a book. It is one of those things as, okay, and this is why I want to talk about it. This, this is a piece of [00:05:00] storytelling that is designed to work within this digital
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:05:02] space.
Yeah. There's no trans media gimmick to get you to draw you into multiple platforms and
Tom Abba: [00:05:11] Melville, although it does something interesting with trans media and we'll, we'll come onto that eliminate. It doesn't mean that we sort of borders into transmedial what you might call, so a transmedial space and how it, how it reaches out from a central core.
And this actually, and again, sorry, which will prefacing was then we're going to talk about this in a moment. I think there something interesting here about what we might call. In transmedia, the problem with the primary narrative as in which, which bit are you meant to read, which requires you to be read that to really to understand the story actually in a sense.
And what is the purpose of the other stuff? What's this? What's the, what's the point of any, I mean, this isn't for this particular piece, but you know, doing podcasts, auditing other material, using Twitter accounts. The script for me kind of problematizes, but does answer some of those questions and starts to deal with them.
This won't be true of everything we talk [00:06:00] about, but is this important to say here that it is still available? You can buy the whole thing as a complete version. When it was initially released and the piece came out in 2012 it has some press. Originally Eli Horevitz had been look Sweeney's art director for a long time, I think, and then became a Sunni's publisher.
So had, I guess a sort of. And elements of pedigree in the field of experimental storytelling, uh, you know, very highly designed form. So he had a bit of clown and had a bit of weigh in. So yeah, he has some free publicity, but he turned to me, it arrived. A sits there. Once you get past the opening screen, what you have is a, there's a screen, I'm looking at it on an iPad and now split into two halves.
The top half is. A series of circles is the best way to describe it, each of which is split into 20 sort of segments. So there are, there are circle that's got a circle around it. There's a technical term for this, but they're basically the medical pies. If you can go back to imagining trivial pursuit boxes other than just [00:07:00] the age around that, there was a series of these.
Each one of the center has a date. Or a run of dates. The first, the first set run from 2011 to 2020 you can scroll to the next set, which run from 2021 2027 then 2028 2033 then 2033 2039 then 2040 has its own set of 20 and then finishing with 2040 2041 below that. While in the middle bar there is the name of the app, and below that is a map.
Um, all of those things to me are useful in a way, as a reader, as somebody interested in the form and both as a reader in the way I approached that. So the first thing that the top layer signal to me was structurally, this is going to follow, I would say a standard. Storytelling structure, but there's an element of kind of predetermined structure in it.
In the office chapter is going to spend nine years. Our second chapter is going to span seven or eight are [00:08:00] following one five then six again, what were important for what was important for me was in the chapter that hits 2040 felt like. It felt like someone's prefiguring this going to be a climax. It's going to be a point to this that we're not just going to take you on a journey that best blop blop blop blop blop blop often explores this.
Blessings to which in a kind of Aristotle and structural form or free tax triangle, this is going to rise and there's going to be a point where everything happens. And then at the end is gonna fall away because the last, the last chapter prefigures only be two years. So it was a reader. What that gave me, and our room is really vividly, it was a sense of confidence in, and it sounds flip to say they know what they're doing, but structurally they do know what they're doing.
There is a, there is a, there is a. An order to this. It was a sense to which as writers, and again, this is important to the star, not merely whether the thing, the whole thing was pre-written, how much of this was going to kind of emerge as it was a writing project, because at least there was a sense of structure that [00:09:00] this was going to.
A core two things that we were familiar with in that respect.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:09:05] I mean, I remember when it came up because it came up shortly after I started working for Unbound at the time, and it was, it actually started a lot of discussion within the publishing industry because the, as the, as many industries that have been disrupted, you know, of quotation marks over the past few years there, there's always a discussion about.
How to engage with digital and how to co like circumvent the disruption by doing something new and bespoke and Solent history was. It was both cited as an example of what to do, but also of what not to do. Because I remember at least some of the, our argument was that it has an inherent level of linearity that meant that it, it, it, the, it didn't benefit as much from a digital interface as many other works would have and [00:10:00] that it, or another way to put it, it didn't really lose much.
Once it got translated to a a book form. I'm not convinced by that myself because my impression was that one of the things that cleverly did is it, what are the problems with like traditional hypertext is. Basically just design. It's a question of like, how do you take this structure or a narrative structure and design it, and most of them, you could take the same a hypertext with the same structure and the same narrative and just give it a lice.
User interface and graphical designed by somebody who knows how to design for, I'm reading, which most hypertext authors don't. Uh, and I kind of get the sense that that's what happened with some history, is that it's, it's under underneath that has a level of Lily RT to it, but [00:11:00] not necessarily, and it's, eh, it's just well-designed that surfaces the inherent
Tom Abba: [00:11:05] structure completely.
I would completely agree and I would have real issue with, um, equally, this is maybe speaks to, um, my yours and my reactions to Unbound as a publisher or what does the two ways of, uh, ways of critically approaching things that exist outside of the mainstream and Unbound is a mainstream publisher and you know, regardless of what they do in the model.
They, they produce books. They produce things that are very much don't scare the horses. This is a thing. You recognize that their model is interesting and we can probably talk about it either in a different episode, but no, I think that yes, it is inherently linear. I think that's a really good thing in what it did because it doesn't try and do.
It doesn't at the outset. It doesn't offer bells and whistles. It doesn't say it's going to be anything different here. There's one thing it's going to do. I guess the other thing to say about some the histories. The installments aren't daily. So once you could pay at the very start for a chapter, so you start by paying for chapter one, which would be 20 the [00:12:00] segments that run from 2011 to 2020 or you can buy the whole thing, which is important in terms of the.
The amount of access you've got, and I'll come on to that a minute, but so you, you were asked to engage either on a very limited basis that you've got chapter one, then you'd buy chapter two and budget three. And these were, these were kind of what they were a couple of pounds, that'd be $2 $53 for each chapter.
So you, uh, you were investing something then each morning, I mean. It was lunch time. By the time I got the malignancy. I guess the thing was time for either Pacific time or Eastern standard time each morning. Warmoth those little kind of pies would eliminate the, you get the next bit and it will build up over the 20 days.
So Jared, but chapter one would take you 20 days to read because you were, you were allowed to read or you were given a short testimonial or short kind of installment every morning. The niece. My recollection is they ran every day. They didn't ignore weekends. Um, at the end of each chapter, there was a pause.
Usually, I mean, like I'm, this is a recollection better sort of thing that eight years ago there was about a week or a week or [00:13:00] so's pause, which allowed you to catch up if you hadn't caught on the reading. So you won't, you'd have to read each bit before you got the next bit. But obviously, you know, you might've missed two or three days.
You then read warm the next morning, the next one comes out. So it might be, there was a sense of, there was a sense of. Sympathy mean the wrong word. Um, allowance for the reader, alignments, food, life to get in the way that you weren't, this was designed for a commute. It was designed to sort of pop into your inbox virtually, I guess in a way.
Every morning they were short. Each testimony there's about, I thinks of 200 or 400 words. Probably there's a more accurate way of kind of narrowing that down and what they did was build up a world. They built up a set of characters who were commenting on this narrative as it emerged. It's probably also just in terms of its, we've talked about structures and the, I end up, I realized I do an awful lot when I talk about digital products.
Plot-wise actually plotted relevant to how this works. So the. The [00:14:00] silent history of the title is a generator. It concerns a generation of children born without the ability to speak, all motor respond to speech in that manner, hence to silent history. So it begins in that first nine year chunk as these are all kids and it's that parents will choose the sociologist reactions.
He's a channel specialist, reactions to politicians, reactions, and you're getting a really what you get over those 20. Little segments of a chapter. You've got a really quite rounded sense of all sort of associates, societal, cultural, institutional, unknown, a sense of panic. And for me at least, Pre-K's is more about my, my origins as a, as a reader, a real sense of Joma Wyndham, thus to it.
That these, at least, at least within the world, and because this is also the thing about first person narration because you're not then allowed. There is no omniscient narrator. You're getting, you're getting those from people. There wasn't a sense of, and we know [00:15:00] that government is doing this and we know that it was, it was very much rooted in these are, these are reports from people and the strength of, I think the thing in that first chapter I think is the extent to which.
The, the writing team built up consistent characterization that there were, that there were different voices who reacted in different ways because they had, I mean, it's a simple way saying I had different stake in those kids' lives.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:15:23] I have basically noted sort of two strands that I want to pull on here.
The first round is what you're as a direct continuation of what you were talking about in terms of. Voices. And one of the ways that's one of the traditional sort of ways of, uh, well not traditional, but one of the structure lists are ways of analyzing novelistic structures is like Polly Glossier or Hannah heteroglossia, which is a fancy way of saying that it's our narrative structure that encompasses multiple kinds of voices, each existing at, uh, each voice representing a.
[00:16:00] Position in society. And so that the nudge structure as a whole managed to represent a discourse for an issue. And this is basically the heart of and some of the Russian formalists analysis of how novels and satire work in society. And it sounds like that one of the, one of the things that they've managed to do there is they've managed to do.
Replicate that structure, that of representing a larger society and how would it, what it feels like to experience these events at each layer of society, but, but using a and hypermedia interactive environment and not the novel or the linear, like novelistic structure and the linearity of it actually, um, sort of brings me to my second point, which is I think that.
Um, a lot of people in our position [00:17:00] tend to have an all or nothing view of linearity. There's not an acknowledgement other linear artists experienced in multiple temporal ways. And that's especially something that's happening today and in, if you look at streaming platforms in that the, you have the linearity of a TV series now is a choice.
It's not a, um, it's not a, uh, a given or a certainty for. Any given, um, series, it's, um, Disney charter chose to turn the Mandalorian into a serialized weekly experience. Netflix chooses to release some of their, uh, series, um, uh, some of the series entirely in one go. And in some of their series, like with, um, some of their more, um, competition or a game or it's a series, they actually list them in reverse order so that the new CEO new season.
It comes first before the first season. So the, it's linear, but the [00:18:00] way. You experienced linearity is Lindy, the linearity of the off the work is a choice of the author. And I think that's something that, uh, that some tickle in 2012 would have been one of the sort of only off the modern examples of somebody choosing to be linear, that being thoughtful about it and choosing how linear art is expressed in digital because it turns out there's more than one way to bilinear.
Tom Abba: [00:18:31] no, completely. And the other, and this is my other, my other counter slides, the Unbound argument is there is something really, really valuable about it. I'm getting a, getting a small chunk of narrative and waiting a day. I'm getting those multiple meetings and waiting a day. It's interesting. I had a conversation on starting conversations with, with somebody in publishing about the simple way of describing it is how do you make this a habit?
How do you, if you're trying to do digital ads or digital storytelling with a [00:19:00] longer form, how do you break that down to elements that become habitual and I think silently three points the way to, at least for me. And these were, I was to get slightly imperfectly because I'm in the UK, so I was getting a sort of four or five hours after its initial kind of, you know, it's targeted release time, but that became a thing every day that I would pick up and there would be a little ping that my, my tablet or my phone would, would.
Alertly and I knew there was a things you read. And I try and find time to do it. And then I'd also be reflecting on that. So as opposed to having a novel, and of course I can sit with a novel and go, I will only read a testimonial per day. And I can absolutely, with the novel form, replicate the experience that we designed in history.
I'm going all the way through, but because it's a novel, because it has. It has, it has the structure of that. I can run through it, I can breeze through, and
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:19:51] it's also, it's not natural to the like form follows function and function follows form. What if you have a book in front of you, [00:20:00] you're engaged. It's completely unnatural for you to create your own pacing by breaking off and, and pausing until the next day.
It's just. It goes against the grain of the, of the media.
Tom Abba: [00:20:11] And this is also about how you write novels. I mean, I just, this morning I finished reading Andrew Michael Hurley's the Aloni. Um, we should be recommended. I mean I'm just not interested in English folklore and the Gothic at the moment, but the low knee, um, one, the Costa of one across the first novel was in 2015.
I picked up a second copy cause I read his book. It's just come out, it's absolutely structured in the system. This really stupid and just say it's the opposite. The silent history structured like a novel. And that's a really. Dumb thing to say in a podcast, we'll deal with literature, but it takes till about halfway through for the thing to get going.
The first half is all atmosphere. It's all, it's telling you things about characters introducing the way. It's this firmly, and it's this kind of extended religious family interact, but it's, it's halfway through. The thing actually starts to move, and when it starts to move, you know, I'm racist. I'm [00:21:00] not. Are we fighting?
Creepy anyway, but I was enjoying the first chunk or the first half rather, but happily reading. But you say a section in my own time, in my own pace, when it comes to the philosophy I'm running through, because suddenly this thing picks up pace and actually the story's not, the story's moving at exactly the same glacial pace and it's incredibly dry short because what happens?
The whole thing taking place, with the exception of the kind of the framing sequences, which are a number of years in the future or number of years, they're in our presence as things take place in the 1970s. The, the, the, the story itself takes place over about four or five days in Easter, Easter Rava in a small part of the English coastline.
And the second half is almost slower in a sense in the first off, but things happen. And so I'm, as a, as a reader of a novel, I am engaged, I exactly the right mode of reading a Gothic novel. I'm suddenly. There was an acceptance. This is golden beyond atmosphere and going beyond building and going beyond.
Just give me a sense of who these characters are to the consequences assigned to come out. I'm getting a little more connection to the framing [00:22:00] base in the presence down to the stuff that's in the past and the song he spent does none of that. It does. It's entirely, it's slowly told. It's very gradually told.
These are important to say. Thinking about hyper media, it is obviously, it's a. We could describe it as a hypertext in terms of it is read digitally and you can click things, and that's one way of looking at hyper texts. Obviously the more kind of accepted the evident way is that there are links within the structure back to where the base there is.
There is an inherent on linearity in reading those nuts. I might drop Russell an email, my recollection. And should we say Russell Quinn is responsible for the whole design of the thing. Um, Eli, Eli, Kevin and Matthew came up with a story structure where they want to tell a story this way. The whole, the things we talked about, about interface and our reader reader engagement are entirely after Russell Quinn.
My recollection is that. By the time you got to sort of chapters four or five. So this is, you know, we're now looking at the base. It's take place, not in 2011 but [00:23:00] now run until 2039 at that point, we started having turtle hyperlinks. So the summits of the RA in that 20 in that first 20. Segments. Do you use a kind of trivial pursuit?
It'll block mode. There's a better way of describing it, but there are no hyperlinks. There were no hyperlinks in the section, but there are, there are recurring characters. Each person gets two or three. Testimonials in that first year block. So the idea is even though new characters then come in as you work your way forward and history, characters recur and characters evolve in their relationship to these children to what happens and to how these things to where the story goes.
But it wasn't until quite a way through. That's my recollection that we started to get internal hyperlinks so we could go back and track back through that characters. Evolution of thought, evolution of kind of history with them. And I think that as a reader was also really important that it denied me this in the first instance, but only when it became relevant or it became useful to be able [00:24:00] to go through and go, okay, I can't remember what so and so.
I have a recollection of what songs I started as in this thing, but I'm now fortunate Dezeen. Then I can kind of bounce my way back through their sections and then then structure and that that was really sensitive to the form I thought.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:24:18] Yeah, it sounds like, well, first off it should be noted that. A, our work that is only a hypertext in its latter half is still a hypotonic tech.
It's like doesn't disqualify it as a hypertext. It just means that it's thoughtfully used. And I think it's actually a very interesting use of hope tests in that the, the, once you get the further in, you get into the work. The more complex, it ha the, the PR, everything that's come before it becomes the more help you need and to navigate it.
So actually it's, I think it's a very interesting tactic and something that would be interesting to see. Others play around with too. Minimize the use of hypertext, hyperlinks [00:25:00] until they're really, really, really useful, which is usually in the latter half when it, when you use it to tie the history together and like help you remember it.
It's a bit like you don't add recap, see a sort of like a recap segments at the start of the first episode of a TV series. You only start them towards a lot to the later episodes. When does it turn to recap? Because otherwise you'd be lost.
Tom Abba: [00:25:25] And the point to recap that point, you know, there's a reason he may have forgotten what, sorry.
I'm also watching the West wing again, just because I feel a sense of despair, but there's a reason to that point. To understand dualism. Leo's relationship with the president, relationship to the ms. disclosure in the West wing. I'm sorry if you have a whole set of things that run into there, we kept saying are helpful.
Um, but you're right. With a silent history. It is. It is rarely sensitive, the reader, and it's really, it's really attendant to the way in which an audience is reading this. So on the one level, I think everything [00:26:00] you've said is completely true. There's another level which isn't in a way about familiarity with the form that it doesn't.
And I've mentioned, I've used this phrase before, it doesn't scare the horses. In the first bit is very, very familiar. It's very safe. So if you want this thing to be reviewed by, you know, the literary press, then they, they'll happily, they might, you sniffy about the way it's structured. Going to work or the way it's operating, but actually it's very familiar.
It's not distracting anybody. It's guiding you into a space. It's holding your hand and it's doing that thing that novels do in terms of, you know, there was a, there was a shape to this thing. There are 348 pages. There is a, there are chapter breaks. It's doing all that that we know how to do because we know how to read a paper form.
Really sensibly, really gently and really effectively in its structure. And you're right, it doesn't bring in hypertext as, as a device until it's helpful, until it's useful to do that. And that then adds gently to the reading experience because yes, I've been reading this thing for then 60 [00:27:00] days or 80 days, but.
My memory isn't a, nobody's memory's perfect. I'm sure I'll have memories lofi fallible and I'm going to ne Oh, it's going to be helpful for me to track back through without spinning these little circles. You finding out where T green it is the first, second or third chapter, because I want to see suddenly they've done something that feels kind of character or feels dramatic.
So I want to interact back through and get that, and that to me was really, really sensible and really, really effective. The other bit. The song history that really marks it, and this is, again, this is my semi-successful thing about it, is it, it extended the central narrative, and this. I think happened when you bought the entire thing in advance.
It may have happened when you bought each chapter at a certain point, but my recollection is certainly that when you, when you committed to the whole book and you've paid your six quid or $8 every month, then you were invited to submit what they call field reports. Well, they were. So this, obviously, [00:28:00] this is a story, at least in the first, is taking place in a recognizable United States and reflecting a recognizable world.
You know, we okay, let's talk a bit about science fiction and jointly overlook the global Sarah. Every science fiction is always written about the time you're in. It's very difficult to write science fiction that's not reflective of the history, the culture, the, the concerns that. Your, your experiencing right at the moment.
I mean, and weirdly what's been as kind of clarify climate fiction and Jeff is very good. It's funny that this is almost seeing that kind of rush right to the presence and we're seeing, you know, doc's incredibly, that stuff is potent and it's. Deliberately potent and for me incredibly, because I have children, scary in terms just the way it was loses for the way faces what's around us.
But he's doing something as science fiction has always done, and some history is no exception. The fact that he uses children who are markedly different, and there's a layer of kind of reading that as it's kind of central metaphor for what's going to happen in the story. The fact that it [00:29:00] plays with can familiarity, shine efficient tropes.
It doesn't say all things. More complicated than that. It grounds you really healthfully and it's obviously, it's that first chunk is set in a period running from 2011 to 2020 which obviously is about to be next year or this year to pay. When you're hearing this field reports where we're structured as a way of inviting the readership to to extend that world is a way, is a better way of doing it, then I could do, and obviously they're not the first piece of.
Digital media to do that. I think these were pretty successful in its structure or in the manner in which what you got was, my recollection is saw between four and eight page PDF, which is a writer's guide. It was a, this is how you know we will, anybody's welcome to do this, or anybody who's maybe bought the whole thing.
This is our guide. This is what we want you to do. So I think you're the, they're written the first person they should be, they should be fixed to a location. So, and they are, I'm a bit, again, [00:30:00] I'm Cassie back eight years and I couldn't find my copy of the rightest guy. They are reflective of the chapter that he'll reign at the time.
So you're writing your, you're invited to submit a piece of first-person fiction within this world, Pinto location. And there were, there were kind of suggestions about the kind of location that you chose. So this is about. Fundamentally society's reaction to a generation of children who are different. So that there's a thing about thinking about where you might want your reader to be, so to where you might, because you're going to pin these to a GPS point so that these are, whether then the playgrounds are busy roads by whatever those places are, that you can reflect society and reflect the world around you.
And what they did was obviously kind of engage with, we now. See as lucrative media and pervasive media, they really engage with geography because. We're not going to talk about this later, but there is [00:31:00] something really powerful about writing for a space and a very specific space in that you, if you're writing a novel, you can reasonably assume you'll reader is sat somewhere vaguely comfortable, or at least they could hold a book in there probably about as much as you know, you're writing something that's pinned to a location.
You know what they're looking at. You know, you can write knowing, or at least going in their eye line and guiding what they can see beyond the page in front of them. So if you're writing this piece about, I mean, it's to say for example, there is a, there is one child out of 60 in a playground and want that one child is what these.
Solidly silence I want you're writing about is a kind of a layered kind of societal for mental reaction to the being the cookie with the nest, if you like, and that's the thing you want to write in your thread of words, then you can direct your readers, gaze to a playground, you know you'd written to and you're it.
It's the suspension of disbelief is, but you've been, the extra tool you've is that you know what they're looking at and. [00:32:00] Even though there were then lie as to which she not know, not knowing. For example, when your read is going to read this, how do you deal with, is a playground busier sign that reading is empty?
Is it ivory cold winter's day and there's no kid that, is it really the height of summer. You said earlier, the more or less all those things that attracts, you know, we've, I've certainly dealt with in the past, but these things, I think what was really, really interesting about this is there was a framework for writing in that space and a way of saying, we're going to edit this and we're going to work with you on this, but this is how we'd like you to contribute toward, to this narrative.
And I thought that was rarely really, really interesting as, as you, as a reader, as a creator in this space. So they allow, they explicitly. Invited that kind of contribution. I think it's automatic. I think without a doubt it's, I mean, there are. That's my understanding is there are about 300 field reports added to the app during his run.
That's 300 fields, repulse, a wedded state. Let's assume the sub that they all [00:33:00] required some manner of adit or somewhere rejected art, right? But then in order to kind of engage success with your readership, you need to engage successfully. You need to reply to them and say, this is why we're not putting this one second.
Without a doubt, there was a layer of work in there. It was really clear in the Rochan guide as a Rita. It was not automatic. You don't submit this thing here as a pain. Four days later there was a process that we don't know how many we're going to get, so we're going to be up front about this and say, this might not work.
And I think that creates an extra layer of work. I think what it does, and this is interesting about the way maybe that. The team building this, we're maybe looking at their, their business plan. Let's be blunt about this. Ease of engagement. Without a doubt. What they do then is they built that. They establish 300 dedicated readers.
I mean, that's a small number, but it's where you start small acorns, trees, grow forest. They've, they've gained 300 readers who've have their work included as part of this overarching narrative, which is beautifully written and really nicely done. You [00:34:00] made 300 super funds and that's, you know, we've got to come up with a predicament to that under the point.
But that I think is a really important part of how do you bridge the, I don't know how this works thing, the problem of how do you get Asia in this and how do you, how do you get the advocates and how do you get the, the people who will, will look critically at your work but will always champion the intention.
We'll always say no. There was some really valuable stuff happening here unless engaged with it. Unless that's promoted and as moving going forward. No, that's something we can look at differently and look at in a variety of forms. So the, and this is, this is not a problem problem. It's a problem in the form.
And I'm really, it's one of the things that I struggle with this a little bit, but when I talk about some history, um, you have to be in that location to read the field report. So
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:34:47] in my second gripe, I was going to bring up.
Tom Abba: [00:34:52] Now? Well, no, it's, I mean it's, I think it's a problem. I think without a doubt, it's a, it's a thing, the reward effort in that the readers are writing [00:35:00] them for that space.
They demand effort from remote readers and you have to go to those places to see them. There is a, as a, as a remote reader, there's a sense of. The world to them. When you get the this first fit that has these circles with the story structure on, and then there's title below that there is a map and the map presumable to the whole world and what the map is is the location of the field reports.
I think it's problematic that they, if these act of the narrative, if these are extending the world in some way, coming back to this thing in transmedia, the problem with the primary texts is they are always going to be secondary and tertiary techs because physically I've got. Very frequent flyer miles, and I don't care about the environment.
I'm not going to read most of these. And I, I'm not saying that's a problem. Narratively, I think it's, I think it's a, I think it has to be a problem in the accessibility of the entire text. Um,
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:35:56] I mean, personally, I, this is something I've, I always [00:36:00] have a huge problem with anything that's located, like strictly location-based like that, because I grew up in the middle of bloody nowhere.
Like, uh, I was born and raised in Iceland and the times when I lived in the UK when I was a kid was in a small village outside of Lancaster. And it's. Like the this, this notion of having parts of a story that is only accessible or understandable if you're in some big city has, it's something I've always experienced.
It's something I've always just like, I've known of books and movies and art shows that are just. In places where I could never see myself ever reaching. And it's, it's, it's, there's an emotional, um, cost to it where I go like, nah, you're being a Dick by doing that. And I, my, I have a, I have an emotional response to [00:37:00] tying stories like that to a specific location because as somebody who grew up in the middle of bloody nowhere, it's like, yeah, you're right.
It's specifically excluding me. I know it's not logical, but that is, is what it's, uh, it feels like, and I suspect a lot of people who grew up in the sticks or in, in isolated places or outside of big cities, they're going to have a similar sort of reaction to these sort of auditions in the stories.
Tom Abba: [00:37:28] Counter to this is obviously, if you're in the sticks reading this, you are just as able to write one of these things and pin it down. As someone living in the middle of San Francisco. I completely recognize what you're saying though, and I think that's worth unpacking an appoint about how, how, how different media forms permit record kind of recognition of yourself in the text.
So, cause my, my thing is, yeah, I grew up in Grimsby, which is on the North, North by Northeast Northern Midlands, East coast of England.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:37:58] Massive metropolis.
[00:38:00] Tom Abba: [00:38:00] It's not a must see metropolis. I didn't see my, I don't see myself . I didn't see myself recognize infection insurance fiction. There are, there are some exceptions to that and there are some really clever tools writers, and there's something I asked first years, and this is probably pretty my PAC somewhere or certainly in this little book he's aware is Enid Blyton is a famous five set.
And it's, this isn't a ton of a lecture about how do you use space and how do you use geography? And there are, I mean, okay, recognizably is probably endorse it because she's writing for, there are geographical locations and there are castles, and there's a coastline that's recognizably, but importantly within the text.
And someone could prove me wrong. I don't think she ever says that. And for me it means it was five was set in my childhood. They set, you know, kind of recognition. And for me it was always set in Norfolk cause that's where we went on holiday cause he's sitting there. It's a space that is other, it's not where I live.
It's a space that is, that has the, the kind of the offer of [00:39:00] something that is not from not completely familiar and not be rude. Nice. Was my every day. But recognize bled enough that I don't, I feel that there's a connection to it, but absolutely the, you know, metropolitan fiction stuff. When I got, when I got beyond that kind of early years into my teens, I didn't see myself in those stories at all.
You know, the, I don't know what it would've been like growing up in London and, and reading an awful, you know, fiction in my teens that was set or recognizably set in. In the Capitol and those locations, and that there is, there is something really interesting about kind of democratization or the potential democratization of storytelling that this kind of, we're talking about digital media, local Laos, but you are, it's not unproblematic and
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:39:41] certainly.
Tom Abba: [00:39:44] No. Yeah, it's not, at least for me, is hugely problematic in how it deals with those, but I think he's interesting in that it was for certainly, my recollection is one of the first to properly invite a kind of curated, and you know, the other example that Springs to mind is a million penguins, which is probably [00:40:00] mid two thousands maybe slightly earlier, which did.
Well, kind of similar, similar, the very small S that kind of invites in storytelling in a collaborative form. And I kind of Wiki but didn't, but I'm, none of the HR real process or the actual rules applied after the fact in an attempt to control it. Whereas this is very structured, very a sense of we are, we opening the Gates, but we're going, we're going to edit you.
You're going to get the experience of being by professional. These are short. There was a very strict guide about how these work, but there is still. We're going to treat you as a writer. I think it was also the appeal in less so. This is. W we are, the door is open a bit. You can come in and play in this world and this is how we want you to play, but you get to add onto there.
So it's, it's not, I mean Joshie I'm interested in, it was somebody has cataloged all of them. I, one thing I haven't looked for that we'll do after we finish recording this is going to find a Reddit site for some history because it wouldn't surprise me. Somebody done the thing that you [00:41:00] can't do and made a version of the map that is.
That is clickable from anywhere in the world. And I can read the stuff that's in Queens. I can get the soup.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:41:08] It's one of the lovely things about the web is that sometimes if the work is interesting enough, people are filling the gaps. And that's a, it's, it's, it's one of the lovely things about the web in that it's also one of the terrifying things because sometimes they have very old ideas of how to fill in the gaps that you're gonna.
You're going to have people filling in the gaps. And you know, that's one of the great. Thanks. I was wondering if I could ask like one final question, like something to, I know, well throughout this I've been wondering in that, you know, it has a lot of religious ideas. A lot of them are like good takes of classic ideas from hyper media.
All of some of them are original and I've been wondering why haven't we seen more like silent history since it first came out.
Tom Abba: [00:41:55] I mean, my, my instant reaction, we touched on it 10 minutes ago, is it, I suspect it was [00:42:00] expensive in terms of the engagement, although I think, and this also speaks to my suspicion, my suspicion, my problem with publishing and publishing being so structured around the production of the physical thing in your hand.
The, actually there is a lot. There are loads of cost built into that that are, I won't say admitted, but certainly not. Okay. They usefully brought into the argument when somebody in the press asks, why is an ebook more or less the same cost as a printed book? And you were actually. Frank is a very, the printing is a very small part of the overall cost of production, but into the digital in terms of engaging with the digital to do it properly.
I don't think it's time much more expensive. I think the problem with digital experimentation is it gets labeled as experimentation and the more expensive it is and the more unorthodox it is, then the more people, more publishers at least are wary of it. Suddenly, history was not produced by a major publisher.
Obviously the novelization was picked up by. Kate, John Cape and put out, but the, the thing [00:43:00] exists outside of that medium, you know, Horevitz the sub mode, I think is a production company went on a bit, something called vertical index. Three or four years later, they got slightly distracted as the, I went on and made a podcast called homecoming, which was hugely successful and when I was in TV series.
So I think. Yeah. In a weird way. I'm not suggesting that's a way of, and we can look at other things like Arcadia, we can look at other experimentations, and that's absolutely a relevant question. I don't think it's, I don't, I don't think the lack of returns, the phone history points to a failure of the form.
I think at the moment it feels like, it feels like they opened the door. And nobody has quite figured out how to go through that door, or nobody's quite had the money to do it. Will the willpower or the structure to do it? I don't think it means you can't go through that door again. Um, because I think mortal, one of my, one of the critiques might be off a very fragmented software development industry.
These, in terms of the students were interested in, we're talking about here is it no [00:44:00] one's paying attention to process and no one's recording process because we're not trying. No one's. No one's requiring this to be done the scale. Whereas actually in terms of publishing and publishing, absolutely being process driven is that it becomes absolutely necessary to look at process with our process being a streamlined and as efficient as possible.
You'll never going to make a paperback for seven 99 you know, everything's going to be well, we would that to autism. Bookmaking, which swept this place I come from, but these things are expensive because we don't do a scale of be. One of the challenges is to think about is just thinking about the pursuit of making something successful and not to repeat, and this is one of, we're going to come into this, I'm sure some of the point I have, I have, I have a difficulty in thinking about a repeatable form because I'm worried that we end up pigeonholing down to something that might look like look like, for example, chooser, and I find it sure being a full.
I'm reading learn a repeatable process of figuring our, how are we, you've streamlined the development of this thing on delivery and the outcome without [00:45:00] dictating what this final thing is. And that's a much trickier problem, um, to unpick.
Baldur Bjarnason: [00:45:04] And it's like I'm softer. Drove and has obsessed about process over the past, everything from agile to waterfall and they're all obsessed with process and they still make absolutely rubbish app.
Or just failed completely. So it's, it's definitely not a solved problem. We can blame anybody who's making interactive storytelling for not having solved. Our problem is like if you do, you probably going to get rich.
Tom Abba: [00:45:31] The one thing I want to say about certain history of close is, and this is because it was an amnesty, Alister gray died who was a Scottish artist, writer, visionary.
There's a quote I picked up about an hour before we started recording this work because if you live in the early days of a better nation, I think. That's one of the things that's on a straight dose for me in that it takes for in its richness and its appreciation to medium is telling the story and the way it points to [00:46:00] other things.
I think it does largely sit there as the early days work. They exist in the early days for a better nation in that it reflects the reflects was good about his medium rather than what's clunky or what's just ate from another form and a sense of pretty where I want to finish. This first popper episode and say, I think maybe we are trying to find the work that points to a better nation, a better way of thinking about media, about storytelling, about digitally native storytelling, about work that exploits what's unique about this particular form, and the absolutely nods to the novel to film television, that that appreciates the difference rather than simply kind of becoming a blind photocopy of the other formats.