What If No One Spoke For A Year? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
For most of history, human beings have communicated with one another using sounds we make with our mouths. The debate continues as to when or why we started doing so but what if, for one trip around the sun, we stopped doing it altogether? In this video, Unveiled reveals what would happen if nobody spoke for an entire year!

What If No One Spoke for a Year?

For most of history, human beings have communicated with one another using sounds we make with our mouths. The debate continues as to when or why we started doing so but what if, for one trip around the sun, we stopped doing it altogether?

This is Unveiled and today we’ll be answering the extraordinary question: What if no one spoke for a year?

There are a few parameters for this particular scenario. First, the silence would have to be involuntary, because there’s zero chance that 7.8 billion people would just “not talk” for 365 days if they didn’t absolutely have to. To that end, we’re imagining that we’re physically incapable of speech, somehow, perhaps because of a mass change to our vocal chords. And, finally, in this alternate world humanity is also without computer software, hardware, or artificial intelligence designed to replicate or produce new, human speech. So, how would we cope?

Much of social interaction is clearly built on our ability to communicate with each other. Although texting, messaging and email have now become the preferred method when chatting from a distance, in-person we still for the most part try to muddle through using spoken word. But, now, in-person text conversations would be the new normal - with groups gathered around, faces glued to smartphones, typing out everything they have to say. As a back-up, in case of poor phone reception or just for those who are less technologically-savvy, a notepad and pen would be daily essentials. In either case, though, we’d probably see some people “saying” a lot less to each other, unprepared (or uninspired) to write in detail what they really think or feel.

Of course, there are other options for nonverbal communication, not least sign language, which would now be taught as standard in schools, becoming a much more prevalent essential skill. With “just” a year to learn it, though, it’s unlikely that the whole world would be expert, conversational signers by the end - with most people mastering just a few key phrases, instead. For some scenarios we could also expand on beepers, tones and sirens, so that everyone recognizes a certain sound as a translation of a certain word - maybe there’d be a universal noise for “help!”, for example.

Elsewhere, body language would take on even greater significance. In this way, we can all already communicate without speaking, but a year without words would bring in all new habits and mannerisms. The way we physically wrote something would convey our emotions more than the words themselves, while dancing might suddenly become a favorite pastime - along with physical comedy. Ultimately, a speechless society could push humanity to create a truly universal language. Although, there are some claims that we’ve already achieved this, with emojis. Make of that what you will!

Without words, the affects would be felt in all corners. Teachers would have to completely change the way they instruct students, for example, with most classes led by text on boards and handouts. We’d see a whole school year of children one year behind on actually learning to speak… and there’d be a more urgent need to teach Braille at school, given the difficulties that blind or partially sighted people could experience in a world without speech.Countless other jobs would be impacted, and while some could more easily switch to text communications, others couldn’t - with anyone from surgeons to firefighters to air traffic controllers facing major problems. In those cases, people’s lives hang in the balance, based on our ability to communicate quickly and clearly with each other. And that’s before we’ve even considered having to revamp how emergency calls would work… without speech, they’d have to play out as a series of non-descript alarms.

Other distinctly “verbal” lines of work include the police, and all across the military. Although hand signals in these fields are fairly common in tense and high-pressure situations, more specific, vocal orders (often over radio) are also vital in accomplishing goals. On the one hand, the military is tried and tested when it comes to written instructions, having worked from telegrams for much of its history. On the other, there’s the risk that written messages could be lost, intercepted, or false orders could be more easily crafted and sent by enemy agents. Whatever happens, it’s difficult to imagine anyone waging war without a single person speaking a single syllable.

Which isn’t necessarily to say that this would be a peaceful time. In fact, there could be chaos. Global politics would naturally work totally differently if no-one spoke, without debates or speeches to shape it. National governments would go from being some of the loudest and rowdiest environments we know, to being just as quiet and serene as everywhere else. World leaders wouldn’t be able to rely so much on charismatic, attention-grabbing presentations, with their popularity instead resting on just their policies (and their writing ability). The economy, too, would surely see changes. Any transaction which requires participants to talk - like a car sale, or a house sale, for instance - would inevitably slow down… while the market for any type of written communications device - from tablets to fax machines - would soar. And for anyone trading shares, well, the stock market would be a much quieter place! Take away speech entirely, and we could soon be threatened with recession and depression.

Advertising would also need an overhaul... although our own enforced speechlessness needn’t necessarily affect anything which had already been recorded - so we’d be stuck hearing the same advertising jingles over and over again. In fact, audio engineers could quickly find themselves in high demand, tasked with cutting and splicing all previously recorded lines of speech to give them new meaning. Most forms of entertainment could draw upon this. In music, all performers would be forced to lip-sync to old songs; in film and TV it would be endless repeats, plus the occasional original production - cobbled together by cutting together the audio from older shows. Those less interactive forms of art and media, like visiting museums or cultural landmarks and reading books, could surge in popularity as a result... all while our consumption of the news would also change - with live TV news making way for the revitalized newspapers.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, there’s the psychological and spiritual impact that this change would have. For anyone following any kind of Faith, religions would be solely scripture-based - without the delivery of sermons or readings, and perhaps with fewer congregations. Meanwhile, in general society, an inability to speak to each other could provoke a rise in various mental health conditions - including anxiety, depression and loneliness. There are some studies, though, to suggest that quiet periods actually benefit mental health, and taking a “vow of silence” is a key part to some religions - encouraging people to forge a meditative connection with God. But, silence in this way is usually a choice, and it’s not often undertaken for as long as a year. Even once the world population had adjusted to a total and all-encompassing silence, then, there’d no doubt be some who would cope better than others.

Regardless of who you are, what you do, or what you believe, however, involuntarily not speaking for an entire year would have a profound effect on society once it was over. There are other ways to communicate which aren’t verbal speech, but such a massive change would mean completely rethinking almost all aspects of daily life. And that’s what would happen if no one spoke for a year.