Gov’t Forms and Docs as storytelling medium

Challenge, Goal, & Tone

This week’s work, as with much of what I do at ITP, concerns itself with the gap in understanding between military and non-military populations in America. Despite being one of the largest institutions in American society, everything from the mundane day-to-day to the extreme edges of military experience is not terribly well understood. The goal, then, is to help bridge this divide and give people access to and understanding of the military in a way they didn’t before.

Tone is always tricky in this space. People at ITP often talk about playfulness and fun, but I feel like not enough time is devoted to the power of unpleasant or trying experiences – things that people may not want to experience more than once, but have power because of their unpleasantness. When looking at ways to translate military experiences into new storytelling mediums, this applies especially.

The Concept

For this week’s assignment, I decided to revisit a concept I’ve been working through in my head for awhile. One of my first user tests at ITP involved bringing a bunch of paper-based objects related to the military in just to see how people reacted to them. I was surprised to learn that people were really interested in official forms and documents and in learning more about their place in lived experiences.

Paperwork and recordkeeping is huge in the military. An individual’s paper trail could easily tell their entire military story, albeit in a very impersonal, official way. Because of how intense day-to-day experiences and their effects can be, many of these records and forms become infused with memories and emotions. Exploring how technology can give a form context and allow others to understand their greater significance is what I set out to do this week.

I decided to keep it simple given the short time frame. Though I think there are many types of sensory stimulation that can be paired with a document, I chose to focus on sound this week. I also decided to keep it to one form and one audio clip as a proof of concept, since the particular technology I was going to be using was new to me.


This week, I was able to chat with one of my friends who has no experience with the sort of technology I was going to be using but lots of experience with military forms and paperwork. We ran through a lot of forms and what sort of audio he might see as working well within the context of telling a story people may not be incredibly familiar with. We talked about the enlistment contract, deployment orders, the DD214 (discharge paperwork), and various medical paperwork. Though a large part of me feels like there is a lot to be learned from some of the more mundane paperwork, this week I decided to prototype using a form that exists at an extreme – the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) Card.


I used foil and an Arduino to turn the card into a touch sensor. I set up a sketch using p5 to play audio of a TCCC simulation when the form is touched.

I’m not super happy with it. One, I had never created a touch sensor and didn’t have time in a week to totally make it work. It’s rather buggy. In retrospect, the particular form and audio that I chose to use to test the concept of forms as story was not that great. I think there are probably far better things out there.

I would like future iterations of this to come about as a result of interviews conducted with folks using forms as a way to draw out stories. In a week, I did not have time to set this up, but may revisit in the future.

p5 code written can be viewed here.

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