Trina is a “design fiction for the digital humanities.” It is one manifestation of the Micro Mega Meta project and is currently a live performance — reading + slide show + electronic sound accompaniment (think PechaKucha meets La Jetée). Trina uses design and fiction to investigate the future of Humanities research and to question the socio-technical systems of emerging technologies for reading and writing.

The Trina Story

Trina is an unemployed literary scholar who works alone in an RV in the desert, taking on text analysis H.I.T.s (human intelligence tasks) for Humanitas, Inc. to make ends meet. In spite of her isolation, Trina is connected to the digital world through solar and satellite. It is through Trina’s eyes that we see the software-mediated daily reality within which the mystery of a cryptic, typewritten document unfolds. But it isn’t until she gets into the gendered history of the typewriter and assumes the hands of the typist that she is able to decipher the document’s hidden meaning. And although Trina herself works with devices implanted in her eyes and her hands, it is her embodied relationship with writing that renders her a cyborg.


Design Fiction as Theoretical Inquiry

The action in Trina happens within imaginary interfaces — what Matthew Fuller would call “speculative software” — “software whose work is partly to reflexively investigate itself as software. Software as science fiction, as mutant epistemology.” One of the applications Trina uses, the interface for accessing and contributing to the “Commons,” imagines reading and writing in a three-dimensional virtual environment built for critical interpretation that affords ambiguity, multiple perspectives, and situated, subjective judgment. Inspired by Jerome McGann’s notion of n-dimensional texts, this imaginary tool is a response to his call for a digital spatial textuality that is autopoeitic. It is the result of critical making experiments and VR prototypes designed to explore and model McGann’s ideas.

The project also questions the appropriateness of technology development best practices, such as user-centered design, for the creation of software for critical interpretation. Informed by Lucy Suchman’s research into how designing human-computer interactions involves configuring the “human” in tandem with the “computer,” the project asks, what model of “the human” is best suited to the design of technologies for interpretation? But rather than attempt to model a user, or even a “human,” the Trina project attempts to model subjectivity. It is an experiment in prototyping a complicated, messy, and situated subject in tandem with her digital counterpart.

Informed by theories of distributed agency (Latour, Haraway, Suchman), the story and its design also examine how texts might be understood as resulting from situated configurations of writing technology, language, and the body. 


Trina Forms and Formats

Trina is conceived and produced by designer Anne Burdick (Digital_Humanities, Writing Machines) in collaboration with writer Janet Sarbanes (Army of One), with live-electronic sound accompaniment by sound artist Casey Anderson. It may also become a narrated slideshow that can be viewed online and a graphic novel that can be read in print.

The video shown here is an early draft of Part One of Trina. Fuller documentation of Trina‘s final form will be posted online soon.