In 2016 I think I’d been toying with the idea of making stories with emoji, possibly inspired by Emoji Dick, the translation of Moby Dick into emoji. I realised there was a connection to the process of tarot reading and fortune telling. So I set out to tell people’s fortunes with emoji through a crystal ball.
The idea was to show them a series of emoji, chosen at random, and hopefully they’d read meaning into them as with horoscopes. Originally I wanted to use a fingerprint reader to somehow make a hash that could be used to select the emoji, so that the same person would would get the same fortune every time. Also the presenting of the hand onto the reader would add to the fortune telling effect. I didn’t have time to make that bit work in the end, so I used a big illuminated button instead.
Crystal balls are easy to buy on ebay but be careful not to leave them where the sun can shine on them, they act as lenses and can start fires. The ziggurat made of laser cut plywood houses a small monitor underneath the crystal ball. The monitor is connected to a Raspberry Pi in the base, which is configured to run a web browser on start up. The browser loads a page from a locally running web server which fetches a list of 4 or 5 random files from a directory full of PNGs of emoji (also served locally) as provided by Twitter. Then the emojis are faded in one after the other over a smoke effect, animated using jQuery.
Get your own fortune here.
The ball was housed in a head-sized tent made of bamboo canes covered with purple velvetish fabric. This tent, as well as emphasising the experience of fortune telling, served to make it safe to use outdoors in sunlight, what with the fire risk noted above. At the apex of the tent was a light that shone down on the ball. Pressing the button turned off the light and triggered code that caused the web page to reload.
When it was first deployed at EMF 2016 I found people were reluctant to stick their heads into a small tent to look down on the ball. The monitor is only visible if you look directly down from above. When I showed it indoors at Bristol Mini Maker Faire I left the tent off. Otherwise the monitor under the crystal ball effect worked quite well.
Generally the fortune from emoji reading didn’t work as well as I hoped. At first it picked from all emoji, I later improved it somewhat by removing flags and symbols. Possibly this can be improved by limiting the selection to a small set of evocative emoji.
I’m sure there’s a lot of potential in the area of emoji tarot and electronic fortune telling. I hope to revisit this in future.