Fortune Hunting by Lisa Young 2007

About This Site

The seemingly personalized fortune-cookie fortune is in fact a mass-produced item distributed to restaurants in batches. This random delivery system means that the fortune a given diner receives is mostly a function of chance. Even with this knowledge, many diners read their fortunes hoping to find an answer to a pressing question or recognize some part of themselves.

Over a period of years, I methodically saved the fortune-cookie fortunes I received while dining out. I curated my collection intuitively, keeping fortunes that presented an "accurate" description of myself ("you are contemplative and analytical by nature"), offered a sense of hope ("you will be fortunate in everything you put your hands to"), or evoked a rueful sense of misidentification ("you have great physical powers and an iron constitution").

I became interested in combining the randomness by which I received the fortunes and my desire to find meaning in them with a digital archive that could sort the fortunes in a systematic way. Fortune Hunting allows users to create an endlessly evolving series of narratives that explore both self-definition and chance, the incomplete and transitory nature of being and desired states of being, and the shifting nature of the personal pronoun "you." The anticipation, unexpected surprise (or possibly even disappointment) users experience as they construct searches continually enacts the same desiring mechanism (the need to construct meaning).

Fortune Hunting is like going through a trunk in an attic, sorting through a collection of someone else's things and making your own connections and re-readings. A series of Boolean "or" searches allows users to cast a wide net and capture fortunes along four different axes. Individual words can be selected using the "exact word" search (for example: every) or a "similar word" search (which would yield every, everybody, everyone, and everything). "You" can be searched as subject (you are) or object (about you). A third search captures all fortunes not containing the word "you" (example: art is the accomplice of love). In addition, fortunes can be searched along a fourth axis: "categories," which features my own interpretations of topics such as deferral, constancy, love, or luck. Through analysis and intuition, my categorical sorts create connections (both thematic and linguistic) that would not necessarily occur using keyword searches.

Users can also explore the corpus of fortunes by journeying off the main page through the "other models" portal. "Random Grab" displays sets of 5 randomly selected fortunes to the viewer, replicating the happenstance way fortunes are delivered to diners. The TaPor Collocator creates a visual web that shows related words connected by an intricate series of lines. "Portraits" and "Narratives" allow users to see authored sets of fortunes — descriptions and stories that emphasize personal qualities and narrative sequencing.

After users have completed their searches, they can view their results on a "picture page" which displays the images of the fortune cookie fortunes, or an "archive page" which displays the metadata attached to each fortune (allowing viewers another way to trace interconnections between fortunes). Lastly, viewers can move to a printer friendly page and print out their results, leaving each visitor with a visual record of their travels through the database.

Fortune Hunting is constantly evolving, and each visit to the site can involve a different interpretation of the material. New fortunes and subsequent subject, portrait and narrative searches continue to be added.

The Brown University Scholarly Technology Group:
Fortune Hunting was created with the support of the Brown University Scholarly Technology Group (STG). The STG provides advanced technology consulting to Brown humanities faculty, departments, libraries, and research centers. STG undertakes large and small projects in support of scholarly work in the digital medium and explores critical new technologies that are transforming scholarly work and helping to maintain its longevity.

Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR):
The TAPoR Portal is an online environment where users can experiment with a variety of tools for textual analysis. We use their Visual Collocator to explore relations between words in fortunes.

Brown University STG:
Lisa Young:
© Fortune Hunting, Lisa Young, 2007.

Special Thanks to Elli Mylonas, James Stout, Liz Cvitan, Simon Charlow, Shane Brennan.

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