While most of us only take note of the work being done at Unicode when it drops a new set of emojis, the organisation is responsible for standardising the way computers around the world display characters. It's serious business, and some Unicode researchers have had enough of this stupid emoji crap.
Image Source: Unicode
On Thursday, Buzzfeed News uncovered publicly available memos that collect feedback from some Unicode contributors on the new proposals making their way through the Emoji Subcommittee. The bulk of the angry comments in a memo from October 22 come from Andrew West and Michael Everson, two typographers who feel that Unicode is losing sight of its mission and is becoming too lazy in its emoji approval process.
Both men take issue with many of the new proposals, but none more than the Frowning Pile of Poo. In a 12-page document, the Emoji Subcommittee outlines why a version of the ubiquitous symbol for excrement is necessary, who in the world is clamouring for it, how it would be used, and what it might look like. Here it is:
The proposal explains that the smiley poo is intended to convey irony, while "the FROWNING POO emoji would allow users to discuss unfortunate things that are indeed shitty or that they are unable to joke about yet". Some examples of its usage in an emoji sequence include:
FROWNING POO emoji + DELIVERY TRUCK emoji = Shitload
FROWNING POO emoji + UMBRELLA WITH RAINDROPS emoji = Shitstorm
CHURCH + FROWNING POO emoji = Holy Shit
Michael Everson is having none of this. "The idea that our 5 committees would sanction further cute graphic characters based on this should embarrass absolutely everyone who votes yes on such an excrescence," he wrote. Everson sees the poo as a stand-out indicator of the commercialisation of Unicode's work, and after the turd that was The Emoji Movie, it isn't difficult to understand his point. Everson longs for a time when poo was poop. "Organic waste isn't cute," he commented. "It is a pity that Apple followed Softbank rather than KDDI in its reference glyph, since a coil of dog dirt with stink lines and flies is surely the only proper semantic."
West agreed with Everson that the poo has got to go and they both argued that this is the beginning of a slippery slope in which Unicode will have to provide options "such as CRYING PILE OF POO, PILE OF POO WITH LOOK OF TRIUMPH, PILE OF POO SCREAMING IN FEAR". Everson insisted, "As an ordinary user, I don't want this kind of crap on my phone."
Most of the other proposals didn't fair too well with the two men. One would assume that a fairly innocuous emoji for "microbe" would be met with little controversy, but Everson was not impressed. "The correct term is 'micro-organism' and that is a catch-all for single-celled organisms (bacteria, archaea, protozoa, unicellular algae, and unicellular fungi," he wrote. "This is really too broad a field for ordinary use." Regarding the salt shaker, West had some personal culinary concerns:
Why a SALT SHAKER but no PEPPER POT? It is not systematic. Instead of encoding random individually proposed emoji, the ESC should consider systematically encoding sets of related emoji. I recommend adding PEPPER POT for the use of people like myself who prefer to add extra pepper rather than salt.
The fact is, that one really seems nitpicky. In the world of today's internet, the salt shaker emoji might just be used to indicate someone is being "salty", meaning upset. But West's comment shows how serious Unicode's contributors take their role and the logical reasoning they use to make decisions. Systematically endcoding sets of related emoji sounds like a pretty decent idea.
This isn't the first time that Everson has publicly taken the emoji crew to task. Buzzfeed covered an internal argument that was along the same lines in 2016. It published selections from emails in which Everson lamented the state of the organisation that he's contributed to for decades. After the staff celebrated an emoji mention on The Late Show with Steven Colbert, Everson went off. From the report:
"It's delightful that everyone is so happy about Mr. Colbert, but I can tell you that many people are thinking that the UTC has lost the plot," he scolded. "Emoji, emoji, emoji. It's all about emoji."
Everson, who has spent decades encoding characters for Unicode - a 2003 New York Times profile cited him as "probably the world's leading expert in the computer encoding of scripts" - says that his frustrations stem from the consortium's failure to provide "actionable feedback" on a medieval punctuation proposal that he placed in front of the committee in 2007.
"I'm editing some documents in medieval Cornish, and I personally need some of these characters. Their absence is impeding my work," Everson told BuzzFeed News via Skype from his home in Ireland.
In October, the New York Times published a piece about the conundrum that emoji has created for Unicode. When it was first suggested that Unicode begin handling the standardisation of emoji in 2000, the group wanted no part of it. But companies such as Apple and Microsoft are members of Unicode, and when the failure to correctly display emojis on the big tech company's devices became a bigger problem the group took on the task. One benefit of the move is that companies and individuals who used to be slow to implement the new standards promptly do so today in order to satisfy the public's thirst. The downside is that time, attention and resources are diverted from the organisation's primary mission of standardising the alphabets and symbols of the world.
It's a common problem in today's tech world: While searching for big advancements that could make the world a better place, the industry often spends an inordinate amount of time on frivolous things, such as dancing hotdogs. If only there were some sort of symbol that could express my feeling that this is bullshit and it makes me sad.