I’ll be the first (well, one of the first) to admit that I am not the hippest cat on the planet. Note to self: find out if the kids are still using the phrase “hip cat”. I tend to be rather late to the party in regard to new fads and trends. For example, when I read People magazine at the doctor’s office, I am chagrined to realize that I don’t know most of the “celebrities” that grace the pages.
So I’m certain that emojis had been around for quite a while before they entered my consciousness. But now these little cartoons are everywhere. Proof of their ubiquity is that people like me (not me, mind you, but other old guys) are including them in texts and emails.
Before I come across as the old grouch who yells at kids when the ball comes in his yard, let me state for the record that I am not against adding a bit of whimsy…on occasion. But only on occasion. I’m not sure every written communication requires a Drooling Face or Call Me Hand. And I am more than sure that multiple doodads are never necessary. But in general, I view these little thingamabobs as inconsequential at best, mild irritants at worst.
However, as a sworn enemy of uninformed opinions, I felt that more research was needed before I dismissed these pesky little buggers out of hand. I went in with two assumptions: 1) Emojis are the product of artists who create and somehow distribute them at will, with no more than a good graphics package and Internet access. 2) Emojis are another sign of the erosion of writing skills (and perhaps the End Times.) Why carefully craft a sentence that clearly demonstrates both your message and emotion when you can throw in a Smiley Face?
Spoiler alert: Assumption #1 was shattered; Assumption #2 lives on.
My research began with a BBC World Service radio program, in which Jennifer 8 Lee (yup, that’s her name…I looked it up), a journalist and author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” discussed her campaign for a Dumpling emoji. “We think the Dumpling emoji is a serious omission.” Lee opined. After all, she argued, there are emojis for pizza, hamburgers and tacos, so why not dumplings? Hey, that IS a serious omission.
As it happens, emojis have to be approved by the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit corporation that ensures the standardization of software internationalization standards and data. Their cornerstone is the Unicode Standard, which specifies the representation of text in all modern software products and standards. This venerable group has 11 full voting members, each of which pays $18,000 per year for membership: 8 US multinational tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Google, as well as Germany’s SAP and China’s Huawei. The 11th member (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) is the government of Oman. Wait…what?
Anyway, the Consortium has a Technical Committee which is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and quality if the Unicode Standard. Since its inception, this has been a rather sleepy, engineering dominated body. Emojis are part of their remit; specifically, the purview of the Emoji Subcommittee.
Still with me? Good.
Now for an emoji to be approved, a written proposal must be submitted that explains the reason for a new emoji, the persistence of it (that it’s not a fad), and that other people are asking for it. In weekly meetings of the Emoji Subcommittee and quarterly meetings of the Technical Committee proposals are no doubt examined with immense gravitas and precision. Apparently, controversy is not unknown. Take milk for example. A glass of white liquid? Too vague. A carton? Too American. A glass bottle? Too antiquated. One can envision a debate akin to the Scopes Monkey Trial.
And how contentious must the discussion have been regarding the Pile of Poo?
The long, formal process of approving emojis can take two or more years. So, if you’re eagerly awaiting the opportunity to add a Dumpling to your writing, sorry Hemingway…it’s going to be 2017 at the earliest. In the meantime, I’ll be periodically checking in on the Dumpling’s progress to glory. And wondering in what context a message would require such an emoji.
As a result of my exhaustive (and exhausting) research, my view of these silly little pictures has evolved. Currently, there are 1624 emojis in the Unicode Standard, all of which had to pass through this rigorous approval process. Why, there is even a World Emoji Day (July 17th…mark your calendar!) I now realize that emojis are quite the deal.
But I’m still left with the sense that—with a little bit of effort—we could all write in ways that reduce the need for emojis. If you can’t imagine sending a message without a Pirate or an Eight Ball—especially in a business context—well friend, you have bigger problems. (If you must, imagine a Winking Face here.)
Today’s Fact Cetera
The first 76 emojis entered the Unicode Standard in 1995. The most emojis (973) were added in 2010.