I attended an art show titled ありがとう “arigatou” (thank you) on Saturday, November 9th, at Sanman Studios. The gallery displayed 30+ images, screened short films, and included a pop-up shop. Among the works of art, I encountered something unexpected — a petition.
Artist Cary Fagan posted a petition to create new chair emojis. Brilliant. I was intrigued because since working at Google and attending law school, I’ve been interested in the intersection of creative industries, technology, and policy. It’s niche. But not to Fagan. His petition was clear, “we (the citizens of the free world) demand that Apple Incorporated fully fund and create chair emojis as soon as possible.” Art, activism, and technology collided.
For Fagan, chairs represent something more than objects — Chairs are People. Through his art, Fagan has been exploring the concept that chairs are one universal object that connects cultures worldwide. Fagan was not satisfied that in a world full of chair personalities, only one chair emoji exists: an airplane seat. Test it for yourself. You’ll see.
For Fagan, “chairs are fascinating because they address both physiology and fashion, they represent an effort to balance multiple concerns: artistry status, gravity, construction, and comfort.” Fagan asserts, “the art of stacking chairs is a visual representation of how I see a community and how when we come together we build something.”
I share Fagan’s novel recognition that products we use daily, connect us with cultures far away. Everyday objects unite us. Consider the many variations of a coke, a writing pen, a coffee cup around the globe — different shapes, sizes, labels, branding, and personalities — same function, same product. This realization led me to create a cultural exploration blog titled Myriad United, years ago. So when I saw Fagan’s petition, I immediately was drawn to his activism. My legal training made me consider how we could implement the emoji change.
The Unicode Consortium curates emoji. Of the consortium’s membership, only around 17 have the power to vote. Google, Facebook, Huawei, Microsoft, Apple, and Netflix, for example — and even the Government of India can—vote. Full membership costs $21,000 per year.
However, even without membership, anyone can propose an emoji. Selection depends on specific factors that boil down to, “a) will the image work at the small size at which emoji are commonly used, b) does the emoji add to what can be said using emoji or can the idea be expressed using existing emoji, c) is there substantial evidence that a large number of people will likely use this new emoji.” So to create an emoji, you submit a proposal and, the voting members give it the thumbs up or down. Simple enough.
A successful sample of an emoji proposal for a Salt Shaker is here.
Whether you support the creation of a new chair emoji or not, the fact that the artist, Cary Fagan, recognizes that some products like chairs are ubiquitous and transcend cultural divisions is pretty cool. It’s cool that he’s executed this concept through the platform Chairsarepeople. People from around the globe share their version of a chair with him so he can share their perspectives through his medium. Fagan’s chairs remind us that we are members of a global community. In a time where nationalism, division, and demonization have become the norm, Fagan’s chairs represent unity; and his petition reminds us to challenge the arbitrary limitations placed on us by technology, more specifically the creators of technology operating systems.