Arguments in the Recent History of Emoji -- In honor of World Emoji Day 2018

The first emoji was created in 1999 on Japanese mobile phones. As of the time I (just) Googled, there were 2,666 existing emojis. For the sake of the flow of this article, please expect no funny pics of emoji in between sentences 😂.

Emoji: A step forward or back for our language?

During an event at which Apple announced new, upgraded emoji features (added icons, color effects, etc.), one of the company’s developers claimed that using emoji is in conflict with the development of understanding the English language: “The children tomorrow will have no understanding of the English language.”

Supporting this idea was a female blogger’s 24-hour experiment, in which she texted her friends and family using only emojis. After the experiment, she came to realize several challenges of [using] pure pictorial communication {with emojis}. First, emojis are not fixed in meaning and are highly open to interpretation across cultures or background knowledge. For instance, the use of an emoji of two hands palm-to-palm is not consistent across cultures. According to researcher Neil Cohn, “🙏” tend to be used by Asians to express appreciation (“thank you,” “please”), while Western cultures generally use it as a substitute for “praying.” In this case, if one emoji could stimulate various responses or sensations, it is beyond prediction how a complete sentence built by only emojis would trigger massive misinterpretation.

Second, emojis lack syntax to tie content together. For example, it is hard to express the idea of prepositions with the current choices on the emoji keyboard. This is important to consider because the lack of prepositions will limit one to discuss relationships between physical objects as well as more abstract relationships.

On the bright side, though, the use of emojis also fosters creativity by forcing the user to parse semantics without language. Susan Herring, a linguistics professor explained that emojis represented a sort of pictorial pidgin language — “the primitive tongue that emerges out of necessity between two populations with no common language.” Emojis could benefit communication in a similar way. With a red heart-shaped symbol, or a smiley/shy/cool face, the users’ emotions are accessible to the other interlocutor, even though their own working languages are not mutually intelligible. Also, in terms of sentence structure, what happens in Pidgin is that a sentence is usually comprised of nouns and verbs “strung together;” emojis, when used to express an intensified idea, also contain simple pictorial representations “strung together.” For example, in Pidgin language, “extremely quick” would be “quick quick;” in emoji, “a lot of love” would be represented by multiple hearts, and “a lot of work” might come out as multiple symbols of papers and pencils. In addition, emoji is also a favorable outlet to express visual metaphors that are sometimes too obtrusive to put in words, like the eggplant emoji that appears frequently in raunchy conversations.

Diversifying emoji.

In response to criticism, a new series of emojis was released by iOS to expand the representation of skin tones starting from iOS 8 in 2014, which received mixed comments. Paige Tutt, a black English female writer, acknowledged Apple’s good intent but thought it was a turn for the worse: she felt compelled to use the “appropriate” brown-skinned nail-painting emoji that was just one of the many emoji characters that were just white emoji wearing masks. She suggested that Apple remove the racialized emoji altogether.

Some people argue that it’s bad that we have so many food emoji characters and so few about women. An assistant professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University, who labels the phenomenon “ridiculous” that there are more emojis for food than for women, asks: “How was there space for both a bento box and a single fried coconut shrimp, and yet women were restricted to a smattering of tired, beauty-centric roles?” This sharp comment facilitates readers to recognize some unsolved issues among emojis. It is downplaying the status of gender-unrelated emojis represented by “a bento box and a single fried coconut shrimp.”

This specific critique seems to ignore that food is a cultural marker, and a variety of emoji food is actually its own form of diversity. Can’t we have food and more women at the same time?

But in this quote, the broader principle that emoji needs to be more diverse is well taken. For example, Google initiated a movement that added thirteen emojis to represent women in professional roles in business and healthcare.

Adding emojis isn’t so easy.

The popularity of emoji has caused pressure from vendors and international markets to add additional designs into the Unicode standard to meet the demands of different cultures.

As a matter of fact, to have an emoji character be added to the keyboard, it has to go through the process of being proposed to, voted on and approved by the Unicode Consortium, which is a lengthy process coordinated by the Consortium. Why do we need such consortium to coordinate the process? Think about the following scenario:

Now on the iOS emoji keyboard, there are woman & woman & love, male & male & love, family with two sons, family with two girls, and family with a boy and a girl, etc. What about families with three sons? Having a (customized) emoji might give their user experience a more directly accessible sense of identification, but it takes forever to search and find certain emojis. How can we balance efficiency and degree of customization on the keyboard?

Where is emoji going next?

How are companies working together on this? How are software solving that problem? How is the role of emoji changing? Is it made more standardized or divided? What are your questions about emoji and how might you approach answering them?

View (or clap!) for my original post on Medium:


The Perfect Ambiguity

I met a sweet, outgoing, and stylish Chinese classmate around my age, Yi at the summer improv course at the university. To be more specific, Carnegie Mellon University, where the best School of Computer Science and School of Drama coexists. Shortly after we got to know each other, she invited me to grab dinner with her husband at a Turkish place near campus.

That night, we talked about our experiences in the US as non native speakers of English. The couple shared their concerns about their lack of mastery of the English language, especially in getting their points across in group conversations.

I also expressed my appreciation to Yi, mostly on how brave I thought she was in the improv class we took together, where she absolutely put herself out there, jumping into actives and just, having fun with us the whole time.

Her husband, Lao Yang, a reserved while witty one, decided to share with me something they odd they encountered in Boston a few weeks ago, where he claimed that “my wife thought my response to the English native speaker was a little rude.”

“Tell me tell me tell me.” I urged.


“Okay, so we were hanging out near the Harvard campus,” Lao Yang said. “My wife had this CMU sweatshirt on. A middle-aged Caucasian man approached us, asking us if we went to CMU. I said yes.

“The guy asked, ‘At the School of Computer Science?’

“I said yes again.

“He was really excited, saying all the best things about how great CMU was in the field of Computer Science.

“I felt really flattered.

“Then, out of nowhere, he pointed to the young college girl next to him and went like: ‘She goes to Harvard, at the CS program too, which is better.’

“I stumbled. ‘Maybe.’ That was all I was able to respond. And the man never continued the conversation.” Lao Yang paused.


“Isn’t my husband rude?” Yi jumped in, “He should probably try harder to at least agree with that guy…”

“WAIT. Didn’t he ask you a question?” I interrupted them abruptly.

There was a pause.

“What?” Lao Yang was super curious.

I repeated: “The guy was trying to be funny by asking you a question, no? Which is better, CMU or Harvard, in Computer Science?”

“Oh my. That makes so much more sense!” They said.

There, a moment of revelation, where the three of us laughed so hard and gladly realized that the man wasn’t just an antisocial narcissist.

“Um, I am pretty sure he wasn’t asking a question. He didn’t raise his pitch at the end of the sentence,” Yi followed up with this piece of evidence.

“Only the yes/no questions will end in a rising tone. The which/what/how questions won’t,” I responded and gave a few examples.

Yi continued, “Right after that odd conversation with the guy, I told my husband that we could’ve said something nicer like ‘Oh although Harvard is better in its arts sectors, CMU is quite strong in Computer Science.’”

“Don’t worry. The guy might be confused too. I guess he was trying to make a joke that nobody understood,” I said.

“He must have thought we were such weird foreigners!” Lao Yang still felt guilty.

“Nah,” I said, “I am pretty sure he’d have told this same story to his English-speaking friends, and they’d probably have challenged him and told him that he was being rude too, saying that ‘my niece goes to Harvard, which is better.’”


After my invigorating conversation at the dinner with Yi and Lao Yang, I couldn’t stop thinking about their choice to say “maybe” at the moment. What I see is that there actually isn’t a right or wrong in cases like this. What if, as an English-as-second-language speaker, he didn’t feel awkward to ask the guy to repeat? Same for the guy as a native speaker too — he could have explained himself after hearing Lao Yang’s near-choking “maybe” — instead of offering mere silence and awkwardness in return. Right?

A lot of times, interpretation is based in part on our own lack of confidence, or overconfidence. I urge that we not be discouraged to continue the conversation.

 Image from Tanaka Tatsuya’s /

Image from Tanaka Tatsuya’s

P.S., Special thanks to Alex at the CMU writing center, who taught me the “multi-paragraph rule” about quotation marks. Alex said that it was an invigorating experience chatting with me, being able to talk about something they never had the chance to. There, I learned how to use the word “invigorating.”

If enjoyed this article, how about clapping it on my original post on Medium?

When Happiness Is So Overrated

I have been on Flickr for a while, especially as a big fan for its "Organizr" function that allows a single photo to be included in multiple galleries. With Flickr acquired by SmugMug, I decided to explore what SmugMug has to offer. 

I transferred some old photos and uploaded a few more. Then I received the following message on the screen: 

"Hooray! That's 1 happier photo.:)"


I was confused. My photo wasn't even close to a happy photo. It was neutral, it was mellow, it was just...not happy. And there I saw the emoticon at the end of the message: colon & close parenthesis. 

SmugMug, a paid service with some powerful customization functions and a not-so-bad organizer itself, is giving me a hard time to get over its logo: A HAPPY FACE. 

I used to think that if there was anyone who wouldn't be irked by the overloaded happy faces, it'd be me. The thought lasted until I read an article (on a Chinese literature exam!) by Guoping Zhou, a critique on the mere pursuit of "simple happiness" 10 years ago on a Chinese literature exam.

At that time (in 2007), a college professor in Chinese culture studies, Dan Yu, became a popular TV figure after starting to tell Confucius' stories in Analects 《论语》in simple language. Yu concluded that what Analects proposed, was "to follow one's heart and be happy." For the Chinese society then that was more of a money-oriented society (I guess it's still the same now?), it was a powerful message for a lot of hardworking and direction-seeking Chinese people. As a teenager, I was intrigued too. Learning about how the dry tomes were sending such lightweight messages made me believe that "I should be one of those happy people too." 

Meanwhile, many academics were criticizing Yu's oversimplifying of the classics too. Among those voices, Zhou's critique of Yu, however, stayed more relevant to me. In his critique, he claimed that Yu's lectures were able to send some needed messages for the stressful Chinese society, and that her choice to interpret the classics in her own way was well justified. What was not cool, Zhou continued, was her hasty interpretation of the life of the mind (心灵生活) to be "the happiness of heart," which in many cases of her storytelling, called for the compliance of roadblocks that "makes you unhappy." 

The core of either Analects, Plato, or the Bible, Zhou suggested, were world views, which all communicated unique and profound intensions. "To be happy," in contrast, was merely a mental state, or at the most a certain mental state that some world views would agree with at times. Profound world views, Zhou concluded, were not just about embracing happiness, but being involved with the greatest sympathy of mankind. And in response to societal realities, the solution should never be self-detaching, but steadfast criticism. 

Then, I thought about Russel's three passions.

The longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.


How depressing am I? Quite I guess. Let me think about SmugMug’s “That’s one happier photo” this way: the photo is uploaded, and it is why it is happier. The pursuit of sharing and to be seen is a nice world view, I guess.

acne studios_face.png

(If you'd like to) Clap for my post on Medium:

A link to Zhou's original article in Chinese:


Mind If I Practice the Piano Privately?

My best friend called me on FaceTime, insisting that he play me a song he had been practicing recently on his electric piano.

Something Richard Clayderman for sure, I knew it. His piano pieces were always so familiar on the ears, so soft, and sometimes like an infinite loop that seems to have no end.

“OK! You are starting to loop the song!” I attempted to stop him at a seemingly appropriate place in the music sheet.


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What does Educational Technology Mean to Me When I Approach Educational Content Design?

I’m passionate about designing an experience for students to tell their stories, enhance their confidence, and see the value of what they’re learning. Because I’m passionate about letting the students feel like experts, I’m conscious of a problem in using educational technology wherein students do not feel confident or expert in certain tools. I solve this problem by focusing on the learning goals of the project beyond the technology.

I have been trying to understand the relationship between education and technology. On Wikipedia, I see that educational technology is "the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources". What does it mean to me when I approach educational content design?

In the case of a recent photography workshop, I was able to inhabit both roles, subject matter expert and a content designer. I learned a few things about how these two roles could interact and benefit from each other.


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Two things happened lately. 

As someone with the minimum sense of direction that you could ever imagine in a person, I follow the same path from one classroom to another. On my Tuesdays and Thursdays of this semester at 10:20 am, after my Application of Cognitive Science class, I'd go downstairs to the ground floor of Baker Hall, exit the building, walk to the fifth floor (ground floor) of Wean hall, take the stairway to go down to its fourth floor, and take the bridge to Newell-Simon Hall.

The stairway from fifth to the fourth floor has been good, where I find interesting posters about plays and events that I found intriguing. Until last week, that it has become fantastic

The photos I grabbed with my phones were not able to do the experience justice. So here is a link to a documentation of the installation.

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From One-Button Simplicity to Infinite Doubts

Last semester, I was working with several classmates on a design project that aimed to foster the documentation process for a group of high school students. These students were working in teams designing games or apps while did not have an existing documentation process. 

When we were researching on the scope and context of the high school students' projects to better understand their needs, we got the chance to interview their mentor, John. In our discussion, he discussed some current practices of students documenting and the challenges that came along with it. For example, how can students document moments, such as taking photos or videos, without "breaking the creative flow?" 

Sometimes certain technologies sound easy. Like a simple one-button that takes a photo of the room when anyone presses on it. However, John proposed a question:

Then who is supposed to be in control of it? 

I couldn't forget about the discussion on this button for the longest time.

   "Will you press the buttons?" 

"Will you press the buttons?" 

As a photography fanatic, I realized that I have this same one-button on my camera too: the shutter that takes one click to take one more photo. Being so effortless to take a photo, it also brings complexities: for one, by having more photos taken, it brings the challenge of managing a larger photo storage, spending longer time to saving photos (and potentially deleting some), and a lot more file management work. The questions, in this case, has become

How should I control the power of controling it? 

Let's Talk about Rejection Letters Like We Talk about...

Seven years ago before I came to the US, as an ambitious high schooler in Southern China, I applied for 12+ undergraduate college programs in the United States. Rejected by most of them, I was surprised to have spent some good amount of time studying the language of rejection letters. I quickly drafted a piece where I quote statements in the rejection letters and interpreted each statement in the form of a relationship rejection. It then went rogue in the college application BBS. Seven years later, I wonder if it is still relevant to me. Absolutely. I am applying for jobs, no? 

I hope you find some joy & peace in my writing below. 


The admissions selection committee has reviewed your application for admission for the fall of 2011.

I received your love letters the other day.



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"Your Next One Is On Us"

Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we'll make it right.

In 2008, Starbucks posted the above promise in stores. However, it wasn't until last week that took a minute and thought about what it means. 

Last Thursday, I was at a Starbucks near campus. Because I planned to customize my drink extensively, I decided to make an order through the app. When my order was ready, I asked to confirm: "this is decaf, right?" The barista said no. I checked my order again and realized that the customization wasn't added to the order.

It's my own fault then, I thought.

The barista saw my hesitation and offered this card to me. 

photo of card.jpg

Though I felt a little guilty for accepting the card at first, I came around and appreciated Starbucks more. (After all, with this strategy, Starbucks potentially makes more profit considering that the customer might make a purchase over the $4 amount on the card).

No matter whose fault it is, a better drink is on them. And maybe I could help Starbucks improve their mobile app sometime soon. 

Hispanic or Latino? —Yes, No, and None of-the-above.

When I was filling out a job application on Workday, I came across the following question and was profoundly confused. I normally just quickly select no between the yes-and-no, but this time...I wonder what the survey collector will learn about the applicant from the third option: "None of the above.

hispanic or latino.jpg

Always curious of topics on diversity and cultures as such, I didn't want to assume anything before learning more about it. 

According to Wikipedia (entry: "Hispanic-Latino naming dispute), 

The usage of both terms has changed to adapt to a wide range of geographical and historical influences. The term "Hispanic" was used first; later, some Hispanics in the western United States came to prefer the term "Latino".

Why do job applications ask for this though? I found some responses on and discussions on Quora

These memes also educated me on understanding the differences between the terms "Hispanic", "Latin@," "Spanish," and more.

Well, back to UX design: the following examples is not user-friendly in terms of how they apply buttons for different purposes. In Q15, (compared to Q16,) if they want survey takers to select only one answer, it implicates that the two answers are mutually exclusive: they should use a Radio Button. In Q16, the current use of Checkboxes is justified. 


To learn more about the use of Radio Buttons and Checkboxes, see

Is There a Mirror Here in the Store?

When I was trying on an iWatch, I wanted to see how it looked on me. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store. 

When I was trying to decide which iPhone case worked best with my look and outfit, I wanted a mirror to help me choose. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store.

Why don't Apple Stores install mirrors? First I googled the question trying to see if anybody else had asked the question, but I didn't find it.

Now I am going to reach out to my contacts on LinkedIn and see what they think. 

 Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

When Google Calendar Didn't React to My Cancelled Flight

Stage 1 - Exposition
As an individual who plans everything on Google Calendar, I have been its most needy fan. At the moment, I am about to check in for my flight to my dear friend Olina's for Thanksgiving. 

Stage 2 - Rising Action
The self-check-in machine says that my confirmation code does not exist. I check my email again — yes, there is a confirmation email, with a confirmation code. I am not happy. I have a confirmation code. My flight is marked on my Google Calendar, showing instant updates about its delay too. 

Stage 3 - Climax
After an agent from the airline company approaches me and takes some time looking my information up, he decides to call their company backend to check my situation for me. It turns out that I changed my flight unintentionally to another date. I don't have a flight to my friend's anymore, one day before the Thanksgiving day. I tell the agent that I can pay the difference, as long as there is still a seat. 

Stage 4 - Falling Action
Yes, they do have a seat. I paid. But all I can think about is to get on that plane and call the airline company later to argue my money back. It's not the agent's fault, he is just being helpful and wants me to get to my friend's for Thanksgiving. There must be some bug in the backend. 

Stage 5 - Resolution
I pass the security check, flip on my Mac, get connected to the Pittsburgh Airport free wifi (sponsored by Duolingo), and log onto my Chrome (Google Calendar being my homepage). Google Calendar has invited me to see its update, a major interface update -- flat designed, colorful, app-assimilated. Nicely done

google calendar screenshot

I decide to check my email threads again before I call the airline company as an innocent customer to argue for her money. And then...I find out that there is a second confirmation email, which indicates my flight to be on another day. But I have missed this second email all this time. And plus, since Google Calendar still shows the original flight on my calendar, based on the first confirmation email I received, and I thought I was still bound to leave. 

It is my mistake then, not the airline company's.

Or is it Google Calendar's? 



"You know you can mute your phone, right?"

Keywords: inquiry | empathy

 A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

Observation: in class, students tend to take photos of the powerpoint slides when necessary. Instructors don't usually show that they'd have a problem with it. I do that too. There was this one lady friend, however, takes pictures with the shutter clicking sound. 

Hypothesis: I was wondering why she wouldn't mute her phone. Maybe she forgot...or maybe she didn't know she could change the settings? Well. ANNOYING. 

More Observation: I started to pay extra attention to this classmate of mine when she lifted her arm to snap. Still. Shutter. Noise. Sound. 

Validation: I am weird enough to just approach her and ask that question.

Me: "Um, Asuka, you know that you can mute your phone when you take a picture during class right? I am just worried if the professor's gonna think you forgot to do it.  

Asuka: "Oh thanks. Unfortunately I bought this phone from Japan, and the sound cannot be muted at all. For privacy-protecting purposes."

Me:  (internally) Glad that I asked. I think I can be friends with her again... 

P.S.: Here is a Quora discussion on how one might turn off the shutter sound on an iPhone bought in Japan. Turns out it's not quite possible yet? 

Rating Inconsistencies on Google Maps

When I search for places of interest to visit, I pull out Google maps. This view (I'd call it "column view" here) helps me compare the ratings and overview information of recommended locations easily. However, I have noticed some inconsistencies in ratings in different columns (highlighted in pink).

stanley park.png

Any thoughts?

When A Real Genius Helped Me at the Genius Bar > iPhone Battery, Restoring, Firmware, and More

Not long ago, my less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6 suddenly started to die within several hours after being fully charged. This exact 10-month old iPhone 6 of mine, was actually a kindly-offered replacement from an Apple Genius Bar when the support team wasn't able to relieve the battery problem in my previous less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6. 

Concerned about this reoccurring battery breakdown, I headed over to the Apple Store located in Shadyside, Pittsburgh to seek help (and potentially get a new iPhone, but what if it breaks down again, well). 


The first technician ran a routine check on my battery hardware -- well, no problems found. He than just kindly advised that I restore my phone. (I went home, did it, battery still kept dying within a few hours.)

I went back hoping to get one more chance to save my young iPhone. A second technician, Gabriel, came to rescue. He told me how the battery would only recover if I restore my phone CONNECTED TO iTUNES instead of just restoring it on my phone like I did before. He said that this is the only way that the battery can be fixed through the problem in its firmware.

He helped me connect to an Air and restored it for me at the Genius Bar. Afterwards, my phone has been performing well in terms of battery. 


Where does my coffee cup go? (I mean it's good to have a recycle bin but...

  1. trash
  2. newspaper & magazines
  3. mixed office paper
  4. aluminum & steel cans; glass & plastic bottles

The above are four categories in the large recycle bin right out side of Sorrells Library @ Wean Hall of Carnegie Mellon University. It looks very considerate and comprehensive, but where should my coffee cup go? 

  Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

I still wasn't able to decide after 20 seconds of looking and checking, thinking what I must have missed. As an advocate of recycling, I hope this could me a little more encouraging.

I - I - I Can Do This

A lovely moment that I paused for after downloading the Origami Studios. The settings prompted:



"OFF By Default"

Every time I hear people clicking on a Mac, I would gently approach and ask: "I suppose that you prefer clicking over tapping?"

If they say "yeah I just don't like tapping," I'd drop it and say thanks.

However, if they respond: "what tapping?" -- I'd be thrilled to introduce how to set up the "tap to click" for them. Maybe it's just me (who prefers tapping over clicking just a little too much) -- but after one time I learned how a user didn't realize that this thing existed for years using a Mac, I decided to advocate for this function whenever possible. 

Every time I go visit an apple store and play around with the Macs, I feel lost without being able to click on tap. So it has been a reflex for me to go to settings, click on "tap to click" (and +++++++ the Tracking speed to its maximum." 

But why? Why is the default OFF for "tap to click?" Earlier today I asked someone working at an Apple Store after having him helped me on lots of questions about the new Mac. He said that he thought some people might just be confused by the tapping. 

For future discussions, some key terms that popped out of my mind: 

  • Control
  • Choice
  • Preference
  • Awareness
  • Habit

What do you think?

How to submit a rating

During the second year of my time in New York, a new carpooling service came out, "Via." Carpooling at a low rate within the New York City Manhattan area (now expanded to some more areas), at fixed rates between $4 to $7, despite the distance you travel as a long as it's within Manhattan. 


Lately, I have been having troubles submitting a rating (and comment). Similar to Uber, when I open the app, it would prompt me to rate for the previous ride experience. 

The problem is, as soon as I click on the star on the far right (to give it a five-star rating), my keyboard pops up and lays over the SUBMIT button. I tried to click the white space to write a comment an see if the submit button would show, but it didn't work. 

I then wrote a message to the via team and hope they could work on it soon.