Future Tense

Behold the Horrifying Conclusion to Google’s Burger Emoji Controversy

A study in semiotic horror.


The internet is nothing if not a realm of conflict and controversy, but the past week has been marked by an argument that was even dumber than most. The trouble started, as it so often does these days, with Google. Notably, the company has routinely directed users to bad information about cooking in the past. But where its inaccurate instructions about onion caramelization represented an algorithm run amok, its latest controversy is more inexplicable.

The issue began, in this case, when users identified a problem with the company’s burger emoji, a design that inexplicably places the cheese beneath the patty.  

The outrage was righteous—and for once, it was mostly right. I can, I admit, almost understand the rationale: If you’re trying to delicately control burger temperature on the grill, attempting to properly time the rate at which cheese melts can be a small nightmare. Throw it on too early, and you risk turning it into goop before you hit the proper level of doneness. Too late, and you may sail straight past medium rare to something more appallingly Trump-friendly by the time it has melted.

That said, the decision to put cheese beneath the burger remains appallingly stupid. As the Verge rightly notes, the arrangement can only “result in a soggy doughy mess.” It’s stupid enough, in fact, that Google CEO Sundar Pichai weighed in over the weekend, cheekily promising to “drop everything else we are doing and address this on Monday.”

Far be it from me to tell the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company what he should be doing with his time. If I were in his shoes, I might prioritize protecting democracy, but I’m not the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company, am I? He probably has people looking into that for him. (He does, doesn’t he? Please tell me that he does.)

We know this much, anyway: Someone in the Google kitchens has a sense of humor about the whole mess. Today, lunch in one Google cafeteria reportedly included an “Android burger.” Let me tell you reader, it was a sight to behold:

The brioche bun glistens in the way that the ones I make at home never seem to. The lettuce is a little wilted, but aren’t we all after the week we’ve had? And the cheese? The cheese sits squarely on the bottom of the bun, oozing off in a way that’s sure to leave it coating the hands of hungry coders. It’s a mess, and it’s awful, and it’s real.

The pleasure and promise of emoji has, of course, always been a product of their imprecision. Here, however, we bear witness to a terrifying possibility. Where once we shaped these strange sigils to fit our own needs, soon they might bend reality around themselves.