When Microsoft released its Windows 10 operating system for free in 190 countries Wednesday, it also gave the world the finger. Literally.
The new operating system is the first, and thus far the only, to include support for the “Reversed Hand with Middle Finger Extended” emoji — aka, the middle finger. As Emojipedia reports, despite the fact that Unicode, the global standards organization for emoji, made the character available more than a year ago, most tech companies have been really, really skittish about giving this particular emoji a go.
It’s odd to see major tech companies, like Apple and Google, assume the role of propriety police. It is, admittedly, in keeping with some of their other moralistic design choices: Both iPhone and Android phones don’t recognize swear words, for instance, and Apple’s official dictionary purportedly excludes thousands of other “controversial” words, besides: things like abortion, prostitution, pornography and suicide.
Let’s leave aside, for a second, the issue of whether software should even have that kind of soft-censorship power. There’s another argument to be made against Apple and Google’s finger-wagging: Namely, that the finger isn’t all that offensive in 2015.
Certainly the gesture raises eyebrows, and tempers, in many more polite circles. But it’s also become a more casual expression of protest, annoyance, excitement and rage, deployed readily by everyone from politicians and government ministers to athletes and celebrities. The middle finger has become “so well ingrained in everyday life in this country and others,” the law professor Ira Robbins told the BBC, that it simply doesn’t carry quite the same shock now as it did in, oh, 400 B.C.
Alas, change comes slowly — even in tech. Case in point: Windows 10 will display the middle-finger emoji if you view the character on a website or copy/paste it from somewhere else. But it will still not include the character in its built-in emoji keyboard. At least, not yet.
Dewey writes The Post’s The Intersect web channel covering digital and Internet culture.
© 2015, The Washington Post