The Making of Emoji Dick
It’s hard to imagine that Herman Melville didn’t roll over in his grave several times when the first hard cover copy of Emoji Dick was rolled off the presses. Yet, it seems somehow fitting that one of English literature’s most celebrated novels would be translated into the new iconic language of our time: Emoji. And, the fact that the Emoji translation of Moby Dick has been accepted into the Library of Congress is just par for the course in an era when the familiar landscapes of communication, human relationships, and even language are being rapidly altered by modern technological innovation.
Step One: Choose the right piece of literature to translate
The Emoji Dick project is the brain child of Fred Benenson, who is captivated by the way that language, communication and culture have been affected by digital technology. To his way of thinking, “Emoji are either a low point or a high point in that story, so I felt I could confront a lot of our shared anxieties about the future of human expression…by forcing a great work of literature through such a strange new filter.”
In choosing piece of literature to translate, Benenson wanted something that was in the public domain, less cliché than the Bible, and was long enough to demonstrate the scale of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Obviously, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick fit the bill in all regards. Plus, Benenson admits, “I also really like the whale Emoji, so that seemed like a good fit, too.” Thus, a new Emoji translation odyssey was begun.
Step Two: Kickstart a crazy idea for a major pictorial translation of Moby Dick
So, the next step of the journey was to get funding. Where better in this modern age than to put a query out on Kickstarter? This is especially true when you happen to work for Kickstarter as a data engineer, which Benenson does. He set up the Kickstarter profile for 29 days in 2009, with a funding goal of $3500. The Emoji Dick project raised $3676, and was off to the Emoji translation races.
Depending on one’s funding tier, investors could earn anything from their name and an Emoji sentence of their choice in the “Thank You” appendix or a limited edition of the hardback version of the published work.
Step Three: Get your project up and running on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
Benenson divided his Amazon Mechanical Turk workers into two groups: those who would do the translating and those who would vote on the translations to select the best versions. Moby Dick has 6,438 sentences. The Emoji translators provided three different translations for each sentence, and then the voting group cast their ballots. Everyone was paid.
The result of the collective efforts is a hard cover version with 736 color pages of Moby Dick, with the Emoji translations on the top and the original Melville text below. You can order hardback copies for the holidays to the tune of $200 or the soft cover version is available for $40.
Step Four: Get your “never-seen-anything-like-it” book accepted to the Library of Congress
It seems like this may have been the easiest step of all. Michael Neubert, a recommending officer for The Library of Congress’s collections, heard about Benenson’s project and was immediately taken. This version of the novel will be right at home with previous versions of the Moby Dick in the Library’s shelves, including a graphic novel and a pop-up version.
Emoji Dick is an impressive physical symbol of the intersection between the digital age, language, and modern day communication.