Contrary to what you might be thinking, these are not images of yet another crop circle hoax. This is what is known as a 2D barcode which has been mown into a wheat field for a special project called “Hello, World!”. 2-dimensional barcodes, often referred to as “QR code” have become ubiquitous in Japan and are also used in Europe. QR code (“QR” for Quick Response) was developed in 1994 by a Japanese company to replace traditional barcodes. Since they can store much more information and aren’t limited to numerals, many different applications for this new breed of barcode have become possible.
Beyond the supermarket checkout line, 2D codes can transmit web site addresses, text messages or physical coordinates, for example. Anyone can print up their own QR code for free, and all that is needed to decipher it is a camera phone. You just point, click, and software which comes in pre-installed in some phones (or can be downloaded without charge) decodes the message instantly. Here’s a Japanese commercial to demonstrate:
And here is McDonald’s take on QR code:
Although the original black and white code is still a standard, the next generations of colour codes can carry yet more information. The first 12 stanzas of the poem “The Walrus and The Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll, are encoded in the example to the left, which is about 2300 characters. With dozens of designs presently offered on the market in black & white and colour, there is no consensus in sight on what the standard will become. A blog called 2d Code monitors all the latest developments of this rapidly evolving technology and invites readers to participate. What truly attracted me to this topic, beyond the practical applications of this technology is the code itself, which I find graphically interesting. Here are other samples I’ve collected:
Creative uses. In their latest video for the song “Integral”, the Pet Shop Boys used QR code to reinforce the theme of the song — a commentary on the erosion of civil liberties. In the video, there are over 100 single frames of QR code which can be captured by pausing the clip. This instantly connects the viewer to various sites, online news articles and forums featuring campaigns for freedom and civil liberty.
Personally, I’m divided as to what to think about this technology. In a way, I see this code as a convenient way to transmit information that could just as easily be taken down with (gasp!) pen and paper. In another sense I am attracted to technology which allows for multiple layers of information to be conveyed in a creative way, as in the Pet Shop Boys video and I’m sure the possibilities could be further explored. And then of course, having been thoroughly schooled in the horrors of the second world war and with visions of 1984 on my brain, I couldn’t help but think it wouldn’t be very difficult to tattoo or implant those codes into individuals to better track movements and habits… But then that’s me being paranoid and people had similar arguments about the original barcodes. So who knows?
With thanks to Kevin Kelly’s Lifestream