QR Codes and the move toward participatory culture.
The Target Holiday Toy Sale catalog came in the mail today (a little early if you ask me, but that's another story). This is an exciting day for my son because he gets to celebrate his American heritage by participating in one of our great Nation's cultural trademarks: Consumerism. I relinquish the catalog to my five year old who tediously pages through it, circling all the items he wants for Christmas. The catalog is then mailed to Santa Claus who doles out the gifts come December.
In year's past, this little tradition has bought me enough quiet time to do the dishes or the laundry. Not so this year. In addition to the usual fare, the catalog contained intriguing white boxes marked with funny black patterns. “Mommy, what are these?”
QR Codes. He had my attention now.
“Let's see what they do,” I said. Page four of the catalog had three barcodes. Using the ScanLife app on my iPhone, we scanned the code next to the Imaginext Bigfoot doll. I love the sound the ScanLife app makes when it reads the code; so validating. The QR Code resolves to a video commercial for the doll, showing all the tricks it does. The other codes on the page also resolve to videos. There is another code in the coupon section that loads a mobile shopping site specifically for the Holiday Toy Sale catalog, so you can buy the items, and get the discounts right from your phone. Genius. All the information in the catalog's barcodes can also be accessed via text message. You text a code to Target, and they text you the link. It seems to me Target could have taken the use of the QR codes even further, but I assume they are testing the water with this campaign.
Having only recently made the discovery that my phone could be used to play video games, my son was doubly fascinated by its ability to enhance his fantasy shopping experience. He can barely read, but he can use ScanLife on my iPhone. Great. He is growing up in a world where touchscreens are standard, video-chatting with Grandma and Grandpa is old school and print media is becoming interactive. I read and write about barcodes everyday and sometimes its hard to see the forest amidst all those trees, but every once in awhile (like tonight) it hits me that the way we archive and access information is changing— and in a historical context, that is huge.
With the introduction and growing adoption of 2D barcodes, we are not longer ambling down the road toward Participatory Culture, we are running. Information is archived in a 2D barcode, accessed by anyone with a smart phone and from that phone, shared in myriad ways, across multiple channels all in a matter of minutes. The ability of the individual to make a significant impact on another human being or on contemporary culture as a whole, has been blown open by the 2D barcode. As usual, the advertisers are among the first to catch on and as we become more exposed (perhaps, overexposed) to brand messages in the palms of our hands, we must be vigilant about remaining conscious of what messages we are receiving and processing. As with any new technology, there is potential to either make us more engaged or to disengage us altogether. Which will it be?
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