November 27, 2008

Accumulating Dots to Make a Non-Illusion

I'm still slightly mystified by the QR Code reader ("quick response" reader, or "barcode reader") program in my mobile phone. The system has been around for a few years now, but for the longest time I thought it was used to scan for prices, like you would in a supermarket. These barcodes actually function as quick links to websites, and are scanned with and accessed through cell phones.

When I finally understood that the computer chip-like accumulation of black dots arranged in a square were barcodes, I started seeing them everywhere. They're used most predominantly to advertise websites for companies, and can be seen in the corners of ads everywhere,
from posters in trains to magazines to postcards that come in the mail. I even saw one on TV once, in a sweepstakes promotion: "to apply, just scan this barcode with your phone and follow the instructions on the website!" (The TV screen changed while I was still scrambling to activiate the barcode detection program.)

While the mere thought of viewing the internet on a narrow cell phone is enough to make me feel claustrophobic, the fact is that over half of cell phone users in Japan use the internet solely through their phones. This number is expected to rise in the coming years. Having gone from pilot project to phenomenon before acheiving ubiquity, the next step, it seems, is breaking away from the ugly black molds. This can be evinced by the Estee Lauder ad in the photo, with its cute Christmas tree icon. (Or it could be that they've already run out of variations of black dots and have decided to use color.) In the future, we'll probably be able to use photos as barcodes, zapping away at ads with our cell phones. I wonder if I'll still be loyal to my computer when that time comes.

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