When trying to select my topic, I wanted to do something familiar to me. Such as a social networking site or a fashion trend I see every day. I feel this does not do justice for contemporary popular culture, though. Technology is the skeleton of popular culture today, supporting virtually every facet and fad. Every day more advancements in technology are being made, and we move further and further in to the idealistic and eerie imagery conjured up by old science-fiction novels.
Taking this in to account, I decided to select “Quick Response” codes as my topic. These “QR” codes are no longer for just the geeks and technology wizards. They are quickly becoming an every-day occurrence in magazines, retail stores, social networking, and every other component of our virtual and “real-world” lives. These codes are appearing more places than one would assume, and they usually are overlooked unless you are already aware of and looking for them. Many games, artists, and magazines are using these codes.
To give some explanation of QR codes, they rely on the same premises as normal UPC barcodes. An advertiser, artist or anyone can encrypt their own personal QR codes with any information they would like, such as URLs to their websites, a video explaining their product, or a simple text to give more awareness to the reader. To scan the code, all one needs is a camera phone. “Smartphones” are all equipped with the necessary technology to do this; one only needs to download an application (app) to get the necessary additional software. There are many free apps for this, and that is one reason they are becoming so popular.
A projection says that late this year, 51% of Americans with phones will have a smartphone. And this number is set to grow continually. (http://blog.nielsen.com/Nielsen wire/consumer/smartphones-to-overtake-feature-phones-in-u-s-by-2011/) That means potentially the entire population with a phone will have access to this technology. This, to me, still feels a bit too new, but it is catching on like wild fire. CBS morning news and other new sites have already done stories on the technology.
Personally, I have been seeing QR codes much more in 2011. When I went to watch a music video last month, there was a QR code to give trivia information and the like about the making of the video and the band. In fact, going to the Death Cab for Cutie website just now, the first image you see is a two-inch by two-inch QR code “clue,” apparently this is part of a series of clues, leading to something one can only find out if they use the QR codes. The band has teamed up with a company called Red Laser, which have an app to download the read the codes.
This trend is set to continue for a long while. Culture industry is going to use QR codes as a way to get to consumers. If you pass a shop at 4am when it is closed, you can scan the QR code and buy what you see in the window, just as easily. Shops will, and are, starting to use these codes as a way to bring attention to their stores. They are also trying to get a more loyal virtual following (such as linking the QR to their Facebook for people to “like”). Cultural populism, or the consumer, is accepting this trend. Not only do they get to use their lifeline (smartphone) to interact with space in a new way, they interpret these codes as helpful. Running late? Just scan the QR off the television and you will be able to watch your show on the go.
This trend differs from most because of its accessibility. Everyone, potentially, can do this. One does need a few tools, such as a computer, but that is quite commonplace now in America. There are many websites designed to help create these codes. With many other trends, the trend itself is “limited” to a certain group of people. Usually it is a sub-culture that has appropriated a part of another sub-cultures or decades fashion (such as the punk culture using safety pins). Or it is a certain sub-culture that has been the main consumer of a product (such as American Spirit cigarettes being bought by hipsters).
With QR codes, they are being used across all lines of culture. They are being used as a promotion tool for retail stores, an information tool on websites, a “fun” addition for musicians, and are even being knit/painted/sculpted in the art world. In the future, will we be seeing QR codes everywhere? They have already started to crop up in fashion (http://www.stuffhappeningnow.com/stuff/5), on business cards (http://www.fastcompany.com/1585822/business-card-just-scan-my-qr-code), and even tombstones (“Kuyo no mado” http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=B_t951pF4AE). Pop culture will definitely be seeing more Quick Response codes as time goes on.
Kuyo no mado” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_t951pF4AE