New Aesthetic Watch: Are We More in Love with the Idea of QR Codes?

The installation view of Kyle Trowbridge's The Politics of Time at Dorsch Gallery. Image courtesy the gallery.
The installation view of Kyle Trowbridge’s The Politics of Time at Dorsch Gallery. Image courtesy the gallery.

LOS ANGELES — QR codes are almost certainly New Aesthetic. Right? Right? After my first post on a QR Code stencil, I was surprised to receive a number of pitches for other QR code-related art. If it’s not a zeitgeist, it’s certainly a trend. These black and white squares are certainly on the rise, and they represent a sort of computer-human relationship, wherein we require a smartphone to help us decipher and understand otherwise mysterious content.

But who scans QR codes? And where? QR code squares, like hand sanitizing stations, remain a mystery to me, as I almost never see anyone scanning to the codes. Not even in tech-savvy South Korea, where I saw QR codes everywhere and most phones are equipped to handle them.

A popular Tumblelog, Pictures of People Scanning QR-codes, gives us a hint. Its first entry has been forwarded around hundreds of times:

A screenshot of picturesofpeoplescanningqrcodes.tumblr.com.
A screenshot of picturesofpeoplescanningqrcodes.tumblr.com.

It’s a joke, obviously, but it has a larger point: who’s using QR codes? Other than for experimental purposes, I almost never scan them. And it’s not that they’re not useful, it’s that our smartphones aren’t yet equipped to handle them in a streamlined way. We can’t just scan them and get info — we’re still in the stage where we need to launch a separate app.

Perhaps the fact that, even despite this, QR codes are so popular should tell us something. Perhaps it’s because we like the idea of hidden information that can only be revealed by a smartphone. We just can’t be bothered to try.

With a hat-tip to @new_territories (aka Samantha Culp) for pointing out the tumblelog and the joke:


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