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

A screenshot of

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:!/new_territories/status/192978066866323457

AX Mina (aka An Xiao Mina) is an author, artist and futures thinker who follows her curiosity. She co-produces Five and Nine, a podcast about magic, work and economic justice. 

11 replies on “New Aesthetic Watch: Are We More in Love with the Idea of QR Codes?”

  1. funny how every single advertisement in the NYC subway uses a QR code, but there is no way to engage the code/link until you reach the streets. as you say the simple image is enough to note exclusivity.

  2. I don’t have a smartphone yet, but I wouldn’t scan wild QR codes for fear of advertising or overly intrusive applications. Strikes me as trying too hard.  Why weren’t people making barcode stripe paintings in the 70’s?

    1. I would argue that Gene Davis’s stripe paintings kind of were “barcode”or a response to that kind of information reality (though I think he would deny that totally) … but they’re from the 1960s.

  3.  Other than, you know, people not carrying around hand-held barcode readers back then. Consider, though, only 19% of cellphone subscribers in the US have smartphones, and then you need an app to read the codes, and most QRs you see are for advertisements.

  4. Our fingers are just too big and clumsy on a tiny hand-held keyboard. The QR code lets you just point your smartphone at the code, and wha-la, the website pops up. You don’t even need to click a button. They’re free to get and use, and free apps for the phone makes them free for both sides. What’s not to like? Need to see more artistic codes – check out qr-codeworld. 

  5. i scan QR codes.  but then again i’ve made a QR – based work before.  BUT usually the QR codes are just functions of useless advertising.  launch the code to watch some video you have no interest in.  its just an extension of advertising.  once it is used in a more constructive manner it could “take off” but until then…..

  6. QR codes will go the way of the dodo when every smart phone has NFC capability and it becomes easy to embed NFC chips in just about anything. The technology is available, it’s just a matter of time waiting for adoption. While barcodes are still used and still relevant, I imagine QR codes will hardly be remembered a few years from now. But I will say, I thought the “Talk to Me” exhibition at MoMA used them in a way that made me wish they were used more often by entities other than advertisers.

  7. QR codes are utterly pointless, an awkward way to access unwanted information, and loved only by marketers.

    +1 for the Pepsi Clear reference

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