The Life and Death of the QR Code: Part II. Unlife

Why HELLO again. And welcome to the second part of our extremely groundbreaking exposé on ticketing, QR codes, kittens, death, Ticketmaster, technology and Picasso paintings translated into emoticons (‘“8-((‘[  =  Guernica). Last time we met we had far too much fun discussing the origins of the QR code, and today we’ll take a look at how they infiltrated our phones, buildings, and, ultimately, hearts. In like an artery blockage and not emotionally fuzzy sort of way.

In 2011 the Social Media Examiner wrote this:

“The potential for QR Codes is limitless.  What’s most exciting is how they take what social media is doing well now, bringing people together with technology, and extending it to enhance the experience.”

Let us pause for a second to LOL. Okay moving on:

“The next generation of barcodes will hold even more information – so much that an Internet connection will not even be necessary.  The content will be effectively embedded in the code.  Imagine scanning a digital code to manifest physical reality?”

Yes imagine! Then imagine more! And then imagine yourself back to actual manifestly physical reality where QR codes hold the same amount of information as they always have and much less sway over consumers.

Mean girls QR codes not going to happen

The jump from barcode to QR code was a queer one to begin with. The barcode, as we saw in the last post, was an unsexy invention associated with the absolute height of human dejection, as made clear in any bright-eyed new Trader Joe’s employee who’s had her soul and passion for grocerying stomped aggressively into the ground even while scanning TJ’s quality pre-made meals and snacks. So giving consumers the power to scan their own barcodes was, at least from a personal perspective, totes befuddling. I can proudly say I’ve never scanned a QR code that wasn’t for work purposes (and fortunately, I’ll soon not even have to do it for work), and even during the height of QR hysteria I’d never even been around anyone who’d bothered to bust a scan.

But despite anecdotal evidence and actual evidence, marketers continued to hawk the QR code with an obliviousness unrivalled until this year’s Miley thing. Returning to QR Codes Kill Kittens, we read that “We are using QR codes to show that we’re using QR codes. We ignore the things we should be doing in our businesses to create and place them. We ignore fixing problems. We put aside improving our products, listening to our customers, and cleaning up the tools we are already using. We ignore basic issues of functionality. We yell ‘Squirrel!’ and run after them. QR codes take up our valuable time, and space, and let us ignore what we should be focusing on in business.”

Yeah, snap. Well, at least the marketers of the world have learned their lesson and there’s no modern-day equivalent to waste your business’s time with.

Should I use a QR code?

At any rate, as QRmania set in it never really occured to anyone that the code was a rather ugly replacement for a company’s website name in the same ad. Except that with a QR code a consumer would never be totally sure where they’d be taken, and after a bad or boring experience with one they’d be more unlikely to scan again in the future.

hand dryer QR code parody

So then there has to be a lesson here somewhere. Found it! Below is Peatix’s Essential Important 2-Step Guide to navigating marketing fads. Check it:

1. Ask yourself, “could this be a technological fad?”
1a. If answer is “no,” repeat step 1 one more time
2. Ask yourself “will I actually be able to connect with my customers?”
2a. If answer is “yes,” repeat step 2.

It also hasn’t totally evaded the author that by including the above list in this article he might have already failed the Essential Important 2-Step Guide guidelines. Yet he would not be the only one. The MTA, NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation…um, Activists, recently put QR codes on ALL of their bus station signs.

MTA bus stop QR code late to the party

Although not completely useless because you know exactly what you’re getting with bus times and whatnot, MTA’s wide implementation of the QR code when you could practically sled down their popularity curve is a little bit cute, a little bit sad, a little bit funny, and wait actually sorry it’s really sad.

As the QR code slowly dies alone and bitter, we can learn a lot from it’s story. We can ponder the relationship between technology, physical space, and business. We can take away something about our own laziness, our own ineptitude, our own obliviousness, both in terms of our professional lives and our status as burgeoning cyborgs. And in this way maybe the age of the QR code wasn’t such a bad thing after all, if it warned us in its cute harmless way about way more dangerous trends. Cough instagram.