Barcodes and Objects
Basically, you either buy or print yourself a barcode sticker, you associate some digital content with the specific barcode (be it text, video, audio, a map, a phone number, or whatever) and you attach it to any physical object. Whoever comes by it and scans it will access your message, and/or add his or her own.
I am a big fan of the translation of the digital/virtual into the material world (a process generally indexed by the term ‘augmented reality’), and this simple idea is exceptionally fertile. Art installations could find a lot of potential in it, as well as more mundane viral marketing. An ‘augmented barcode’ such as this is the ultimate symbol. One could write a whole book of poetry with barcodes.
In fact, regarding Ian Bogost’s (hopefully forthcoming) 7×7 pixels philosopher slab poems book, I thought that it would be cool if it were possible to make the pixel portraits themselves scannable (as for an Andriod app ‘pixelcode’)
in order to reveal the poem itself. Or some other message related to their thought, so that their philosophy would emerge from their physical appereance. In other words, a graphic hyperlink, from image to text and –more importantly– from material support to digital content.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it is actually possible to do it, because of the limited number of pixels in a 7×7 square (I am not exactly sure how the information is coded into the black or white pixels in the example above, but I have the feeling that you need a relatively large number of them. I wonder what the minimal constraint is).
As for the ‘stickered objects’ idea, I can see a potential anti-anthropocentric critique from the object-oriented camp: with this barcode operation we are claiming that objects are mute in and by themselves, and that they need our human-generated supplement in order to carry a (our) message. The Techcrunch article makes this very clear when it introduces the app with these words:
Every place and object in the world has a secret past: who lived there, who passed by, who touched it. The secret lives of objects are filled with such details. If only you could make them talk.
Human ‘imperialism’ is reproduced here, where the ‘secret lives’ of object are effectively reduced to what humans did with them. Someone should probably write an essay titled ‘Can the Object Speak?’ or ‘Can the Nonhuman Speak?’.
Nonethless, two things I find quite exciting: 1) the chain of translation: the creation of a digital content (say a video, that needs to be shot, edited, compressed etc), the creation of a material support (a sticker with a barcode, that needs to be printed), the linking of the two and the application of this symbol to a material surface, which will not necessarily be receptive to it (I cannot stick it to a rough surface, for example); 2) the fact that whatever human digital message –integrated in a barcode– is attached to an object, one still needs another object (a barcode scanner) to translate (both linguistically and metaphysically) this material barcode into a digital message, the barcode itself being meaningless to human eyes.
More prosaically, I am planning to use this thing as a research support tool: would you not like to have barcode on the spine of each book on your bookshelf, and just quickly scan it, without pulling out the book, to read your notes regarding that book (crucial points, important pages to read, keywords etc)? I would.