At 8.01 a.m. on June 26, 1974, a packet of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum was sold for 67 cents at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio — the first commercial transaction to use a bar code. More than five billion bar-coded products are now scanned at checkouts worldwide every day. Some of those codes will also have been vetted on the cellphones of shoppers who wanted to check the product’s impact on their health and the environment, and the ethical credentials of the manufacturer. They do so by photographing the bar code with their phones and using an application to access information about the product on ethical rating Web sites like GoodGuide.
As for the QR code, it was developed in the mid-1990s by the Japanese carmaker Toyota to track components during the manufacturing process. A mosaic of tiny black squares on a white background, the QR code has greater storage capacity than the original bar code. Soon, Japanese cellphone makers were adding QR readers to camera phones, and people were using them to download text, films and Web links from QR codes on magazines, newspapers, billboards and packaging. The mosaic codes then appeared in other countries and are now common all over the world. Anyone who has downloaded a QR reading application can decrypt them with a camera phone.
The history is interesting, but the article is really about what the codes communicate: bar codes efficiency and QR codes exploding virus clusters? Do bar codes seem less ominous because they can be used to trace back the sources of one’s food?