QR Code subversion?

As a follow up to my previous post on using barcodes to know more about a product, I have been reading various websites and reports about the use of QR (quick response) codes in Japan. QR codes are the two-dimensional ‘barcodes’ that can be scanned by a phone. Most sites frame the use of QR codes in terms of the commercial potential to provide consumers with more ‘information’ about a product. It appears to be an exceptional opportunity to intervene in the matrix of protocol and image that underpins the current image-based logistical consumer culture regime.

I just posted an email to the cultstud list to see if there have been any attempts to use QR (quick response) codes for, firstly, subverting purely commercial-advertising purposes and, secondly, providing critical information in the form of labour relation practices and like by companies.

The closest thing I have found so far in my googling are two reports about accessing food information through QR codes. The first one:

In the supermarket, consumers use camera equipped cell phones to scan the QR code on the label. The code links to a mobile website detailing origin, soil composition, organic fertilizer content percentage (as opposed to chemical), use of pesticides and herbicides and even the name of the farm it was grown on. Consumers can also access the same information over the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net website by inputting a numbered code on each label.

And this brief report from DoMoCo that outlines how QR codes have been used in an educational capacity for learning about the nutritional requirements:

After learning about daily food requirements and nutritional balance through lectures and quizzes, parents and children formed pairs to participate in a rally-style quiz on vegetables using mobile phones. Children used their handsets to read the QR code (a “Quick Response” barcode used on consumer products in Japan) affixed to vegetables, and then communicate with their parents to answer the quiz questions displayed on the handset screen. The trial pointed to the potential of mobile phones to serve as learning tools that can be used anywhere at any time.

As most phones nowadays can have many gb SD cards, a downloadable wiki-based database of critical consumer information seems possible. I have no idea about the technical dimensions of the various phone software platforms, etc. My understanding is that developers should be able to produce such software for a variety of phones.

PC Gaming: Too Complicated?

IGN PC had a conversation (I think by email) with Randy Stude, president of the PC Gaming Alliance and director of Intel’s Gaming Program Office, and Roy Taylor, the PCGA’s CTO as well as VP of content relations at Nvidia about what the PCGA actually does. The PC Gaming Alliance is made up of various companies that have an interest in promoting PC gaming. Unlike consoles, such as the Playstation brand, X-Box or Wii, there is no single authoritative body or company in charge of guiding the market. PCs are an ‘open’ platform; this is part of the appeal for developers and gamers alike. A report on the state of PC gaming is due out from the Alliance in a few days.

What struck me as interesting in the discussion was this exchange:

IGN: In addition to the perception that PC gaming is expensive, there’s also the notion that it’s complicated. Too many decisions to make when trying to put together a machine, too time consuming to keep up over the years. How do you combat this?

Randy Stude: We hope to simplify the starting point for mainstream consumers; however the PCGA will not directly replace the platform development and marketing efforts of any member of the PC game industry.

Roy Taylor: I am not sure I agree with the question. Most games work “out of the box” now and certainly those that have worked with those suppliers with excellent support programs have benefited from ease of use which matches any console experience.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Part of the reason gamers play on PCs is because they can engage with the challenges posed by constantly upgrading PC hardware and software technologies. You only have to browse various gaming or geek sites or forums to see this. As I argue in my PhD about car culture, these challenges are what define an enthusiasm. I suggest to a certain extent if gamers were only enthusiastic about the game and not ‘gaming’ then they would play consoles. Consoles are deficient because they do not offer a challenge. Making the PC ‘experience’ more like the ‘console’ experience is an incredibly flawed way to think about it.

teaching with interest

In the unit I am teaching this semester I set a chapter by Lazzarato on Political Entrepreneurs as one of the readings in the week’s class on post-marxist conceptions of consumption. From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life was also set as a secondary reading.

It was a fascinating experiment from the point of view of teaching as it was the first time I had ever set a reading or been involved in a class where I didn’t have a good sense of how the tutorial classes were going to play out. I found it much easier to pay attention to student presentations, where instead of a sense of professional duty, it was a genuine sense of interest that held me captivated. Discussions often went in unpredictable and interesting directions. Is this what is feels like to have a good teaching experience?

I had great fun talking about McDonald’s ‘Happy Meals’!


Kim has an interesting post on the right to privacy over at LP and mentions defamation. Over the fold is the outline of the lecture of defamation I gave for the journalism course I taught last semester. This post should not be considered legal advice and if you are facing defamation proceedings or wish to instigate them, then I suggest you consult a lawyer. The authoratative text on this in Australia is Mark Pearson’s “The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law” (3rd ed, 2007).
Continue reading “defamation”

mobile phone and barcodes to combat commodity fetishism?

Marx’s conception of the commodity in part is concentrated on the idea that the surplus value extracted from the labour of workers is obscured through processes of commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism occurs when consumers believe that commodities are objects in their own right, and the value of a commodity is calculated relative to the rest of the ‘market’. For example, when you purchase something relatively expensive, like an electronics item or whitegoods, you do some market research and figure out what different models offer in the way of features compared to their price. You don’t calculate the value according to the character of the labour used to produce the item, the environmental impact of the item’s manufacture or constituent components. In my Consumer Culture classes for this week I challenged students to ‘think like marxists’ and figure out ways to combat commodity fetishism. Obvious examples include Fair Trade coffee and No Sweat shoes.

As a thought expereiment I asked the class what they would do if they had a barcode scanner that could scan bar codes and instead of telling you the price, it would provide you with all the relevant information regarding the manufacturing and labour practices of the company that produced the barcoded item. This was only a thought experiment until a student pointed out to me that her phone can read bar codes (here is a blog post on it that I found via a google). The phone can link a barcode to a url. What if concerned consumers made a wiki to report on the labour (and perhaps environmental) practices of companies that could be accessed by other consumers in shopping centres and the like simply by scanning a barcode (or UPC)? Would be people do it?

My students suggested that some would but others would find the process too time consuming, and because time is money, they don’t want to waste their time. I suggested to them that considering that they are all ‘workers’ to some extent, that they would benefit from only purchasing products that guaranteed sufficient workplace-based labour rights and relations.