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Pop around Town:Surprising uses of the QR code

【明報專訊】Quick Response (QR) codes have become more and more ubiquitous. A technology that was originally invented for fast and accurate inventory checks has now been incorporated into many usages in our daily life. Developed first by a Japanese car company, the QR code replaced the traditional barcode because the former offers a higher capacity for information encoding and storage. For consumers like us, the QR code is attractive for obtaining more detailed information from, say, a piece of advertisement or promotional message, usually for a later read if we are busy with something in the middle of the day. For the advertisers, while the QR code does not replace the design of the advertisement, it has indeed changed the way advertisers think about visual complexity. Some marketing researchers have proved that the less complex the visual design in the ad is, the more likely the viewer will scan the QR code. But besides serving the consumer market, in what interesting ways has the QR code appeared, and for what purpose?

I think few people know that QR codes have appeared on tombstones. This trend is linked to the fast development of virtual grave sites and commemorative websites. Instead of just visiting a headstone, families and visitors in some part of the US can now scan a QR code engraved on the headstone that will take them to a detailed obituary with photographs, memorabilia (紀念品), and commemorative words and songs composed by the living for the deceased. With it, the richness of the deceased's life can be stored, retrieved, and remembered.

Some central banks in countries have issued new banknotes and coins embedded with QR codes. In 2011, the Royal Dutch Mint issued the world's first official coin with a QR code to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the bank's building and premises. By scanning the coin, the viewer can view special contents about the historical celebration and the information about how the coin was designed. Other central banks that have issued banknotes for the purpose of commemorating national history include those of Nigeria and Ghana. In 2015, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation issued a 100-ruble note to commemorate the ''annexation'' of Crimea by the Federation. Needless to say, this stirred an international controversy because some countries believed the so-called annexation by military force was not legal.

Of late, we have been familiarised with using the QR code in association with the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides scanning the government-issued QR code upon entrance to restaurants and clinics for the purpose of contact tracing, we shall surely encounter more and more places that are keen on installing ''touchless'' systems for displaying information, showing menus, or providing updated consumer information, especially in the hospitality industry. As the security of the QR code keeps being improved, our identities, possessions, thoughts, and much more could become digital properties — imprints of our humanity.

■Writer's Profile

John Erni is a university professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He thinks everyday culture is complex but always enchanting.

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