Jordan FrithNov 7, 2023
Barcodes are about as ordinary as an object can be. Billions of them are scanned each day and they impact everything from how we shop to how we travel to how the global economy is managed. But few people likely give them more than a second thought. In a way, the barcode's ordinariness is the ultimate symbol of its success.
However, behind the mundanity of the barcode lies an important history. Barcodes bridged the gap between physical objects and digital databases and paved the way for the contemporary Internet of Things, the idea to connect all devices to the web. They were highly controversial at points, protested by consumer groups and labor unions, and used as a symbol of dystopian capitalism and surveillance in science fiction and art installations.
Jordan Frith's book Barcode (Bloomsbury, 2023) tells the story of the barcode's complicated history and examines how an object so crucial to so many parts of our lives became more ignored and more ordinary as it spread throughout the world.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose forthcoming book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.