Frot QR Codes

In 1994, the butterfly flaps its wings and a Japanese engineer designs a digitized solution for tracking auto parts. In 2022, you’re at a sit-down Mexican restaurant and fumbling with your smartphone, tapping the screen to focus, refocus, and then finally click through to a tiny menu that would have popped up faster if you just Googled it. What was then an innocuous invention by a man named Masahiro Hara—who was probably just trying to do his job!—is now omnipresent in the worst way. I’m talking, of course, about Satan’s grid. The disturbing square. The colorless, alienating block of the QR code.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the QR code from novelty to menace. Allegedly, there are a lot of applications for QR codes, and the way they’d pop up from time to time was kind of creative, kind of demented, but overall harmless. Enterprising brands would slap one on a billboard or the side of a bus, so people could scan to find a deal on the latest pants or a cut-rate subscription to a gourmet dog food delivery service. In Japan, Uruguay, and Wisconsin, certain cemeteries added them to tombstones for visitors looking for a quick hit of info about the deceased. Now, though, QR codes are everywhere, as ubiquitous in restaurants and coffee shops as they are annoying—and they are so annoying.

How do QR codes suck? Let’s count the ways:

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