Say there was a place that had some special meaning to you. It could be the alcove where you had your first kiss, the alley where you were mugged, the square where you participated in an important rally, or the location of an historic uprising. Good or bad, we all infuse places with our memories. This is what makes physical places so powerful, and why peoples' opinions and experiences of the same place can be vastly different. Places are what people make of them. Now, technology could be making it easier for tech-savvy street artists to etch their own experiences and opinions onto physical places, communicating the artists' own sense of a place to others who pass through it.
Barcodes are most commonly used in retail environments, but their size and informational storage capacities make them ripe for adaptation for more inventive uses. In Japan, barcodes are now being applied to gravestones to store and transmit information, when scanned, about the deceased. The idea here is that family members will, through videos, photos, and stories, be able to reconnect with the deceased in a less mournful, more celebratory way. Imagine "a sort of gravestone based, family fueled, wiki of the dead."
This technology could easily be used in public spaces to represent a political viewpoint or a historical event. Imagine walking down a street for the first time and noticing a bright green barcode sticker affixed to the facade of a building. Using a scanner-enabled mobile device, you could access a website loaded with the history of the building site, or a series of short stories about the surrounding blocks, or photos of a lifechanging event that a stranger experienced in the very spot where you are standing. Reading or viewing material like this would give the place a new gravitas, and would change your perception of what might otherwise be a mundane stretch of asphalt and brick.
RFID tags are another method of remote-storing information that, thanks to increased range, provide the opportunity for a bit more mischief. With the technological know-how, a clever street artist could program a chip to send a text message or photo to any wi-fi enabled mobile device passing by. Imagine again: you're walking down a street and you pass a hidden RFID tag; your phone rings. You answer. An audio recording plays, recounting a woman's personal account of a riot that took place across the street a decade earlier. Later, walking through a park, your text alert sounds. You open the message to find a set of coordinates and the time of an upcoming event, perhaps a flash mob or a constructive riot. Or, perhaps, a photo of the view from the very place that you are standing, hyperlinked to a database of stories and photos of places around the city (along the lines of Invincible Cities, linked below).
While they would only be accessible to those with the proper devices to read the information that they stored, RFID tags and barcodes have distinct advantages over more traditional forms of street art like posters, graffiti tags, and murals. For one thing, they are smaller, and less intrusive. While this could be seen as a weakness (especially for barcodes, which require direct interaction), it is also a strength in that RFID tags and barcodes are less likely to prompt their own removal than more readily noticeable artistic interventions. These tiny storage units can also provide more vivid, personalized accounts of events or viewpoints, and have the potential to be more impactful on their viewers.
RFID and barcode street art has the potential to turn the urban environment into a virtual minefield of information. While the potential for abuse by malicious hackers or marketing drones is there, the idea of being able to literally "tag" a place with multimedia information is an exciting one. Perhaps it's already being done. Anyone know of some examples?
(Photo from Flickr user cloverst. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)
Barcodes on tombs to connect with the dead (The Inquirer)
Invincible Cities (Thanks, Pete!)