QR Codes: Don’t Blame the Tool

I feel like I’ve been seeing some QR code backlash lately. This is the blog post where I first noticed it–or more accurately, some surprisingly knee-jerk reactions to the post from acquaintances who I always considered pretty tech-forward.

Professionally, I’ve seen a bunch of knee-jerk reactions to, well, a variety of new stuff in the past few years. A couple years ago, my employer’s annual conference even had a session billed as “The Ultimate Debate” that consisted of a discussion of whether blogs could be trusted, as if television and print don’t have long, glorious histories of manipulating or outright eschewing truth. I didn’t attend that session; I assume, based on what I know about the audience, that the conclusion would have been an emphatic “no,” although that may just be snark on my part.

I don’t particularly care about the answer, though, because I think the question is wrong.

A blog is a platform, a tool, a storage space for content. An author can be trusted or not trusted, but a blog is really just a piece of code that exists online and contains some words.

What about QR codes? They’re a tool as well. They aren’t, as an entity, right or not right. They may be appropriate for a given application, or inappropriate for a given application, but worthy of hate? You might as well hate a hammer.

Wikipedia was another new thing that caused a lot of consternation. The best thing I ever heard about it (and sadly, I don’t recall the speaker): “Instead of arguing about whether or not you can trust Wikipedia, edit the page.” To pull back and generalize a bit, we humans have the power in our relationship with our tools. We have the power to find and implement good uses for them. But we give that power up if we choose to just lament their existence or focus on their failures.

QR codes are still in their infancy, at least as a tool for museums. And they admittedly haven’t yet achieved a critical mass among the public in this country. But I suspect they will. So I think museums should find and implement applications for them that genuinely improve their exhibits and the overall museum experience, and I think it’s better to beat the critical mass, rather than waiting for people to expect it and then scramble to figure out how to offer it.

Lastly, I want to share this post from Brooklyn Museum, where it describes some ways that it’s using QR codes in its exhibits.

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