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My colleague Jo McKiernan on QR codes, and internet access in general.

I think that we are experiencing is possibly analogous to what we saw when the web went mainstream. When first we started seeing urls appearing on stuff – adverts particularly – I remember having a conversation that went something along the lines of “yeah, but no one is ever going to use them, AND you need an internet connection!”.

Now, access to the internet is a fundamental human right, and if we can’t follow our favourite brands on Twitter or like them on Facebook we feel somehow cheated.

I can see what Jo’s point is, however it does strike me as something that shies well away from crossing a widely yawning digital divide.

Access to the internet has been proposed as a fundamental human right (and in some places it is considered to be), but I would say this is more in the sense that cutting off access is a violation of those rights. Similar to cutting off water or food supply.

Which in turn, really only applies to the very small sub-set of the population with internet access (in their pockets), or the even smaller sub-set of that population, who feel cheated when they can’t follow or engagewith their favourite brands on Facebook. Digital literacy and access is an increasingly bigger problem, getting worse rather than better. It is as much a global as it is a national issue, the Australian national broadband network being one topical infrastructure example currently being toted as part of the solution. In my view, solving the problem of those pesky QR code is not a high priority.

As it is, QR codes provide, at low cost, an easy mechanism for “distributing” additional information should visitors want it. As a visitor, accessing this information might enhance my experience, but not taking advantage of it will not detract from my visit.

Improving digital literacy, helping people stay connected in faraway places, providing infrastructure and platforms for people to support themselves – this is the main game. Connectivity, health & education are core tenets of the broadband push, and rightly so.

Even accepting that this argument doesn’t talk to the elderly or those in underprivileged parts of society, the QR code rates so low on my list of silver bullet technologies. High barrier to entry, non human-readable, seemingly equally useful as printed URLs – what problems of usability do QR codes actually solve? What additional information do they provide, and at what (cognitive) cost?

I will accept that there are some really good examples of QR codesdoing interestingthings– but that’s about it. Toys for smartphone users (like myself) to geek out over. As always, it’s the tech that gets the focus, rather than the humanbenefits, the enabling effects, the tech can unlock.