Locative Media and QR Codes- Abstract

Locative media is a term first coined by Karlis Kalnins and is derived from a Latvian verb tense that declares a “final location of action” (Zeffiro, 2012). Christian Licoppe defines locative media as “any kind of networked service available on mobile terminals which is able to provide to users on the move some reflexive awareness of the location of themselves and or others, or of their mutual proximity” (Zeffiro, 2012).

The specific aspect of locative media that I would like to explore is QR, or quick response codes. QR codes can be read by any smartphone through an app, and they often lead to a website or video link. QR codes were first used in the automotive industry in order to store and read data about inventory, and were adopted into marketing as a way to connect people to websites and video links. More recently, QR codes have been used for commercial tracking, mobile tickets for events, and mobile couponing. Their common uses have been in commercial settings where they are used by advertisers to bring consumers to businesses’ web pages.

While QR codes may seem like a fairly uncontroversial marketing tool, I am interested in their use as a tool for storytelling. Many museums around the nation have adopted the use of QR codes in order to give patrons more information about artists, historical figures, and biological species. Some cemeteries have even implemented QR codes on tombstones that allow people to view the history of the deceased. I am interested in studying these modern uses of the QR code and examining how the act of physically putting a technological filter (a phone) on the world enables people to be exposed to stories larger than their own realities.  However, I am also interested in the ways these stories are told and what kinds of problems or challenges emerge from these larger realities.

For my research, I would like to explore Andrea Zeffiro’s idea in “A genealogy of Locative Media” that locative media is a “field of cultural production.” I intend to research the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC, and their choice to put QR codes on the tombstones of the people buried there, thereby creating a living cemetery where visitors can learn more about the lives of the people buried there. While it may seem like these QR code eulogies allow for greater public knowledge about historical events, it is important to look critically at the use of this medium within a historical context. I intend to research the cultural filters that are applied on the descriptions that the QR codes lead to, and how QR codes both allow for an unveiling of otherwise hidden or forgotten histories but can also misrepresent them. I also intend to research the implications of imbuing the “sacred space” of the cemetery with technology.  As Andrea Zeffiro states, locative media is “a site of struggles in which what is at stake is the power to impose the dominant definition and delimit the population of those entitled to take part in the struggle to define.” This idea is central to why I want to study QR codes. I believe it is important to look critically at the narratives that technology allows us to tell and distribute.