Barcodes are one of the most ignored yet impactful objects of the last fifty years, and they have a much more interesting and controversial history than most people realize.
Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Barcodes are about as ordinary as an object can be. Billions of them are scanned each day and they impact everything from how we shop to how we travel to how the global economy is managed. But few people likely give them more than a second thought. In a way, the barcode’s ordinariness is the ultimate symbol of its success. However, behind the mundanity of the barcode lies an important history. Barcodes bridged the gap between physical objects and digital databases and paved the way for the contemporary Internet of Things, the idea to connect all devices to the web. They were highly controversial at points, protested by consumer groups and labor unions, and used as a symbol of dystopian capitalism and surveillance in science fiction and art installations. This book tells the story of the barcode’s complicated history and examines how an object so crucial to so many parts of our lives became more ignored and more ordinary as it spread throughout the world. Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
Jordan Frith’s engaging storytelling and analysis makes Barcode a page-turner. He transforms the technical into the human, bringing lively cultural, political, and social analysis to something most of us overlook every day. But beware: After reading this book, you’ll want to talk about barcodes all the time. * Torie Bosch, Editor, First Opinion, STAT *