Ode to the QR Code

The resurgence of technology and the passing of time

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Photo by ray rui on Unsplash

When QR codes were new to me
I downloaded my first app
and asked my nerd ex-husband
how many possibilities
one chippy square could hold.

Infinite, he said
which impressed me then,
the code itself, and the man whose brain
could hold so much
and instantly go there.
It’s been so many years, yet for stuff like that,
his easy access to one-word discussions,
as if all things were simple,
I like him still.

There was the time
when I had my own code,
one of the limitless codes,
more than the number of atoms in the universe,
printed on a postcard.

I handed out hundreds
at a conference in La Jolla,
then hopped a plane to Utah
to visit my child in wilderness therapy,
climbing rocks in the cool air like a bear girl.
She showed me how to hold the ropes for her,
then she for me, making use of gravity and tension,
as always, sending up yelps of encouragement.
That QR code, I wouldn’t say it was a huge success.
Some people had no idea what it was,
let alone the app to read it.
I was ahead of my time.

Years later I helped a Kickstarter campaign
get off the ground and found myself
at an event for startups at South By.
Someone had the idea
to print a QR code on the sleeve
of our matching teeshirts,
and I didn’t have the heart to mention,
QR codes might be on their way out.
They smacked of sales, and signup pages,
but I wore the shirt anyway
with the appropriate enthusiasm,
collected email addresses by hand,
and never saw a single soul
point their phone
at my arm.

A year or two went by,
and someone claimed QR codes were dead,
just before all the cool kids
started using Snapcodes
and I was clueless.

My climber, now, is gone.
If I knew all that was on my kid’s phone
at just the right time, all the time,
I might have prevented this broken heart,
if not the tragedy that caused it.
I lost track
of the technology
and other things.

And just when you think
certain things are spent and buried,
they’re back like seeds
sprouting in spring.

In February we lost our firstborn
and went underground.
In May, when we staggered
from our COVID cocoons,
I started seeing QR codes
everywhere. And suddenly
everyone was using them, too,
no app needed.
The perfect contactless connector,
restaurants linked menus, and businesses
shared information with employees.
We were safe.

Suddenly
the QR code is back.
It just showed up
as if it never left,
limitless, ubiquitous,
and empty-handed,
ready to serve.

Last Sunday I sat with a friend
at a picnic table on a patio shaded by live oaks.
I hovered my phone
over a laminated QR code
taped to a table, but the sun’s glare peeked in,
interrupting my first try.
I shifted, found the shade,
et voila! Up popped the menu
of the trendy Asian BBQ restaurant.
No hands.

In the time of COVID
during an Austin heatwave,
the light shimmied through tiny leaves
just like old times.
We expanded our screens, she and I,
to accommodate our Gen-X eyes
and discovered Boozy Slushies
and Oak Grilled Snap Peas
in a kimchee emulsion.

The young families here
are so hip and full of promise.
In just a second,
they’ll discover that time passes
and nature plays ferocious tricks.
They have no touch-free idea
what’s in store for them.

Written by

Curious mom, writer, & lymphatic massage therapist. I teach a persuasive writing course, too. Start here: https://www.jenmcgahan.com/power-words

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