Grey Conspiracy: Qr Code Hypnosis
by Erin Sheehy
illustrator Rosie Roberts
You are getting very sleepy. Your eyelids are getting heavy. You are going down, down, down. When you close your eyes, do you notice the fireworks behind your eyelids becoming more angular, making new patterns? Have their psychedelic colors begun to turn black and white? Are the old images being supplanted by new ones, as though some signal is being scrambled?
You see it, though you may not notice it: the small box of black and white squares in the corner of the magazine advertisement, the business card, the city government sign. This is the quick response (QR) code, a new type of barcode that holds much more information than any barcode has before. Developed in Japan in the 1990s to track car parts during manufacturing, in recent years the QR code has been used for consumer tracking, product marketing, and governmental identification. If you scan a QR code with your smart phone, it will take you to a link that features pertinent information about the object you’ve scanned: a coupon from the clothing company whose advertisement you just read, the website of the person who just handed you his business card, the hours of operation for the city office you’ve just visited.
During the 2011 New York Fashion Week, Tiffany & Co. gave out cookies with a QR code in the frosting; if you scanned the code, your phone displayed an invitation to a concert. The Philippines National Bureau of Investigation uses QR codes for governmental clearances. You can now purchase a bracelet featuring your own personal QR code that, when scanned, links to a page with all your contact information, social media profiles, favorite photos and videos. These bracelets are marketed as virtual business cards, or even dating tools. As The New York Times explained, “Why scrawl your number on your napkin or tap it into a stranger’s phone when all you have to do is lean in and whisper, ‘Scan me.’”
Of course we know that the government, the military, and the multinational corporations are cataloguing our information and tracking our whereabouts with their QR codes, but they already do that quite successfully through our smart phones and our IP addresses. And we know that the exchange of information through electronic devices, rather than through face-to-face interaction, is eroding our natural human faculties for communication. But QR code is even more nefarious than that.
A bridge between the physical and the online worlds, the QR code’s visual properties are its most sinister. Unlike the “traditional” UPC barcode, which resembles the bars of a prison cell or a cage, the QR code recalls a more insidious form of bondage: it looks like the noise on a television screen.
In English this video noise is often referred to as “snow,” though several languages use the more playful term, “war of the ants”—not only an apt description, but also a comment on the antagonisms of noise in our increasingly bustling, hive-like existence. This “static” is continually, suspiciously, replicated in our art and design. Recall the black-and-white speckled “Saved By the Bell” pants of the early 90s—a trend started by a TV show, which in turn was inspired by the TV set. Or the ubiquity of “heather grey,” a grainy haze of woven fabric made popular by the crewneck sweatshirt, that universal symbol of comfort and sloth. Or the spotted linoleum tiles of the municipal building, or the schoolroom, or the subway floor. Everywhere we are surrounded by noise.
A tried and true method for hypnotizing a person is to transfix them with monotonous visual stimuli. The television has long been the most effective form of mass hypnosis, but because approximately 80% of the population is only moderately susceptible to hypnotism (as defined by the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility), with 10% of the population highly susceptible, and the rest of us barely susceptible at all, we must be broken down with cunning. The blaring monotony of video noise is the perfect trance-inducer, and those in power see to it that this noise is steeped in exactly the type of subliminal stimuli that will slip under the radar of our consciousness. Independent practitioners even openly admit to using video noise as a tool for self-hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
The hypnotized person sees, feels, smells, and perceives the whole world according to the hypnotist’s suggestions. It is possible, even common, for hypnosis to be extended long after a person has seemingly left their trance state. In other words, even after you’ve looked away from the source of the “snow” or “war,” you may still be under its spell.
In a stupor, we stare fixedly at the dull glow of our phones, but the information we receive is too free, too varied for the comfort of those in power. Television snow was such a successful form of mass hypnotism in the late 20th century that the conspiratorial forces of government, media, and commerce, are now fighting to regain their control of “noise.” The more we look up from our phones to scan the black and white jumble of the QR code, the more we focus our gaze on its hidden messages, the more we fall into their hands.
But QR Code is only the beginning. We are being gridded, our thought patterns conforming more and more to the algorithms of programmable code. So keep your eyes open, but don’t look too long or too hard. You may not notice it, but you are under attack.