Most barcode discussions focus on how the black and white striped codes can improve the efficiency of a variety of different business processes. Basically, businesses are able to better manage, track and adjust their inventory by assigning a unique barcode to each of its products (or services, or assets or some other aspect of its business). Businesses have been tracking inventory using barcodes in this way for decades, ever since the barcode went mainstream in the mid 1970s. Since then, the value of barcodes has only risen, thanks largely to the advances in data analysis software that can glean important sales, marketing, advertising and other business insights based on the business process snapshot that barcode data provides. More and more companies and organizations of all types are choosing to buy or rent barcode readers for inventory management—as well as for other functions like tracking attendance.
In addition to an even more pervasive presence in the management world, barcodes have also come to occupy a major part of the culture at large. The capacity for barcodes to improve business efficiency was apparent from the start, but the barcode’s ability to improve our daily lives in other ways was less obvious. In fact, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of other uses for barcodes. Here is a look at some of the more creative uses people have recently found for barcodes.
Diet & Nutrition
Barcodes have been placed on the packages and containers of food and beverages for decades, and ever since nutrition labels have been placed on these packages and containers, folks have been reading the labels to learn about the ingredients and the nutritional content in what they’re consuming. Now, consumers are able to quickly and conveniently combine the barcode labels and nutrition labels and access the nutritional information of a product on a mobile device just by scanning the product’s barcode. Scanning the barcode to record nutritional information allows people to more easily track their nutrient intake over the course of a day, week, month or longer—a process that used to require a notebook, a pen and way too much math. Thanks to barcodes, people can write their food diaries and track their food logs all on their mobile device.
Anyone who has ever actually used a barcode scanner, such as those who have worked as a cashier at the checkout counter of a retail store or supermarket, understands that there is a certain satisfaction that comes with scanning a barcode label. Game manufacturers have seized on this feeling and created games based around the same concept of scanning a barcode label. These barcode scanning games, which sometimes are downloaded as smartphone apps and sometimes involve a stand-alone game console, incorporate tasks and storylines that involve the player scanning barcodes.
Ever since they were first used in manufacturing and at checkout counters, barcodes have captured the cultural imagination in a unique way. The image of the barcode quickly became symbolic of business and of modern society in general; as such, artists, architects and other visionaries are continuing to incorporate the barcode into their art and design work. As an example, barcodes were featured on car license plates in the 1980s movie Back to the Future.