Why is Barcode Quality Important to Civilization?
We have opined about the importance of barcode quality from a business perspective. What about the perspective of nations, economies and even humankind? If eye rolls were audible, I can imagine hearing at least a rumble of a distant, aggregate “…oh please…” from those who regard barcodes as a fad, an industry and an end in itself. More about this later.
A Brief History
Barcodes as we know them emerged in 1974, but the idea is much older. In 1949, Woodland and Silver filed for a patent for a bullseye target encoding Morse Code-like concentric rings. Three years later they built the first scanner, a primitive, suitcase-sized device.
A Problem looking for a Solution
Product tracking and inventory reconciliation was first articulated by Wallace Flint, a student at Harvard in 1932. The railroad industry had been trying to solve this problem, in the form of tracking freight cars, since the late 1800’s.
A Solution looking for a Problem
Meanwhile, in 1960 scientists had conceptualized a theoretical technology called Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation or LASER. First predicted by Einstein, scientists were interested in proving it experimentally. There was no practical application: it was all theoretical.
Barcode Technology was a Natural Evolution
While the particulars about how barcode technology developed are interesting, the impetus behind it, the “why” is important: barcodes came to be to solve a problem. Here is a short list of the problems currently addressed by barcodes:
- Enabling resource planning and tracking in manufacturing
- Managing inventory depletion and replenishment of consumer goods
- Securing the supply chains for pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other channels
- Compiling sales counts and securing admissions for entertainment events, airlines, cruise operations, railroads
…and a host of other applications
Looking at the above list, one might observe that barcodes simply provide data—data, which is available, even without barcodes. This is true but barcodes provide better data because the error rate, compared to manual entry, is so small.
Barcode Quality makes it Possible…
Barcode quality makes it possible for barcodes to perform these duties, and the performance of these duties is a substantial contribution to our way of life. Barcodes secure the freedom of choice that underpins modern culture, at least from a consumer point of view, but also from a broader perspective.
Freedom of choice is a pillar of global economics. Import/export trade balances (or imbalances) are the result of free choices made by constituents. When choice is stifled, people will physically pick up and move to where choice is unimpeded. Marketing and advertising may influence choice, but ultimately every individual, family, corporation and institution decides based on what is believed to be best for them.
Admittedly, we are painting with a very big brush here. The analogy can easily be carried too far. Barcodes are not axiomatic to freedom, capitalism or democracy. They are a tool: they solve a problem. Barcodes solve a broad range of problems very, very well. High-functioning barcodes are very important to that solution.