Re-Code: I'm not stealing, don't put me in jail!
In typical transaction scenarios, both consumer and
cashier behave accordingly to accommodate the dominance of the barcode.
Both depend on the accuracy of the code. Both function in machine-like
behaviors in accordance to the patterns of traditional consumption
rituals. Both cashier and customer listen only for a beep as their
purchased item's codes are swiped across the glowing light of the
register. In some situations, even the cashier has been removed, so a
machine can now be controlled by only the barcode maneuvered by human
hands. Those same human hands can now be used in an act of brand
subversion. Those same hands are the flaw that must resist the digital
embrace of the UPC symbol. We must not simply shutter in science
fiction horror, but take tactical action to manipulate the existing
system for consumer benefit. With RE-CODE.COM, we look for a way to
highlight the absurdity of a system undermined by humans that relies
primarily on our very own physical presence and continual acceptance.
We must showcase the human through the subversion of the code.
RE-CODE.COM was a free web service that allowed its customers to share product information and create barcodes that can be printed and used to re-code items in stores by placing new labels over existing UPC symbols to set a new price - participating in an act of tactical shopping. RE-CODE.COM at its core was a shared database, update able by our customers. Participation was free and required no special membership agreements or software download. After entering the web site, customers could choose to search and view information in the database currently or add their own collected data to the system. Using the custom Barcode Generator application, barcodes were drawn in real time and made available to the user. We utilize only UPC-A Type barcodes, the most common variety of barcode. It is used in most retail applications in North America and Europe. On the web site, we showed users a process whereby they could obtain cheaper prices for items in stores by simply re-coding items they planned to purchase, or switch the labels on items to reveal messages for customers and cashiers that might reveal the true prices of goods. The RE-CODE.COM web site itself was a mockery of PRICELINE.COM, made to look nearly identical to its counterpart which uses a "consumer as revolutionary" advertising approach to entice people to name their own price for goods and services. RE-CODE.COM simply wanted to take that concept to its logical completion, allowing any price to be named and re-coded in the store by the customer through barcode replacement. RE-CODE.COM highly encouraged re-coding name brand items with their generic equivalents as both a safety tactic and a way to comment on the overpricing of branded items. The two unique process we developed that are critical to the building of the database are known as preshopping and postshopping. Both required visiting RE-CODE.COM both before and after the process of shopping.
After going live on March 12th, 2003, the RE-CODE.com web site went unnoticed for close to 10 days when suddenly it began receiving attention on numerous blog sites that understood the satire and appreciated the concept of the site. The project was presented on March 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago, IL. Salon.com published the first story on the web site on April 10th. That same day, the domain name WHOIS masking service employed by RE-CODE.com received a cease and desist letter from attorneys representing the world's largest retail employer, Wal-Mart. At that time RE-CODE.com was averaging over 50,000 hits/day with a highpoint of 96,000 hits in one hour alone. The servers running the site were bogged down and access became sporadic at best. The site had struck a nerve and the attention that was now being given to the site's creators was now much more a result of Wal-Mart's threats than of the site's actual content. Countless interviews were granted with multiple media outlets including morning call in shows, college radio programs, investigative reporters, National Public Radio station, the British Broadcasting Company, and others around the world. The site's attention was almost too much to believe. Not only was Wal-Mart upset by the site, but also PriceChopper (a chain grocery store), the Kellogs corporation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Trade Commission. After contacting several lawyers who had offered the site's creators pro-bono legal council, the database and barcode generator portions of the website were pulled down and replaced by a response video by the site's creators.