Q - What is the final portion of the diagramed barcode, after "weight"?
A - The last part of the barcode is called the Modulo Check Character. This digit is derived from a mathematical formula based on the unique set of numbers in each barcode that helps ensure the accuracy of the data scan. For Barcode Yourself I copied the most common UPC style barcode which has 12 numbers. One item category number, five manufacturer numbers, five product numbers, and the last number verifies the barcode has ended. If you are a super geek like me, you can print your Barcode Yourself barcode out and try and scan it at a store. It should atleast make the machine beep, but chances are your unique barcode number does not match item in store's inventory (but it will scan and beep). The beep is important. It is like a seal of approval on my stuff. The beep means my art works.
Q - Your text explains the different sources you used in the piece, but what is the formula? (At least the gist of it. I need not the math. Math kinda scares me. ?) Explaining how the barcode arrives to dollar amounts I think will be particularly helpful, especially with the gender issue.
A - I tried to find real world statistics that I could correlate with the variables people entered. I took some serious artistic license when creating the formula that assigns dollar amount to personal data. I wasn't trying to be biased or purposely value or devalue any group. I wanted the numbers to create a ball park figure. The highest possible value is $10, for a 33 year old, male, from Luxembourg, with a perfect BMI. I combined height and weight to calculate a person's Body Mass Index. Theoretically this BMI number can determine how healthy a person is. Overweight and underweight people are worth less according to the Center For Disease Control. I also referenced the "Gender Gap" which states that "Women Average 72 Cents For Each $1 Earned By A Man." If you select the female icon, the $10 barcode automatically drops to $7.20. Next I took the Gross Domestic Product of every country to create sliding scale from Luxembourg to Sierra Leone. Don't worry the United States has the second highest GDP. One clue in Barcode Yourself is the flags are arranged according to their GDP rank. Another small clue on how the program operates, is the height and weight are always published in inches and pounds, really only converted if you enter centimeters and kilograms. Everybody but the United States uses Metric system and the 10 unit is easier to program, but I wanted to present a self-righteous American point of view. Moving on, age was the hardest variable to assign a value, and in the end I made a rather silly decision. Jesus was 33 when he was crucified, and 33 just so happens to be close to the average age of the world. I am not a follower of Jesus, I do not go to Church on Sunday or Temple on Friday, I prefer the skatepark. The funny thing is, I disagree with almost all the the statistics I used in Barcode Yourself. I always tell people, "My mother is a woman", she raised me on her own, and is the most valuable person to me. She is also from Argentina, and that country's GDP is 5% of the USA's, but all those numbers really don't matter to me. I may joke about making women worth less than men, but I am serious about how data can be misinterpreted and how it shouldn't effect people in the real world. I wish I could come up with some witty metaphorical link between this art project and how insurance companies rate their customer's potential risk. Bad cholesterol score will get to your wallet before it attacks your heart. The United States health care system makes decisions based on profit not prevention. It has gotten us this far, but all this positive growth has given birth to a uniquely American cancer.
Q - How long did it take to create the art? I read in one of your interviews that you wanted to "work on" the piece more… any plans for a version 2.0?
A - I started working on Barcode Yourself in 2002. Actually turned in a beta version for homework assignment in college. The program has been through several revisions. I recently collaborated with Flash programmer and friend Ryan Terry to add custom products, so now users can order their unique barcode printed t-shirts and coffee mugs. I'm not sure if any of the flags have changed since then. Each year I think about updating the GDP's and adjusting the formula, but I sort of like how I captured a certain time period with data set.
Q - What makes this piece special to you? How does it differ for you from the other barcode pieces?
A - For the past couple of years if you Google the word "barcode", Barcode Yourself is usually in the top three. I am flattered that the Google thinks so highly of this project. Barcode Yourself is the only truly interactive barcode art piece I have made. It requires the user to engage with keyboard and mouse, there is no auto mode, no play button. It also exists for the most part as online web piece, however I would like to create a kiosk for people to create "Hello my barcode is" sticker labels in a gallery setting, someday.
Q - What do you hope people take away from their barcode experience?
A - I keep thinking about those machines in the pharmacy that you stick your arm in and they measure your blood pressure. They offer a free, unbiased, personalized, scientific information. I think Barcode Yourself is a public service of sorts. The message is complicated, but basically we are so much more complicated than a couple of numbers strung together. The 12 digit barcode and scan value in Barcode Yourself is a totally absurd joke. Don't a let a computer tell YOU what YOU are worth.