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Bar Code Equals Future

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Twenty Minutes Into The Future, having a bar code anywhere means "futuristic" technology.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
marcoasalazarm on Jul 10th 2018 at 8:25:09 PM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Jul 16th 2018 at 6:07:45 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

20 Minutes into the Future, having a bar code anywhere means "futuristic" technology. Most prevalent in fiction of The '80s and The '90s.

This Trope has been prevalent since the advent of machine-readable code (which actually started all the way back in The '60s), but nowadays it is too much of an omnipresent Trope to be considered important.... unless it's applied in a "dark" fashion such as a Scannable Man.


Film - Live Action

  • Back to the Future: After going to 2015 and back, a discernible change on the De Lorean (other than the capacity to hover) is the replacement of its "OUTTATIME" plate (which it missed early on in the first film) with a bar-code plate (which it misses early on in the third film).
  • Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man: Made in 1991, set 20 Minutes into the Future in 1996. One of the ways it demonstrates this is by giving several vehicles on the road (most discernibly on the bikes driven by the protagonists) bar-code plates.
  • The Terminator: So what is the best way to demonstrate that Reese is right about SKYNET being a psychotic Artificial Intelligence? By showing Sarah Connor the laser-made bar code tattoo he got at one of the Machines' concentration camps.


Live-Action TV

  • In Dark Angel, Max and the other Manticore kids all have barcodes on the back of their necks.

Feedback: 13 replies

Jul 10th 2018 at 9:05:16 PM


  • In the dystopian Jennifer Government, the titular character has a barcode tattooed on her face.

Live Action TV

  • In Dark Angel, Max and the other Manticore kids all have barcodes on the back of their necks.

Jul 10th 2018 at 10:10:11 PM

Well, we have several examples... looks like it's performing well, this Trope. Needs Hats, though...

Jul 11th 2018 at 2:19:03 AM

Jul 11th 2018 at 6:49:55 AM

Would this include more recent computer scannable patterns, like QR codes?

Jul 11th 2018 at 7:05:41 PM

Lets keep the Scannable Man examples on that page and focus exclusively on everything else that isn't a living person. That trope exists for a reason, so The Terminator, the Dark Angel, and Jennifer Government examples should ONLY be listed on that trope.

Jul 11th 2018 at 7:22:16 PM

Real Life

Jul 11th 2018 at 10:57:41 PM

^I believe examples of Scannable Man are ok here. If anything, this may even be a meta trope — maybe. Scannable Man is "people in the future are given bar codes because governments are eeeeevvvvviiiiillllll", while this one is the general display of bar coding as the technology became more mainstream and prevalent to provide a short-hand for "future". As mentioned, it's now pretty regular (although it's seen some expanding in ways such as Augmented Reality that have not hit much in the way of prevalence in media) so now Scannable Man may be the more regular example of this Trope when it's used as a shorthand for "future". Scannable Man is not really much of a sample of "the same but more specific" because the way the person is tagged can vary depending on the Phlebotinum Du Jour — could be a bar code, could be a cattle radio tag dangling from an ear.

Admittedly, this is a big "maybe". I am open for discussion.

Jul 13th 2018 at 11:04:59 AM

Bumping this. Discussion, Hats, examples... needs more.

Jul 13th 2018 at 9:02:28 PM

So at one point, they were new, and I suppose all the way back in 1974 they really did look futuristic and (therefore) cool — like a machine language, which, y'know, they are. It's probably worth having the description into a little of their history and the real-world reasons why they look the way they do.

The association with needing everything to be categorized, sorted, and tracked made it a natural target for punk/techno/generally rebellious music genres, as seen with these album covers, which should provide a number of examples once we start going through them.

Video Games

  • There were at least two standalone Tamagotchi/Pokemon-inspired toys built on the idea of scanning barcodes to randomize in-game data during the '90s/early 2000s: Barcode Battler (here) and Skanners (here, on its own wiki), with the latter apparently still being sold today.

Real Life

  • As noted on the Scannable Man page, there were a number of Christian fundamentalists who believed that barcodes would be the long-awaited Mark Of The Beast which would be branded on the Antichrist and his followers. At the same time, there was another subset of people who decided that merely carrying the mark, especially in such numbers, was close enough.

Jul 13th 2018 at 8:49:50 PM

So, if Scannable Man is a sub-trope, the Jennifer Government example should go there.

Jul 14th 2018 at 12:50:53 AM

Like I said, I believe that we have a possible super-trope here. Or at least one that can have a few examples from both Tropes (but to be perfectly clear, this Trope would only have ones with bar codes. Scannable Man has several that don't involve bar codes, and it would be dumb to add every single example from there here regardless).