Here is some musical data about how little things make a world of difference
Last weekend Norman Joseph Woodland, the father of the Barcode, passed away at the ripe old age of 91 without much fanfare. This despite the fact that without Norman Woodland’s long and interesting, but relatively unremarked life, the world would be a completely different place than the one that we know now.
In 1948, while a graduate student at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Norman and his friend Bernard Silver overheard the owner of a grocery chain begging the dean to put his students to work on a system to capture product information automatically at check out. The dean was apparently underwhelmed, but Norman and Bernard became obsessed and set to work on devising a way to communicate product information electronically right at the cash register. Their initial efforts did not meet with much success. Then, one day, while lying on the beach, Norman began to sketch the Morse Code in the sand, and accidentally let his fingers drift. When he looked back down at what he had drawn in the sand, there were now four lines where once there had only been the dots and dashes that had eluded their attempts to render them readable electronically. The Barcode was born.
In the decades that passed until the first pack of chewing gum was officially scanned at a Marsh Supermarket in Ohio on June 26, 1974, the Barcode, and Norman Woodland brought about the invention of a multitude of game changing innovations including the very first machine that could read electronically, which evolved into the computer, laser light, DNA banding, and the global adoption of the UPC code, which has ushered in the age of big data, the impact of which we have not yet even begun to fully grasp.
Norman Woodland’s miraculous life and unheralded death teach all of us in the House of We about how one thing leads to ten thousand others, about how little is big, and how in a world governed by the forces of Creative Darwinism, four lines written in the shifting sand can quietly and permanently change the world.
Here are a few more Barcode innovations that will blow your mind.
And of course, some things never evolve, like conspiracy theorists who have had fifty years to get used to the idea of a Barcode and still see the mark of the beast.