The Self as a QR Code

Recently at UCSB, every student who stayed back on campus was mandated to fill in a COVID-related questionnaire.  The questionnaire had a few questions: asking us whether we show symptoms of COVID or not, if we have a COVID test result pending, if we have been in contact with other infected people and so on. Like any self-declaration, it works on the basis of trust and manifests the presumed benevolence of the sovereign university system. The questionnaire was my only journal in the pandemic. If little else, it registered my wish to complete the survey. However, there was no ‘opt out’ scenario in this case. Completing the survey and acquiring the green QR-enabled clearance badge is essential for accessing our buildings, for staying on campus in toto. The badge signifies life in the pandemic. As machine-readable code which is just a ‘sea of data’ (black n’ white bits) to my eye, its visual form spans across the architectural, the digital and the medical. The architectural pertains to (physical, socio-economic) access to homes, buildings, closed spaces: to rules that govern our movements. The digital concerns the infrastructure of control (the badge, the QR scanner, the database, the server and so on). And the medical indexes the health of our bodies, by which each of us is made individually responsible for keeping ourselves not infected. The digital pandemic is the triangulation of architectural, digital and medical governance, a nexus made manifest in this little QR code which I got on completing the survey.