Before I get into the significance behind the title of this post, firstly I must explain an encounter I had with a customer at work about 18 months ago.
One of the joys of working in a customer contact environment is that you get to talk to some interesting, bizarre, and often downright crazy people. It’s a true eye-opener into how different people can be; one call might be from a pleasant old lady who tells you her life story, and the next caller might be a complete madman who yells and swears at you.
Probably the most perplexing, and to be quite honest, frightening, of all customers I’ve ever dealt with was a middle-aged woman I spoke to when I worked in London. She didn’t speak English very well, and she called with a complaint about an order that she’d just received. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Good afternoon, this is Daniel speaking, how can I…?” *gets cut off by woman shouting*
Lady: “YOU TOLD ME THERE WOULD NOT BE BARCODES! YOU MUST TELL DRIVER COME BACK AND TAKE DELIVERY, I CANNOT KEEP IT! I MUST HAVE REFUND! YOU TOLD ME THERE WOULD NOT BE BARCODES! I CANNOT HAVE THE BARCODES!”
Me: “I’m very sorry, but I don’t quite understand?”
Lady: “THE BARCODES!!! I CANNOT HAVE THE BARCODES! NO NO NO THIS IS BAD, THIS IS BAD, THE BARCODES”
Me: *goes into crisis response mode* “Ok, ok, ok, please take a deep breath for me and let me know your account number so I can look further into what has happened”
Lady calms down slightly and gives account details. “THE BARCODES THE BARCODES” I can see that this is the first order she’s placed with us, which consisted of 6 or 7 various items, totalling around £30. “I MUST HAVE REFUND” For the purposes of explaining this I will refer to the lady as Mrs Smith. “THE BAAARRRCOOODEESSSSSSS!”
Me: “Mrs Smith, am I right in saying that you wish for a refund of your order because the items have barcodes on them?”
Mrs Smith: “YES BECAUSE YOU TOLD ME THAT THERE WOULD BE NO BARCODES!! BUT I GET YOUR DELIVERY AND THERE ARE BARCODES! YOU MUST GIVE ME REFUND, YOU MUST TAKE THE BARCODES AWAY!”
Me: “Can’t you just cut the barcodes off the packaging and throw them in the bin?”
Mrs Smith: “NO!! I CANNOT TOUCH THE BARCODES, YOU MUST TELL YOUR DRIVER TO TAKE THE BARCODES AWAY”
At this point I place Mrs Smith on hold and discuss the situation with my supervisor, who is just as perplexed as I am. We both agree on a fair course of action, and I return to my phone, not looking forward to the remainder of our conversation.
Mrs Smith: “THE BARCODES. THE BARCODES!”
Me: “Mrs Smith, I’ve just spoken with my manager and what we are happy to do is request for our driver to return to your address and collect your delivery. However, as these items are perishable, and as it is standard procedure for any form of packaging to contain a barcode, I am afraid that we will not be able to offer you a…”
Mrs Smith: “NO NO NO I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE BARCODES YOU SAID THERE WOULD BE NO BARCODES WHY WILL YOU NOT GIVE ME REFUND BECAUSE OF THE BARCODES TAKE THEM AWAY TAKE THEM AWAY THE BARCODES THE BARCODES THE BARCOOOOOODES” *hangs up phone*
It was an insane conversation, it really was. I felt so sorry for her; I mean, how can you possibly go through life with a phobia of barcodes? You’d pretty much be housebound and you’d have to get somebody else to do all your shopping for you. You’d drive yourself absolutely nuts.
So I did some research. I needed to find out how and why this poor lady came to possess such a fear. And wasn’t it interesting what I found!
There are plenty of websites out there that detail the reasons, and I’m sure some of you reading this will be aware already, but I’ll explain it briefly here by borrowing an image from an article by Dial The Truth Ministries:
This particular type of barcode is known as a UPC, or Universal Product Code, which is the standard for most grocery-related items. Basically, every digit that appears within a UPC barcode is represented by a combination of black and white bars. Digits from 0-9 that appear in the manufacturer code (left hand side) have one particular representation, and digits from 0-9 that appear in the product code (right hand side) have a different representation. There are also three guard bars that appear at the beginning, middle, and end of the barcode.
This next image, borrowed from an article at Hidden Bible, shows how the digits 0-9 are represented in the product code. Pay particular attention to how the digit 6 appears:
As you can see, the 6 is depicted by two thin black bars with a thin white bar in between. Now, if you go back to the first image and look at those three guard bars that I mentioned, you’ll notice that all three of them appear the same as the 6. These three guard bars appear in every UPC barcode, which effectively means that every item you purchase containing a UPC has the number 666 coded in black & white on the packaging. And we all know that 666 = The devil’s number!
Now, it must be pointed out that technically, the guard bars aren’t exactly the same as the representation for number 6 (you can read about this in further detail at Dial The Truth Ministries). But the fact is, to the human eye, they appear the same as the 6.
So you can understand now why particularly religious people may possess a fear of barcodes.
Give it a go yourself! Check out some everyday objects lying around the house and you can witness this in action:
You get the idea!
Anyway, I hadn’t thought much of the barcode thing for a while – until recently, when I was struck with a very ironic and almost morbid thought:
Does the barcode on The Bible contain the number of The Devil?
So I headed on down to the local bookstore to find out.
* * *
It does make me wonder, is all of this purely coincidental, or is it some kind of cruel joke that the inventors of the UPC barcode came up with way back in the early 70’s? If you do some reading up on the subject, you’ll find the inventor, George J. Laurer reckons it’s a coincidence. A pretty bloody funny one, if you ask me.
Now, I am completely accepting of all religions, but I’m not a religious person myself so I can see this whole barcode thing from a light-hearted and humorous perspective, as I suspect most people would do. But what I’d like to know is – are you religious, and if so, does it shock or offend you in any way to know that there’s a little bit of the Devil in (almost) everything you buy?
Feel free to leave a comment and share any thoughts you may have!