Coming Soon To A Sky Near You

Over the weekend, 400 drones came together to form a giant purple QR code floating over the city of Austin, Texas. The QR code formed by the fleet of drones, which was hundreds of feet high, apparently was scannable and was part of a promotion of the upcoming release of the sci-fi series Halo on the Paramount+ network. It occurred during Austin’s annual SXSW (South by Southwest) music, film, and interactive media festivals.

According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter, people in Austin were variously “freaked out,” annoyed, or impressed by the marketing stunt. Having been to Austin several times, I seriously doubt that many of the young, uber-cool Austinites were “freaked out” by the display, unless they were already under the influence of some powerful mind-altering substance or were part of the fringe group that believes that we all really live in a computer simulation, as in The Matrix, and saw this as a giant, revealing glitch in the programming. I’d be surprised if most of the residents in Austin’s capital city did anything other than take a selfie with a comical expression on their faces and the giant QR code in the background, post it on all of their social media accounts, and then return to drinking their butter coffee or one of the many Austin area craft beers and riding their scooters around town.

What this really means is that soon the skies everywhere will soon be cluttered with drone QR code ads. Now that the Halo marketers have shown the way, copycat displays cannot be far behind. Drones are cheap and easy to program, and QR Code formations should not be hard to design. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some QR code floating above Columbus on the day of the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game this coming September, or during next year’s Arnold Festival. And ultimately the skies will be filled with competing QR codes and other ads, as seen in many dystopian sci-fi movies about grim and overcrowded futures.

In a way, this development was inevitable. Given the prevalence of marketing in the modern world, we can expect that eventually ads will be everywhere you look, coating every surface and floating in the skies above. The world will be like the internet, and the only issue will be where the next pop-up ad will appear as you walk down the street.

A Tipping Point

Yesterday we went to a restaurant. When we sat down after finding our way to a table on our own (“Sit anywhere you like,” the hostess helpfully said) we were confronted by this increasingly familiar QR code item on the tabletop. I’ve been in restaurants before where you use the scanning feature of your cellphone to connect in order to call up the menu.

But this scanning feature was more extensive. You not only called up the menu, you placed your order yourself–hitting a “send to kitchen” button when you were done–and then proceeded to pay for the order, entering in our credit card information on the key buttons of our phone. But when I got to the “tipping point,” where I would put in a gratuity for our waitress, I was stumped.

What is the proper tip amount under these circumstances? By the time I was entering the tip amount, our waitress had literally done nothing; the whole process had been entirely self-serve. By tipping at the outset, there was no connection whatsoever between wait staff performance and the tip, to say nothing of the fact that many of the traditional wait staff duties–providing menus, offering helpful information about what was good, presenting the bill and receiving payment–were being done electronically. We didn’t really interact with our waitress until she brought the food.

I still gave the waitress a good tip, because I appreciate anybody who is working under these circumstances, but not as much of a tip as I would under normal circumstances, when the waitress would offer the full array of services and I wouldn’t have to do 80 percent of the work. Is there a new normal for tipping under these circumstances?