Eventually, technology changes every industry. Not every industry will be transformed to the extent of, say, the music industry, where technology has repeatedly changed the very format of musical consumption. However, as tech continues to advance and evolve, it’s unrealistic to expect any industry to stay the same—even the ones that fit into the most singular of niches.
The tattoo and body piercing industries are two such niches. As of yet, neither has been drastically transformed by technology. Tattoos and piercings remain a way for people to express themselves and make statements about their values and individuality. Even the ritual of getting a tattoo or piercing is largely unchanged from what it was decades ago.
However, just because the tattoo and body piercing industries haven’t changed yet doesn’t mean a change isn’t coming. On the contrary, tattoos especially are on the verge of transformation, and there is also the potential for piercings to evolve in new and fascinating ways in the coming decades. The question is, will these changes gain popular support and take root? And if they do, what will the change mean, both for people working in these industries and the people who seek the self-expression that tattoos and piercings provide?
A Sea Change for Tattoos
In all likelihood, we are going to see the evolution in tattoos first. Already, the signs of this sea change are starting to show themselves. A few years ago, Motorola started talking about using “electronic tattoos” to take its smartphone designs to the next level. These electronic tattoos would truly be the stuff of science fiction and spy flicks: a system of sensors and circuits placed underneath the skin. This type of tattoo would essentially act as an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip capable of communicating with your smartphone (or some other device). In other words, the electronic or digital tattoo would act as the password for your laptop or the fingerprint scan for your phone, making it much, much more difficult for anyone who isn’t you to access your devices.
The Motorola electronic tattoos would also have other potential functions. For instance, since the tattoo would basically make it possible for an electronic device to become a part of you, it could work as a more effective health or fitness tracker than any current FitBit model. Motorola says that it wouldn’t be difficult to disguise the digital tattoo with a more standard tattoo to keep it hidden and private.
The list of things that electronic tattoos could do goes on and on. In an extensive article about this technology, Gizmodo noted that digital tattoos could be the key to developing animated tattoos “that you make you look like a mutant.” These types of tattoos probably wouldn’t utilize ink at all, and Gizmodo even went as far as to predict that the future of tattoos would likely be a “post-ink enterprise.”
What about Piercings?
As for piercings, it’s doubtful that they are headed toward the same sort of high-tech sea change—at least not yet. In 2014, CNET published a feature about a Jerusalem-based jeweler who had developed a line of body jewelry “designed to tap into the energy our bodies generate on a daily basis.” The jeweler, Naomi Kizhner, conceptualized the line with the idea that, someday, jewelry will be able to pierce skin or veins in such a way that it could harvest energy from the body.
The three pieces Kizhner developed are not functional in the way she conceptualized them. However, the designer envisions a future in which body jewelry and piercings will be able to “power up any device we want.” Imagine an Apple Watch deriving kinetic energy from the body’s blood flow (via a piercing) and you have a good idea what Kizhner has in mind.
Are we just a few years away from tattoos that unlock our phones? Could we see piercings that power our electronic devices in our lifetimes? Right now, the former possibility seems more likely than the latter—though discussions about everything from health and hygiene to privacy and ethicality will have to take place first. In any case, it’s the students of body piercing and tattoo art programs that are likely to be at the forefront of these technologies—regardless of when they hit the market.