High off the creative rush of Inktober 2016, I wrote a short story the other day. I wrote it in the world of my desk-drawer-half-written-novel, in which the San Francisco Bay Area of 2115(ish) is blanketed by a soaring, window-filled arcology. I’ll get back to that ambitious undertaking eventually, but nothing stops me from worldbuilding in the meantime.
It starts like this:
Stories about people’s tattoos are the worst. Listening to them tell about the pattern and the inspiration is boring, repetitive, and whatever meaning they capture on a person’s skin is utterly opaque to any other person. The aesthetics though, can be pure. Clean. A statement of commitment. A moment of clarity captured forever.
No one asks me about my tattoos during my work day, or even out at public clubs with friends. It’s not that they’re hidden under sleeves or skirts, though some are. They are not for common display. Their aesthetics are private; selective. And they are not drawn in ink, but in light and cells.
You can read the full story here.
The futurist debt I owe to the Institute for the Future for this story stems from two streams of work: the soon-to-be-released New Body Language research I led, and it’s continuation under my colleague Bradley Kreit Everything is Media (I’ll update as more substantive public links become available). We drew on signals from cutting-edge DARPA funded research on implants, artists and hackers, and entertainment both popular and fringe. We also included my talented colleague Jamais Cascio, who has long explored the notion of the panopticon and it’s participatory incarnations in the present and nearish future. My contribution this year was to think about the implications for intimacy, hidden meaning and interpersonal care. The contrast of these two streams of foresight research beg the central question of this story: in a world where everyone could be watching all the time, what would you do to have an utterly personal, strictly intimate experience?
But I was also inspired by extracurricular science and art. The morning I wrote this I was reading about this fascinating study about how plants use light. This small finding, about how light may be beamed from leaves to roots, helps us get closer to understanding how living organisms perception of wave-based energy (light, sound etc) interacts with chemical signaling (molecules in host and symbiote tissues) to go about the business of living and growing. Signals of light excite plants and set of more chemical signalling than photosynthesis.
I’ve also been thinking quite a lot about the skin microbiome, both professionally and on my own. Throw a little CRISPR on humans and epidermal chimerism in there, and you get the possibility of a tattoo that altered the substance of human skin and its interaction with different fungi and bacteria. In other words, tattoos that are completely invisible unless excited by certain kinds of light and promicrobial mists.
Finally, we’re already in a world where privacy is something that you pay for (one way or another). Private clubs have been the work-around for a variety of intimate experiences, up to and including sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What would be more intimate than sharing invisible tattoos and dropping acid with 20 strangers with whom you share nothing else?