Tats, temp tats and the robot apocalypseTats, temp tats and the robot apocalypse

When I was around seven years old I remember being scared of tattoos.

This has since passed, unlike my childhood fear of clowns which remains both compelling and active.

I wasn’t afraid of tattoos themselves, mind you, just the people that had them. I had come to understand that tattoos were … worn(?) … exclusively by that great invention of childhood, “bad people.”

Since most of my childhood perceptions were molded by old cartoons and an overactive imagination I can only assume my image of a “bad person” was someone dressed in all black, had large tattoos (obviously), probably a fedora … so, pretty much The Hamburgler, just with less burgers.

Fortunately, my opinion on this has changed over time.

Does seeing a tattoo on someone even phase you anymore?

To all my younger readers: Yes, there was a time when seeing someone with a tattoo created a certain negative perception of that person in so called “polite company.”

I’m not exactly sure where this prejudice came from exactly, but usually the only thing that old cartoons and “polite company” have in common is an undercurrent of classism, a dose of old fashioned racism and a smattering of general xenophobia for good measure.

Whatever the polite/potentially ignorant origins of anti-tattoo sentiment maybe that time has long since passed.

Now I’m as likely to see tattoos among incoming freshmen at college as a rowdy group of Marines returning from deployment.

Walk into a Starbucks. OK, not the one here in MTown, but any of the rest of them.

Barista? Tattoo.

That employee that hands you the drink at the “pickup window?” Tattoo.

Guy in line in front of you ordering what he believes is coffee but is in actuality a very expensive milkshake? Tattoos like crazy.

At least 50 percent of women ages 18-49 in Starbucks? Lower back tattoos as far as the eye can see.

Once I started seeing teachers with tattoos it was obvious they had become mainstream. And not just teachers who served in the military, or taught some sketchy subject like “Art,” either.

But what of the boring cousin of the tattoo, the nagging poseur of suburban rebellion, the temporary tattoo?

Famously the purvey of national sports teams, gas station grab bags and school health drives, the temporary tattoo has all but vanished from the cultural landscape.

Admittedly, there was a brief renaissance in the early aughts in the form of henna tattoos, but these were quickly passed over in the ever revolving carousel of hipster obsessions for instamatic cameras and kale.

But now that regular tattoos have reached the level of ubiquity normally reserved for out of date movie catchphrases (Schwing!), are temporary tattoos going to fulfill their nominative destiny and disappear forever?


Like most out-of-date fads, temporary tattoos have moved away from cheap gifts and towards the inevitable dystopian futurescape that awaits all mankind.


See, our good friends at Google (motto: We know everything you hide from your friends) have taken a break from their construction of mysterious barges and fighting/helping the NSA to patent a temporary tattoo that you attach to your neck to make phone calls … and it works as a lie detector too!

The idea, at least according to Google’s patent filing, is that the temporary tattoo can detect your voice through the skin in your neck thereby making it easier to talk in an environment with a lot of ambient noise; environments like a stadium or an amusement park or a resistance cell engaged in combat against the armies of Skynet.

As far as the whole “lie detector” thing that’s because the “tattoo” can detect galvanic changes in your skin. In other words, it can tell when you’re sweating and stressed, which is what happens when you lie and you’re not a politician.

Now, before your imagination runs away with visions of mandatory neck tattoos that blink whenever you lie and the government will be able to hear your very whispers remember this: It’s not coming out for at least 10 years.

Also – it’s not really for you.

As much as Google likes to make money this isn’t really a mass market product. Giant temporary neck tattoos aren’t poised to overtake smartphones as the primary choice for communication anytime soon. The target demographic are disabled folks that cannot utilize their voice, which would be miraculous, and security personnel working large crowds, which would be as intimidating as possible.

So maybe this time the future-tech Google is cooking up will end up helping some people, as opposed to hurrying the unavoidable fight for survival between man and machine that we all knew was imminent following the invention of the Roomba. Good.

But the second I walk into a Starbucks and see everybody with temporary neck tattoos/smartphones/lie detectors I’m calling John Connor. There is no fate but what we make.

Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or wburns@timesrepublican.com.