Everything is Semi-Permanent
Ephemeral has been developing their proprietary (eventually) disappearing ink for years now, and is finally beginning to tat the public. Their ink lasts 12–15 months and they’ve amassed a +5,000-person waitlist… and $20M in funding.
While there’s InkBox, which sells tattoo stickers lasting a couple weeks — similar to henna — Ephemeral has actual tattoo artists sketching your design and using the actual gun, penetrating skin.
According to research,
“ 60M Americans have considered a tattoo, but are deterred by its permanent nature, be it for cultural or religious reasons, family disapproval, or simple indecisiveness.”
The solution is to allow consumers permanence — without sacrifice. Or really, just control.
As soon as I heard of Ephemeral, I joined the waitlist. I find this company endlessly fascinating. (Mind you, I’m probably the last person you’d know to get a tattoo.)
But while we can go into the historic, cultural meaning of tattoos, how to even price this thing, or whether it’s a diss to the original art, I think the most interesting concept here is how it perfectly represent our peculiar moment online.
Everything online today is semi-permeant.
There’s no longer eternal or temporary. The binary is a fallacy.
Everything now is all in-between.
Snaps, meant to be truly momentary, are now screenshot or screen-recorded. Fleeting becomes forever.
Meanwhile sentimental YouTube playlists are wrongly and permanently deleted. From enduring to suddenly expired.
Further, OnlyFans content is bootlegged by new owners, and then distributed beyond paying customers. The exclusive becomes broadcasted.
Controversial videos are deleted by platforms, but quickly mirrors in the comments pop up like whack-a-mole. Duplicates spawn before the original was even taken down.
But then again, step into the Wayback Machine and rediscover previously deleted (and forgotten) content from years ago.
Online, nothing is truly short-lived nor endless.
We’re in a digital limbo. Thriving (or suffering) in the void.
Everything is both carved into the internet’s stone, forever traceable and searchable… but, simultaneously prone to broken links, outages, and deletions. Strong and weak.
It’s hard to hold both of these perceptions of the internet. It’s cognitive dissonance. We have so many daily experiences on both ends, that we feel one must be true.
However, it’s both. Both are true.
(Unintentionally) forever etched, then (purposefully) instantly wiped.
(Intentionally) forever etched, then (accidentally) instantly wiped.
Our online lives are semi-permanent.
The internet doesn’t forget. However, it has a microscopic attention span.
When something is presented as ephemeral online, we know that it’s a false constraint, and we desire to hold onto it longer. Command-Shift-4. Screen grab. But when something is presented as immortal online, we desire the organic, fragility of nature, and then intervene to somehow make it end. Apeirophobia is the fear of eternity.
Something can be said about the blockchain here, but in the end we want both: indestructible and perishable.
In fact, what we really want here is just control.
We want to control if and when something ends or is endless.
We want to decide.
But in the end, and at the crux of this dilemma, we rarely get to pick. Once it’s online, we hand over the keys.
I look forward to first the presidential race between two Millennials who went to college with Facebook. I suspect the tides will change then.
Once posted online, we don’t have a lot of control over what happens next. However, what we do have control over is how we respond.
Matt Klein is a cultural theorist and strategist analyzing the psychosocial implications of our technology to consult on business decisions.