Command-Z may save you during your day job, but that lower back tat is forever. What the digital age can learn from an industry where there is no “undo.”
Making that final decision and moving on is something we all struggle with, including myself - and for good reason. Many times, when we make mistakes, we grapple with the reality of those mistakes, and we want to go back and correct them. Seems fair. But with the new wave of convenience via tech, we have become lazy. Relying on “undo” as a crutch to our erratic and myopic actions. We no longer make true commitments, or really take the time to think before we act. Everything has become impulsive, in 140 characters or less. And for many, this behavior can get us into a varying scale of trouble. If being careless and impulsive as some of us are with social media somehow leaked into other areas of our life, it could have very lasting effects. For me, that dose of reality comes in the form of tattoos. And take it from me, impulse tattoos may be a great conversation starter, but there ain’t no command-z here:
This is as much a thought piece as it is a personal introduction. Many know me as a designer, many know me as a tattooer, and my parents, of course, still don’t have a clue what I do. One thing most people know, is that I’m detail-oriented. I always pay attention to, and sometimes overly stress the small things. This is ultimately how I’ve been able to navigate and connect, making bridges between my seemingly opposite interests.
During the week, I work in a fancy office, in a big fancy building, in glamorous Midtown Manhattan. I was lucky enough to be sent here a few years back by the Silicon Valley tech company I work for in California. And to many here in New York, I’m that guy - a designer in the tech industry, or colloquially, just a “techy.” But there’s a less connected version of myself that only some know, and fall victim to outside of my daily grind.
When the work week comes to an end, I’m in a Brooklyn basement using a piece of technology that has gone virtually unchanged since its invention in the late 1800s - my beloved tattoo machines. The ultimate permanent marker. And with what started off as a less-than-steady income job as a tattooer has quickly become one of the most valuable aspects of my growing career as a designer. While tattooing, you are forced to make clear decisions, and commit to them with confidence. Maybe obvious for some, but apply that simple concept to your day job, and you’ll have yourself a damn good day. It not only boosts your self confidence and attracts the attention of a room, but also manifests a critical way of thought, making each move and decision intentional.
Unfortunately, I tend to notice more critical thought when taking on new tattoo clients than I do from most of the professionals flooding my inbox on the daily. And in our current social media frenzied society filled with trigger happy startups, I’ve further witnessed the sheer contrast between my two worlds in some interesting ways.
Most noticeably, how some choose to think deeply about each decision they make, carefully considering how it might impact their life, and how others will do or say pretty much anything without a second thought, knowing things can be edited later. This shot-in-the-dark agile mentality has become the norm for most new businesses in tech in the formulation of a digital experience strategy. Consider Facebook’s original mission statement, which underlined a “move fast and break things” kind of culture. And with many success stories, it has become a very intriguing and potentially game changing strategy for many. But this is Facebook we’re talking about. Imagine applying this type of thinking to more consequential aspects of your life. Or even more, to the wellbeing of a nation's people. Is a “bull in the china shop” approach always the right answer? Are we losing touch with thoughtful design and relying too much on the ability to undo/redo when things ultimately come crashing down?
This lack of commitment and permanence in our actions need to be made evident. With more than four hours a day spent on our devices on average, it’s clear that smartphones are the planet’s newest widespread addictions.
But I don’t believe the problem is that we engage too much with technology. I think the problem is that we are starting to use it carelessly. If great responsibility comes with great power, then our world of convenience should come with a heightened sense of intentionality and thoughtfulness.
One thing that tattoos always remind me of with each process - whether receiving or giving them - is that each of us has to live with every decision we make, everyday. Whether doing body mods or posting that tweet. Yet we seem to have flipped the process. We’ve begun to act first, then scramble with a combination of select-delete and command-z to change direction when we do finally pause and think. Well, call me old-school, but I like the process that most use when getting tattooed - and that is to think before you act. Then act 100 percent.
I’ll end my rant here, and invite you to join this one little exercise - a challenge you could say. If you work as a designer, writer, photographer, or simply have to deal with outgoing emails constantly, I challenge you to spend just half a day, and consciously limit the act of “command-Z” (or select/delete). Make mindful decisions, as if they were permanent. Move every pixel with purpose. Type every sentence like it's handwritten in ink. Take every picture with the selectiveness and concentration that doing so with expensive film could only encourage. We need to remember that in life - real life - there is no “undo.” So be intentional, weather designing a digital experience, answering an email, or finally getting that skull and dagger tattoo across your chest. Hold yourself accountable, and take responsibility for what you do and how you do it. Make each decision with a sense of permanence. Without the cushion of command-Z.
*Postscript: I am in no way advocating against iteration, proofreading, or editing - that’s one of the marvelous and critical abilities we have with new tech. And to be honest, I lost track of how many times I used command-Z while writing this. It’s simply an insight and exercise in conscious thought and meaningful action. Now go do some cool shit, and tell me how full-of-it I am down there in the comments \m/