When I first arrived at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1992, I was still high on endorphins and excitement from the tattoo my uncle had just given me at his shop, Electric Ink Tattoo. I was high on life. The design had come out perfectly; the knowledge that it was there forever made me even more excited. It was my mark, my rite of passage, and most importantly, my nickname -- a jester. It meant something.

Aside from the nervousness of being at college and wondering if I could actually make it, my major concern was how I was going to get back to Rhode Island so I could get my uncle to do more work on me. I tried to find other people that were into tattoos and bodyart. Through some friends, I learned about Usenet. It was there that I found rec.arts. bodyart (RAB).

RAB was an important find for me. It was small, but popular and I quickly became a regular. RAB became a forum for people to discuss bodyart, and for those thinking of getting a bodmod to ask questions and opinions before plunging on.

From communicating with my uncle and eventually apprenticing with him to become a tattoo artist, I picked up a fair amount of tattoo knowledge. I used this knowledge to help people on RAB. As RAB's readership grew, so did the amount of e-mail I received. The FAQ for the group grew exponentially, thanks mostly to the efforts of Lani Teshima-Miller. But this information was only posted monthly and new readers with old questions were joining every day. Due to the size of the FAQ, it was considered that sending it to a new reader over e-mail would be almost rude (it knocked out quite a few people's mail servers). But this information still needed to be available. And that's when the Web showed up. Even if users had only Lynx, they could still get at the FAQ. Posting images of tattoos was discouraged, so the appearance of URLs at the end of people's .sig files became more and more common.

In 1995, I decided to learn about the Web. A friend taught me HTML in about a half hour, and I got my first home page up and running. I spiced it up with some images I scanned at school, pictures of my tattoos and others by my uncle and workers at his shop. Eventually, I added more topics and content as I came across it. On the Electric Ink page, I posted portfolios of the artists, directions and contact information. The response was enormous.

My opinion is that the Internet had come to the common man. People who were searching for information weren't just scholarly types. Now, Ma Kettle was looking for recipes, Joe Blow needed to fix his car and Kandy Apple wanted a tattoo. Some people wonder at the open exchange of information that seems to come with the Internet, but it really isn't any more open than any other community. It's just that now you have an easy way to find the people who are willing to share information not always readily accessible elsewhere.

Tattoos were once regarded the stuff of bikers, rockers and sailors. Now, more people understand the complex designs that can be rendered, tattoo parlor health requirements and the unlikeliness of contracting AIDS from a tattoo needle. One of the most frequently asked questions I have seen is "Does it hurt?" Now someone can pose this question to a forum of people in the know (such as RAB) and get a serious answer; in the past, they would have to risk the embarrassment of asking it and possibly getting heckled. Now more and more people can embrace that primal side of their selves, the part that wants a rite of passage, a way to prove their "toughness" or their resilience. Or, to just make a statement.

Many might say that increased interest in bodmods is just a fad, but I feel that the interest has always been there and always will. It's only more apparent now as it seems more socially acceptable and people are becoming more informed. Where the ignorant used to believe tattoos to be dirty and dangerous, they can now discover they are clean and can be quite elegant. The Internet, with its means of transitive education, may just be helping to overcome a stigma and creating a community at the same time.

Jesse Parent maintains the Jesster's Tattoo Page at http://www.wpi.edu/~jesster/tattoo.html

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