In 1920, bringing a Jell-O mold to a church supper marked the bearer as a sophisticate, because only those with refrigeration could do so. In the early days of online communication, everyone appended a favorite quote or ASCII art to the end of a signature. Doing so bore a mark of sophistication – that the sender possessed the ability to automatically include something special.
Valuable information – the sender’s name, firm, address, phone number, e-mail address and URL for a home page – can be found in a signature, but frequently those signatures can become old and tired when repeated time after time after each post to a mailing list. Cute quotations and ruminations on the sender’s philosophy of life, along with ASCII art have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced with pager and cell phone and VOIP numbers, efax and plain ‘ol fax numbers, alternate e-mail addresses, and everything short of the sender’s Dun & Bradstreet rating.
I counted 181 words among 27 lines in one frequent correspondent’s signature – setting forth the dates and place of the poster’s schedule for the next year, all current and former professional board chairmanships, a reminder to read the poster’s columns in various publications, and three quotes. The only information that seemed to be missing was his height and weight.
In professional correspondence, it’s important to convey a certain amount of contact information, and publicizing the sender’s website is part of that. Even then a long and clever signature really isn’t necessary. A savvy e-mailer should check the default signature to make sure that the same old signature doesn’t automatically follow each and every e-mail. Those long signatures convey as much information as maraschino cherries and marshmallows provide nutritional balance in gelatin mold. And both genuinely signal that the bearer’s really behind the times.
Take Robin, a lawyer practicing in Baltimore. Her signature includes the address and telephone number of her office, the URL for her websites, Cohan & West, P.C. and Qui Tam Online Network, and, because she’s concerned about the environment:
Please don’t print this e-mail unless you really need to.
She exercises enough restraint not to force that upon every e-mail message that she sends, so the icon and message don’t become worn out.
In the The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Rosman, in The Rise of MeMail, explores the alternatives available to users enchanted with Smileys, emoticons, and other crap who still want to convince the rest of the world that they’re amateurs and buffoons.