Jazz Age Lawn Party, Governor's Island

From the New York Times to Jezebel, cultural arbiters are ridiculing or rhapsodizing about the current craze for typewriters. Bloggers opine on the joys of typewriting, and the truly committed can even attend type-ins, where groups of enthusiasts gather to … well … type.

Simplicity Isn't About Hardware

The attraction is understandable. We live in a world where technology changes so quickly that before we get home from camping out to buy the latest iPhone, the web is buzzing with leaked pictures of the next version. Of course we find objects and activities that remind us of a slower, simpler world appealing — even those of us who were born in the digital era and have never seen a rotary phone, a mimeograph machine, or a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

But real simplicity isn’t about hardware. It’s about process.

The same people who meet on message boards to discuss the virtues of a Royal 10 over an Underwood 5 have smartphones in their overall pockets to summon Uber, and tablets in their messenger bags to update their blogs. They know that real productivity depends on the most efficient means to achieve a task.

The Signature Killer

Electronic signatures are, simply, the most efficient means to confirm our identity and signal our intent. It no longer makes sense to find a pen, scrawl your name on a piece of paper, and then fax or scan that piece of paper before stuffing it into a file cabinet, never to be seen again.

The alternative — an electronic signature — is far more practical. Read document, click in document, hit “send.” The document is stored on a server where it can easily be retrieved if necessary, or automatically deleted when it’s become obsolete. For the end user, it can’t get simpler than that.

And the more we do business with mobile individuals in globally distributed organizations, the clearer the case for electronic signatures becomes. Nobody’s waiting by a fax machine; they’re working from home, or checking in from the airport, or just spending the day in meetings across campus. If you need to get a signature into somebody’s hands, you need to do it electronically.

Businesses’ demand for electronic signatures is supported by a raft of government regulations. Laws such as the ESIGN Act, the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and others, are driving the institutionalization of electronic signatures in the US and other countries.

With all this support for the adoption of electronic signatures, the future is clear. We’re not going to be signing our John Hancocks with pens much longer. Our very definition of a signature is on the cusp of change. While we’ll always agree that a signature represents our agreement to a contract, we’ll no longer see our signatures as an extension of our personal identities. They will be more like avatars — an extension of our digital identities. Kids who are entering middle school today are likely to never sign their name on a contract. They’ll view signatures as quaint relics, like cursive writing and the abacus.

So I’m going to make a prediction. Soon — sooner than you’d expect — signatures are going to be the new retro fad. At ironically working-class bars around cities on both coasts, people in flannel shirts and horn-rimmed glasses will be whipping out portable inkwells and practicing their copperplate signatures over artisanal cider.

Enjoy it, type heads. We know what you have in your messenger bag.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  PaulSteinJC