Online Identity: Signature

Throughout different postings of mine, I’ve explored and sometimes struggled with the idea of having and maintaining my actual personality online. There are, of course, lots of different ways people choose to portray themselves online, and for me, I’ve basically followed an idea I heard once: that your online identity is who you are in person, but amplified. I’ve always felt that just as we can’t hide certain aspects of ourselves in person, for better and worse, we shouldn’t hide those things online, even though it’s sometimes pretty easy to do. Yes, I can have a polished, flawless self online, but that’s not who I am. And as more and more of my interactions are online, I think that being more of my flawed, but more interesting self online, helps guide my interactions towards something more meaningful.

There are many aspects of this idea of bringing the real me to my online presence, but my last post about email got me thinking about signatures. You kids out there won’t believe this, but I didn’t have my own email account until I got to college, and even then, we used a Unix-based email client called Pine. It was a text-based email client with zero personality. No fonts, no color (other than black and white), and kind of hard to use actually. I had used Word processing programs and even page layout programs (remember Aldus Pagemaker?), but never email. So this idea of writing things, like letters, and sending them through space was pretty cool. Maybe it was the seriousness of the black-screend terminal in Pine though, or maybe it was my newbiness, but I felt like I had to be pretty formal in my compositions—at first.

As I got used to it though, I did find my voice and style in writing these early emails, dependent on audience of course, but one thing was missing for me: the signature. I’m not talking about your name and contact info, or a cute quote of philosphy. I’m talking about signing your name. Or here, I guess I’d have to say “signing”, because it wasn’t a signature. It was my name typed. Zero personality, just like that black terminal screen.

So much of our personality is conveyed just through our handwriting and how we sign our names, that while I don’t miss the body of my messages losing that—because honestly, no one can read my handwriting anyway—it didn’t feel right to so easily let go of my signature. Now, with a text-based email client you don’t have a lot of options, so I came up with “l u k e”. And thus was born what I might call my e-signature. I believe the year was 1997.

l u k e has become such a part of my online personality, that I don’t normally question it, and neither do most people. Occasionally I get people typing it back at me or signing their own name like that in their response, possibly to make fun of me, but I think while others might not give it much thought, they do notice it. After noticing it I think it’s immediately recognized for what it is: my signature. I have never seen anyone else sign their emails quite like it, just as I’ve never seen anyone sign their name with pen just like I do. Of course, this typed version is much easier to copy, but people don’t.

Honestly, it leaves me asking why? Why do most people just type their name as they would any other proper noun when signing an email? Why would anyone question it or make fun of it? We don’t look at people’s hand-written signatures and question it (most of the time). Why has it become “right” to sign my name Luke, rather than l u k e? Another argument: why does it matter? You’ve probably guessed that my argument is that it’s part of who I am, online. It’s how I sign my name and there is no wrong way. Everything else in my emails is up to spec with regard to formatting, grammar, and punctuation, but my name? It’s my name. Imagine if we all signed our hand-written names with perfect, proper cursive or print? Mmmhmm, my point exactly.

Yours truly,

l u k e