The decline of handwriting among Millennials has been much lamented, including in a passage in my own How to Get a Monkey Into Harvard, but I haven’t seen too much about the decline of personal signatures among the same generation. The subject of signatures and their importance, and the reasons for their decline in general, deserve fuller treatment, but for now, here’s an email I sent yesterday to my own three Millennials:
I have always admired a fine signature – the flourish of John Hancock, the humble simplicity of Abraham Lincoln, the classic cornfed beauty of Mickey Mantle – but above all it is legibility that I love most. I have always tried to keep my own signature solidly readable. After all, it is mine and mine only, my personal stamp. As a writer and editor, I guess I’ve always wanted to be clear and easily understood. In this regard, I must also subconsciously take my cue from my own mother and father, whose signatures leave no doubt as to whom they belong. Therefore, dear children, you can imagine my concern when I saw the squibs and scrawls with which you signed your recent holiday checks. I hardly know what to say, except that I hope none of you is ever called upon to affix your sign to a declaration of independence or a baseball – years later people will look at it and wonder, “Who could THAT person have been? Impressive in life, no doubt, but lost to history because no one can decipher who it is.” Do I think you should change? Well, that’s up to you. You never took penmanship (it was never offered), so you lack the fundamentals upon which to build a legible signature. Maybe you are stuck. Probably you don’t care. Anyway, it is always interesting to see how a signature emerges from childhood into adulthood. John’s and Claire’s turn out to be more like the initials you sprinkle onto a rental car agreement, while Matt’s doesn’t seem to contain any of the actual letters in his name. But hey kids, whatever. Carry them proudly forward into the rest of your lives. Adjust as you see fit. Embellish as you wish. And now please feel free to go ahead and resume the rest of your working day.