Monday, January 21, 2013

Changing Mediums and Signatures

The most important thing I took away from the Postman reading is the idea that we are in a time of change, moving from a print culture to a digitized culture. This change isn’t necessarily bad, but it means that as the medium we use to communicate changes, so too do we.

This change reminds me of an ongoing argument I’ve had with my grandmother concerning our local elementary school, which has dropped cursive writing from its curriculum. My grandmother is convinced that the lack of connected letters will lead to the downfall of the youth, explaining that without cursive, how will they sign their name? This is usually followed up by my trying to explain just how useless signatures are in the first place, or how rarely they’re actually used for identification.

David Wheeler writes about this very topic in his article, “Signing Off: The Slow Death of the Signature in a PIN-Code World,” in The Atlantic. He explains that a consulting firm found in 2005 that “signature-based debit card fraud rates were 15 times higher than PIN-based fraud rates.” He then asks the question, “If PIN codes work better, why are we still using signatures?”

One of the people he consults in the article is Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology at the University of Toronto. Danesi answers this question by saying, “In this electronic tribal world, as Marshall McLuhan called it, we're losing our individuality…The signature, to me and to many others in my field, was the epitome of individuality: 'Here I am. This is me. I am more than my DNA.'”

On the one hand, I agree with Danesi. Losing our signature is losing something very distinctly “us.” However, at the same time, this feels too much like clutching onto something “outdated” for the sake of nostalgia. If the world is evolving into a place where signatures are a hindrance to privacy or security, why should we continue to use them?

What do you think? Would losing our signatures be a bad thing? Or are we heading towards a more secure world of PIN-Code based access?


  1. I entirely agree with your statement that continuing the use of signatures "feels too much like clutching onto something 'outdated' for the sake of nostalgia." I have the same kinds of conversations with my grandmother, who sees cellphones, calculators, computers, etc as representing the degradation of society. She also has taken a peculiar issue with young people who chew bubble gum, but that's a different story. Anyway, the fact is that these technologies are becoming prevalent because society sees them as being progressive. While it may be natural to resist new ways of doing things, ultimately society will progress whether the few like it or not.

  2. I agree with the decision to drop cursive writing from a school's curriculum—it's an archaic subject in a digital world. I've never written on any document that preferred cursive writing. However, I've seen many documents that ask us to "Please print legibly." When/where was cursive ever expected from anybody outside of elementary school?

    As for my signature, it wouldn't hurt my feelings to never sign anything again. I've also never thought of a signature as "secure." I mean, I forged my parent's signature on a field trip permission slip in the 3rd grade. How secure is that?

  3. I tend to feel a lot like Danesi does, though not as strictly. Of course I'm also a cursive writer not just for signatures, but on everything that I write. I appreciate the beauty of cursive writing, and the individuality it provides. Can you imagine if the Declaration of Independence had been written in plain print, or even typed out on a computer? Of course it would still be just as important of a document, but how much more distant from that document would its creators and signers seem? Would it be as easily recognizable as it is at a glance? Would its image still be an American symbol?

    I support the switch from signatures to PIN numbers, as it will keep fraud rates down and Americans secure, but does it have to be removed from our curriculum? I think it should be kept in schools so that it can continue to exist as a choice for growing writers. Upgrading is great, and we should never stop improving the world we live in, but we should still have options, especially creative ones.

  4. I too am a cursive writer (it's much more efficient and looks better). However, I really do not have a problem with schools dropping teaching cursive from their curriculum, and if PIN numbers are more secure than signatures, then I'm for it. Knowing how to write in cursive really is not that important in our digital society, language evolves and so does the way we express it via writing.

    There is something I want to bring up though. When I was in elementary school cursive was considered the more elegant and difficult writing style. Thus could the death of cursive be a sign that society is becoming lazier?

  5. I don't think it's a big deal that we are in a time of change. I think every generation before us could make that statement and support it, so it doesn't hold much meaning for me. As for the PIN-Code, I agree that it's slowly taking over as the signature for documents, but I don't know if we can consider it any safer. New technology brings about new ways to corrupt that technology. Soon, we'll be having discussions with our grandchildren about the replacement of PIN-Codes for a "safer" identification system.

  6. For me personally, I like signatures. I understand what Danesi is saying about losing our individuality with going more technological, and some feel that way. Me? I just like writing my name in cursive letters in different ways, though not necessarily for security reasons. I think the reason I mainly like cursive being taught in schools today is because then kids can read it.

    I know around Christmas time I was on my Kindle in a drawing app and writing a dumb message in cursive to my niece and nephew, which I laughed at because I it. Both of them were confused until they asked what it said. I remember the surprise that went through me because I assumed they were still teaching kids cursive these days. But that was how we were taught when we were younger and today’s generation is more advanced in the technological world than we were at that age. So truly they have no need to learn cursive (to write signatures or anything else) other than to be able to read it or have that “individuality” that comes with the ability to write it.

    Is it a bad thing if we lost signatures? For older generations that know how, that’s very possible. But for these kids that are growing up in this technological age not really because they are advancing with technology while the rest of us may have to catch up to go towards something like the PIN-Code access you asked about. I can’t say if a PIN-Code access would be any better, but you don’t know until you try.

  7. I love my signature. It is an extension of me and it is exactly what I want it to be. On the other hand, the statistics don't lie, although 47.6% of statistics are made up on the spot. I do enjoy the idea of having a pin-code signature. It's not as personal, but I'm sure you could choose your own pin. As much as I love my own writing, I want to keep with the times and not drag myself behind.

  8. Just use a PIN code that you really love! I'm perfectly capable of expressing my individuality with a four digit series of numbers.

  9. I love writing in cursive or in some combination of cursive and print. But I suppose there really isn't a need for children to learn cursive these days anymore in school if that isn't the way that society is headed.

  10. The writer in me is screaming that loosing our signatures is a horrible thing! But I can see the other side of the spectrum. This is a fast paste world where time is literally becoming money. The signature is becoming a thing of the past - this is inevitable unfortunately. However, technology - no matter how much you bullet proof it is still unreliable. So what happens when it all goes away at once? Can we as a society believe that this is not possible or are we willingly setting ourselves up for a problem in the future??