Thursday, 8 May 2014

Writing - Time to sign off

As I have been reporting recently I have started writing letters, by hand with a fountain pen, encouraged by fellow scribe Bert Carson. In my last letter to Bert I brought up the issue of whether handwriting and signing documents will eventually peter out. Image my surprise when I found the article below.

Is a signature still useful?

Child signing

You might have spent years perfecting its every contour. Or you might just scrawl a desultory squiggle to show you're much too busy for such self-indulgence.
Either way, you have a signature. It's there on your passport, your debit cards and your driving licence - as much a part of your bureaucratic identity as your date of birth or your National Insurance or Social Security number.
Although perhaps not forever.
The signature is in retreat. Chip and Pin, contactless payments, biometrics - all make it theoretically redundant. All, say advocates, are safer, more secure and harder to forge.

In the digital world, swathes of young people barely use cursive script, let alone a signature, argues Brett King, chief executive of mobile app-based debit account Moven. There are far more secure ways to prevent fraud. Therefore it's time to move on, he believes.
"The signature is an artefact we don't need any more," says King. "It's a hold-over from many years ago. I think there will be a natural evolution where the signature dies a slow death."

And yet. There's something profoundly satisfying about marking your own unique inscription.

It's the one satisfying flourish of personality you're allowed at the foot of a neatly-typed business letter. It's the scribble in a greetings card that shows a loved one is thinking of you. It's the autograph you first honed as a teenager in the demi-expectation you'd become a pop star or a sporting hero. Or writer!

What's more, signatures go back a long way in human culture. A Sumerian clay tablet from around 3100 BC is marked with the name of the scribe Gar Ama. The Romans used signatures as far back as the reign of Valentinian III in 439. El Cid left one in 1069, but it wasn't until the British Houses of Parliament passed the Statue of Frauds in 1677 - which required that contracts be signed - that the signature became the commonly-understood acclamation of assent.

Already the alternatives are well-established. In 2000 President Bill Clinton signed the first US bill into law electronically. Now Obama has an Autopen stylus which he has used to imprint his signature on to legislation while on holiday in Hawaii. Similarly, the author Margaret Atwood created a device called a LongPen which allows her to remotely autograph books for fans.
All this has led to fears that the art of the signature is dying out.
The Canadian media has fretted that children are simply printing their name rather than signing because of the dominance of digital. The US Common Core State Standards Initiative, which aims to ensure consistency in US education, makes no mention of handwriting, although seven states - California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah - have moved to keep cursive mandatory.

Across the Atlantic it's a different story. The National Curriculum due to take effect in England from September 2014 requires pupils to be taught "fluent, legible and, eventually, speedy handwriting".

It seems that among educationalists there is a greater attachment to the signature than simply making marks on paper. Children begin to develop the concept of signature when they produce their first birthday and Christmas cards for parents. They want to make their mark and from that moment onwards they develop their own signature. I can remember developing my own and it was over a number of years. Like many skills it evolves and I think the reason for it to be maintained is summed up below.

"It's not like a Pin," Mike Allen, a forensic document analyst with 30 years experience. "It's someone making their mark and saying 'I agree with this.' It's not about being safer - the value of it is that it's you."

So before you join the digital bandwagon (is that a contradiction in terms?) remember that your signature is part of who you are as a person.

In my discussions with Bert Carson we have agreed that handwriting is an art-form and should be practised. At the moment there aren't that many of us who are writing but it would be great if more people did. If you want to take part get back to me. 

God Bless