From Sig To Noise: Misforgivings of the Mobile Signature

You can spot the novices immediately. Any expert emailer knows when to (and when not to) use a proper email signature when composing a mail. That automatic addendum that mail clients allow makes emailers both creatures of efficiency, and freaks of a sort, revealing personal datapoints to recipients without pause. Phone number, fax number, mobile number, home number, company name, job title, favorite inspirational quote — all at once. Most times, frankly, it’s a bit too much too soon.

Dress For The Job You Want

I like the premise of the email sig file; its etymology tied, loosely, to paper stationery itself. And since the Victorian era, stationery’s venerable purpose has been to uphold a certain social etiquette. The style and form the letter takes reveals much about the writer’s character and relationship to the recipient. According to Crane’s Blue Book of Stationery: The Styles and Etiquette of Letters Notes, and Invitations:

“As with the clothes you wear, the stationery you use makes a statement about you. When you create and assemble a stationery wardrobe, it will be helpful to keep in mind the impression you hope to make. Your stationery should reflect both your personality and the type of correspondence that you are sending.”

I can’t help but hold email sig files to the same standards. Does the signature seem pompous and unnecessary or modest and streamlined; exhaustive and repetitive or informative and direct; flowery and decorative or plain and simple? Whatever its contents, the signature is a devil of a revealer, uncovering details of an individual or organization that are typically not carefully considered. And the opportunities to be revealed continue to grow. Around 2006, a new form of signature started to appear: the mobile signature.

Mobile email signature files from several months of collecting. Punctuation preserved from originals.


I started to see the mobile sig file first appear as a default on the Blackberry, stating channel and carrier. Both information about delivery method and a bit of free marketing to the end receiver of the message, “Sent via BlackBerry from Cingular Wireless.”

But unlike desktop sig files, mobile sigs have emerged as a method to excuse and educate, rather than to provide a curriculum vitae. Mobile sigs report from the field, bringing information and apologies. Here are a selection some I’ve saved over the last several months:

By Device

  • Sent from my iPhone
  • Sent from my BatPhone
  • Sent from my eyePhone
  • Sent from my BlackBerry.
  • Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
  • -message sent from handheld device.
  • Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
  • Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

By Location

  • Sent from the road.
  • Sent remotely with index fingers.
  • Sent from the streets of New York

By Shortcoming

  • Tapped with one finger on an iPhone. Please forgive any typos.
  • Apologies for brevity and any blunders in spelling; this was sent from my iPhone.

For Brief’s Sake

There’s no poetry in these signatures, but there is an admirable attempt at clarity and brevity. My own mobile signature used to read, “Note: Sent from iPhone” until I realized its fundamental issue. Walking around San Francisco after judging an award competition, I was emailing back and forth on my phone with a co-juror I’d just met to coordinate meeting up for drinks. The last message in a multi-threaded email conversation (each punctuated with my standard mobile sig file) said, “I want to call you, but I don’t know your number.”

It occured to me that with all the finagling and informing that we want mobile sig files do, the potentially single-most useful piece of information, the mobile phone number, is not included. I could email, text, and exchange photos with this co-juror, but he couldn’t give me a call. That just seems wrong.

I now proudly display my phone number in my mobile sig file. But please, don’t call. I probably won’t answer, as I’ve always been more of an email person anyway.

At least now people know where to reach me.