If paperless is the way to go, why's there a need for signatures?

In digital age, when typing has replaced writing with hand, something as basic as signing can (sometimes) prove to be daunting


Sushmita Bose

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Closeup on fountain pen writing a signature realistic vector illustration
Closeup on fountain pen writing a signature realistic vector illustration

Published: Thu 23 Feb 2023, 7:53 PM

It’s been years since I’ve put pen to paper. Once upon a time, for people of my generation, pen and pencil used to be the only means to write: letters to grandparents, love notes to boyfriends/girlfriends, or examination answers on lined writing paper.

At the outset of my work life, computers were a scarce commodity; only really senior editors would be allowed access to them — and they weren’t even smart computers, they would keep crashing or the ‘floppy disks’ in which the copies were stored would get ‘corrupted’, and all hell would break loose, the ‘veterans’ would throw hissy fits and curse technology.

For the rest of us minions, we had to type out stories. On typewriters. But before we typed them, we wrote them in longhand first. Pens were much sought after. Pencils would get reduced to a stub with all the frantic sharpening.

Given that backdrop, it was easy to have a signature in place. You were writing all the time, so scribbling on a line that said ‘sign here’ was easy peasy. After a few years, we all graduated to computers; putting pen on paper became a much-diminished activity. But we always “took down” notes. And still handwrote on cards.

Cut to the 2020s. A few weeks ago, I was asked to sign on a bank paper. Now, the problem here was that it had to tally with the signature I had first recorded for the bank when I opened my account — bursting with officious pride — sometime in the 1990s.

My signature, down the ages, kept on changing, and today it’s a shadow of its former self. The curve of the S was more rounded; now it is sharper, like a hairpin bend. The way I lined my T earlier was straighter; now it’s crooked. The bee in my bonnet was the B: my surname starts with B, and my early B had a fat, pronounced lower belly; my current B’s belly is barely a whisp.

This will not do, my relationship manager told me sternly. “Your signatures — then and now — look totally different.”

What is the way out?

“You have to fill up a form… on this, you will attest that this one — the new one — is your current signature. And that one — the old one — was how you signed off earlier.”

“But you are asking me to put in my old signature — to show this is not what my new signature looks like! How do I replicate a signature that I’ve outgrown?”

She gave me a screenshot of my old signature. “Now copy this on the line that says ‘old signature’.”

Every time I failed to replicate the signature with its rounded S and obese B, I’d have to take a fresh printout and try my hand all over the again. After wasting reams of paper, I took a break and decided to sleep on it. In the morning, I sat down again, with a clear head, at my dining table, and proceeded to give it another shot. I managed to make a feeble copy of my old signature after much staring, one letter at a time. When I got to signing my new signature, I was suddenly besieged with doubt: what if I went back to the old one without realising it — since I had been scribbling my 90s’ “sign off” on ‘rough paper’?

Just to be on the safe side, I signed my new signature after taking a deep breath, and recalibrating the shape of the alphabets mentally.

The rigorous exercise got me thinking: if the world has conspired to make us paper-less, why is there a need for signatures to stand the test of time — like technology has not even paid us a visit?


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