In a recent news story, convicted felon Lord Conrad Black had to sign copies of his biography of Richard Nixon from a distance (he couldn’t leave the US to travel to Toronto for the book-signing), using a device called the LongPen. This device allows one to sign at one location, and then the device transmits each movement of the pen into a signal that is then decoded at the receiving end and “signed” onto the book with another pen. Not much different I guess than a telephone which does pretty much the same for one’s voice. But is this a real signature? Oh, I don’t mean is it legally binding if for example you used this method to sign a check. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t….I’m not a legal scholar. What I do mean is, does the person now have a “real” autograph of Conrad Black?
A few days ago, my daughter mentioned how much she disliked writing longhand; she believes that she can now write just as quickly on a keyboard as she can with a pen. I must confess a similar feeling, despite the years that separate us. When I think back to the “good old days” of writing longhand, or even writing with a typewriter, I shudder that I actually manged to get anything done. My school notes looked like shit – I could hardly read them – and the floor of my room was littered with discarded pages due to typing errors, or changes I wanted to make in paragraph structure, etc.
On the other hand, and this is my point, things written by hand leave a personal stamp, a direct and individual mark made by the writer that is a form of permanence, of immortality in a way, in an ever-changing and impermanent world. Hence the prices that “real” autographs and hand-written documents of the rich and famous command at auction.
Technology brings both good and bad consequences. The good are many…in my case, technology has enabled a level of professional independence that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. I can own and run a small consulting firm that…because of technology…can compete effectively with much larger outfits. If my car breaks down on a country road, I can call for help from my cellphone. And despite still using my beloved Leica MP film camera for “serious” work….I now take tons more family photographs with my digital point-and-shoot than I ever did with my film cameras….a much more extensive day-to-day legacy, thanks to technology. And, I can even write this blog, and publish it in book form if I like (available next week) for a fairly low cost.
One of the negative side-effects though, is the creation of a “virtual” existence that is essentially disposable. Few of my possessions will endure much beyond my passing since time-to-obsolescence these days is measured in months, not years. And the direct record of my existence is fragile at best. There are no hand-written letters (but lots of emails)….few signatures (I don’t even write checks any more with electronic banking) – and I don’t think signing my name on the FedEx electronic notepad acknowledging receipt of a package actually counts as a signature…do you?
So there you have it. Good and bad. In the final analysis, which is more important…..better ideas and actions…or signatures and statues? Overall, I’ll take the former….and make sure to own a good fountain pen (my Dad’s 1949 Parker ’51, as luck would have it – case in point) with which I make sure to send some cards from time-to-time.