ICING ON THE E-MAIL CAKE
IV. The Sign-Off Line and Name
Whereas the greeting is the way people say hello and "sign in," the sign-off line is the way they exit from their message. As with the greeting, the sign-off is a fingerprint revealing the status of the person's mood and state of mind -- sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle. "Here's where I'm at as I say good-bye." A contrast between the greeting and the sign-off may be significant -- as if writing the e-mail altered the person's attitudes and feelings. Across a series of messages, the sign-off lines may be a string of repartees between the partners that amplifies, highlights or adds nuance to their dialogue in the message bodies. The progression of exchanged sign-off lines may itself become an encapsulated, Morse-code dialogue between the partners. "Sincerely," "Regards" or other similar sign-offs are rather safe, all-purpose tools borrowed from the world of postal mail. They are formal, polite ways to exit. Some avid e-mailer users use them sparingly because they suggest a snail-mail mentality and a lack of appreciation for the creatively conversational quality of e-mail. Here are some examples of sign-off lines that are a bit more revealing of the person's state of mind and his/her relationship to the e-mail partner:
Almost invariably, the sender's name follows the sign-off line (which demonstrates how intrinsically connected the sign-off line is to the identity of the sender). Simply typing your real name is the easiest, most straight forward tactic. If the e-mail partners both belong to the same online community, they may have to make a conscious choice about whether to use their real names or their online usernames. The online name can be entertaining and revealing, but changing from that imaginary handle to your real name may be a gesture of honestly and intimacy -- a kind of "coming out." Creatively playing with your sign-off name can be an another effective way to express your state of mind, some aspect of your identity, or your relationship to your e-mail partner. Usually this type of play only feels appropriate with friends, or it indicates that one wishes to be friendly, loose, and imaginative. Proclaiming their identification with net culture, people sometimes apply the common cyberspace practice of fusing two capitalized words to create a "neologistic name" for themselves. Here are some examples of playful sign-off names:
Leaving out the sign-off line and/or name may be an omission with meaning. It might suggest a curt, efficient, formal, impersonal, or even angry attitude about the conversation. The ending could appear especially bureaucratic or impersonal if the person inserts his signature block and nothing else. On the other hand, friends may leave out a sign-off line and name as a gesture of informality and familiarity. "You know it's me." They may assume that the conversation is ongoing -- as in a face-to-face talk -- so there's no need to type anything that suggests a good-bye.
John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.
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