ICING ON THE E-MAIL CAKE
V. The Signature Block
Many e-mail programs offer the option of creating a signature file or "block" that automatically will be placed at the bottom of your message (unless that feature is turned off). People usually place factual or identifying information into that file -- such as their full name, title, e-mail address, postal address, institutional affiliation, phone number, etc. It's a prepackaged stamp indicating "who and where I am." What a person puts into that file reflects what they hold dear to their public identity. Some programs offer the feature of writing alternative signature files, which gives the person the opportunity to create several different fingerprints -- each one tailored for a specific purpose. For example, one may be formal and factual, another more casual and playful. Each one is a slightly different slice of the person's identity. Because all signature blocks have a non-spontaneous, "prepackaged" feeling to them, friends often make a conscious effort to turn it off when writing to a cyberspace pal. In a sense, you are dropping your status and title while also assuming the person knows your e-mail address, phone number, etc. The message in which the sig block is first dropped probably reflects the sender's move towards feeling more friendly and casual in the relationship. As with the sign-off line and name, a change in a person's sig block reflects a shift in their identity or in how they wish to present their identity.
Ambitious and creative e-mail users sometimes place an ASCII drawing or an abstract pattern into the sig file. It's an attempt to be artistic, which may or may not be successful. When it is successful, people often are impressed. "How'd she do that!?" It's not easy to create a good looking ASCII drawing. Producing an effective one is a public demonstration of one's artistic and technical skill.
According to traditional net culture, people also place quotes into their sig block. Sometimes the quotes are serious, humorous, intellectual, tongue-in-cheek, famous, or home-spun. Which quote a person chooses -- and how they present it -- can reveal an important slice of their personality, life style, or philosophy of life. Here are some examples:
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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