Mobile-Device Email Signatures: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

Overthinking and overexplaining the variations people use on "Sent from my iPhone"
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toaster.jpg
Sent from a toaster (Alexis Madrigal).

Here is a list of devices from which you, dear readers, claim to send emails: Commodore 64, carrier pigeon, homing pigeon, courier pigeon, fountain pen, rotary phone, hammer and chisel, tin can via the string network, typewriter, abacus, Apollo Guidance Computer, Atari, car phone, shoe phone, 1984 Samsung car phone, difference engine, Game Boy Color, IBM Selectric, pocket rocket, Remington SL3, souped-up TV remote, steam powered digital telegraph, TI-83 Plus, TI-89, toaster, UNIVAC, Coleco Adam computer, Moleskine notebook, Pony Express, Skynet, space age phonograph, and smoke signals.

Phew. That's a lot of retro. And a lot of Wikipediaing for the uninitiated. 

This data derives, of course, from our request yesterday that you send in your favorite edits to that line of text that phone companies so gauchely added to mobile emails: "Sent from my iPhone," etc. 

I know I promised you a best-of list, BUT...

Instead, I wrote you an essay breaking down the data! (Bum trade, sorry.) What really caught my attention is that people saw a basic grammar to iPhone signature witticisms. You put a single line of text in front of millions of people, and they start to -- en masse -- decompose it into playable components. Here's the general form of the message (explicit stuff is in brackets):

Apology/Location/Status [Communication] from [My] [Device]

The surface content of the message is that you're receiving a message from a device. But the type of device conveys an implicit status message, while the presence of the line provides an in-advance apology for any errors as well as an indication you're mobile out there in the world (or at least not at your computer).

Using this general form, we can create a loose taxonomy of the signature edits. (Yes, I know I'm taking this too seriously. Sent from a nerd in data heaven. Expect overthinking.)

rotaryphone.jpg
Sent from a rotary phone (Alexis Madrigal).

Look, you can check for yourself (I've scrubbed the names and backstories):

Most people only played with one of the elements. Obviously, the list at the top of this post shows people toying with the idea of the device itself, which (unintentionally or not) also changes the status message that gets delivered. They get all the other benefits of the line, but get to associate with a device that's "more them."

Others liked to highlight the device's deviceness, as in Nathan Tsoi's "I typed my text above on a smallish quadrilateral of aluminosilicate glass, a task that would have been unimaginable to most people even a few short years ago. Mistakes are inevitable" or Marcus Himmel's "Sent from a toy that has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969 when it sent two astronauts to the moon" or Don D in Peoria's, "Sent from the first great invention of the 21st century."

The other popular way to personalize the signature was to play with the implicit apology. These come in two flavors. The first is to actually apologize with words:

  • Typed with big thumbs on small phone
  • iPhone. iTypos. iApologize.
  • Sorry to be terse: my phone has little keys and I have fat fingers.
  • Sent from my iPhone. Forgive the brevity, the typos and the lack of nuance.
  • Sent from my iPhone; spelling might vary because I have fat fingers.
  • Sent from my iPhone, please embrace the typos
  • Sent from mobile device, all error self inflicted
  • Sent from a not-so-smartphone. Anything written herein that you find misspelled, objectionable, incoherent, dim-witted, plagiarized or legally actionable should be attributed to the phone manufacturer, Chinese hackers, or PRISM.
  • sent from a magical device that lives in my pocket. please excuse typos.
  • Does this email sound weird? That's because it's sent from my iPhone.
  • *brevity and errors aided and abetted by my beloved iPhone*

The second is to intentionally misspell the signature so that you know that I know that you know that I'm sending an implicit apology.

  • Sent from iPhone; kindly excuse tyops.
  • my iPhern. Sory fer eny typeos.
  • My iPhone can't spell for carp.
  • Snet fmor ym iPnohe, lulz

Another easy play was to invert the possession of the device: "Sent from your iPhone." Or the more florid: "Sent from your iPhone. Yes, that's right. Check your back pocket; I took your wallet, too." Or even more specific: "Sent from the iPhone you left in Starbucks."

typewriter_text.jpg
Sent from a typewriter (Alexis Madrigal).

Emily Hopkins sent in the signature, "I have a standing desk." I puzzled over that one for a while, but then I read the backstory. It's a play on the status part of the message, "People with standing desks are always telling you they have a standing desk, too," she wrote, "like iPhone emailers telling you they have iPhones. (btw, I myself have a standing desk.)"

Have I told you guys I have a standing desk, too? Well, I do. Sitting kills. OK, anyway.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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