Signing Off in the Digital Age Not So Simple

woman at computer smallAt times there is nothing as simple as saying good-bye. It can be so effortless, in fact, that there’s no need to say it—especially among people with intimate relationships, whose shared understandings replace the need for words. They know that they’ll talk soon, that they want them to take care, that they love them.

But when the relationship between email “sender” and “recipient” is blurred, saying good-bye is fraught with a complex array of considerations: Have we transitioned from colleague to good friend, from “Cheers” to “Love”? How might this person, abroad in China, interpret my “Best Wishes”? Is “Warmly” too sensitive? Are we ready for “xoxo”?

Acclaimed cultural critic Joan Acocella, in her essay “Calling Miss Manners,” calls attention to this dilemma:

“We have an epistolary crisis in this country—a shortfall in valedictions, or sign-offs. The salutation, or greeting, doesn’t seem to be a problem. Though I see “Hi” trying to sneak in, “Dear so-and-so” has hung on pretty well and can be used on anyone from your mother to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But what do we do at the end of the letter?”

Best. Sincerely. Yours. Cheers. Cordially. Thanks. Regards.

As dizzying as it can be to decide between sign-offs (and there are dozens to choose from), the good news is there is no consensus on the rules of bidding adieu, which generally absolves us from censure.

For a lighter interpretation of electronic valedictions, Chris Gayomali, writing for The Week, provided a top-ten list of them last year in his piece “Digital etiquette: What your email sign-off says about you.”

Also see Susan Adams’ “57 Ways To Sign Off On An Email” in Forbes Magazine.

Perhaps the best lesson we can glean from the complexity of saying good-bye in our modern age is one of latitude. “Love” your family when you want to. Be their’s and use “Yours” when the mood strikes. But for other relationships, not yet fully formed, cut yourself, and others, some slack, and know that intentions rest in exchanges, like conversations and actions, and not in the word, or words, that precedes the comma and name.