Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the aliens. Not the illegal immigrant kind; the government seems to have that problem under control, in the sense that there's a heated debate about it every few months, and you have congressmen calling each other names, and shoving each other as they board that little electric tram underneath the Capitol, and then eventually they move on to another issue and hope the problem solves itself.
No, I'm referring to space aliens; the little green men from faraway planets; the ones that Mulder and Scully would chase around the country while wearing unusually long overcoats.
Specifically, I've been thinking about exactly what the aliens would think of us if they ever came to visit. For instance: they'd see automobiles and airplanes and know how we travel. They'd see restaurants and grocery stores and know how we sustain ourselves. And they'd see bowling alleys and think: we could enslave this entire species in less than nine hours.
But I've also been thinking about which human behaviors the aliens would find especially unusual, if they ever landed here on earth. For instance: I recently went to get license plates for my car, and the woman at the DMV informed me that I could have personalized plates for an extra one hundred dollars. One hundred dollars! And people do this! You see people driving around all the time with vanity plates that say things like "JIMBO 3", presumably because "I MAKE BAD FINANCIAL DECISIONS" couldn't fit in seven characters.
But to me, spending a lot of money for a personalized license plate isn't the most unusual thing we do. That title goes to the highly bizarre act of… signing our names.
To you and me, signing our names is a normal thing: we do it every day, all the time, in a wide variety of settings: on contracts, checks, legal documents, receipts; on that little electronic pad at Target that makes your signature look like a blind person got control of an Etch-a-Sketch. But did you ever take the time to step back and think about just how strange this practice is?
Here's what I mean: let's say you want to buy a home. You go into the bank, and you sit down with the mortgage officer, and you go over years of employment history, and tax records, and you get a home inspection, and you hire a realtor, and you look at a bunch of properties, and you negotiate with the seller, and you work out a deal. But the entire thing isn't official until you write your name on a few legal documents in an unreadable mess of squiggly lines.
Or, let's say you go out to eat. You have your meal, and the waiter brings the check, and you give him your credit card, and he runs the card through the machine, and you write down the tip amount and the total, but you forget to sign your bill. What happens next? The waiter comes RUNNING out of the restaurant, yelling for you to stop, insisting that you must sign the check, as if somehow your magical pen squiggles are any better than his magical pen squiggles.
To illustrate how bizarre and archaic this entire signature process is, I've recently started conducting a little experiment every time I'm asked to sign my name. Here's what happens: I'm at Target, and I come up to the electronic name signer thing. Instead of signing my name, I draw a happy face. And what happens? What's the punishment for so openly flouting the rules and conventions of the electronic name signer thing? Does my credit card company call? Does the Target loss prevention guy wake up? Does someone ask me to show some ID? NO! Nothing happens at all. The transaction goes through, nobody cares, and we all move on with our days.
I've started doing a similar thing at Kroger, the local grocery store. When I'm at the self-checkout machine, and it comes time to sign my name, I instead write the word "KROGER" in enormous capital letters. At this point, I'm not even bothering with squiggly lines. I'm not even trying to pretend I'm signing my name. I'm literally writing the name of the very establishment I'm standing inside, in huge block letters, on the signature pad. And once again, what happens to stop me? A voided sale? An angry security guard? An ID check? No! Absolutely nothing! I walk away with my groceries, smiling like the guy in my signature over at Target.
So obviously, this signature thing makes no sense, and it doesn't really have any purpose anyway. This is why I've created an entirely new plan to replace the signature: fingerprints! Just think about it! It would be secure! It would be easy! It would benefit everyone, except for all those people who are afraid the NSA might be spying on them as they play Call of Duty and eat Cheetos.
Here's how it would work: you go to use your credit card, and you put your fingerprint on a little pad to confirm that it's you. It's easier than signing your name. Fraud would decrease. And the retailers could easily track your purchase history. If you buy some cereal, maybe they send you a coupon for some milk. If you buy a laptop, maybe they send you a coupon for a case. And if you spend $100 for a vanity plate, maybe they send a team of assassins to kill you while you're sleeping.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.