We need notaries like we need phone booths
Loop North News

Howard Tullman

(Above) Cropped version of A Notary at Work by German artist Max Volkhart (1848-1924), depicting a notary office in Spain.

Some outmoded functions and technologies are still worth having around, even if just for nostalgic reasons. This isn’t one of them.

4-Nov-21 – In a commercial and legal world of transactions dominated by DocuSign, where we’re increasingly reliant upon the speed, ease, reliability, and cost effectiveness of digital signatures, you have to wonder why we would ever again need to seek the last notary public in the neighborhood, or some glass-entombed mope downtown at a currency exchange to have them validate a signature on some stupid pro forma document for a real estate closing, title certificate, or other such documents.

Notaries are state-licensed independent witnesses, with no other credentials or required skills, who once played a functional role in validating everyday commerce – certifying that the signatories to legal documents were who they claimed to be, were physically present at the signing, and acting of their own volition. This helped ensure that necessary parties to wills, deeds, insurance policies, and other such contracts could be later verified and called, if required, to affirm the signatures, which theoretically reduced the potential for fraud and coercion.

Today, notaries are as useful as 19th century scriveners. And just as hard to find.

Maybe you’ve had to make one of these pointless pilgrimages lately. You go searching for an antiquated clerk who still has the magic seal and a stamp and who, as often as not, is also willing to acknowledge the presence and signatures of spouses and witnesses who just couldn’t be bothered to make the trip with you. If not, your time will come soon enough, until we finally come to our senses and add this futile act to the junk pile of history. I don’t begrudge these folks their $5 notary fee. Heck, I’d pay them double if I didn’t have to go through the useless motions and waste of time.

Honestly, I don’t really have it in for notaries. What bothers me is how random and inexplicable it seems when we look around and see what’s rapidly disappearing from our day-to-day lives as opposed to what seems to persist for no good rhyme or reason. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of things that we’re still doing – anything and everything to do with DMVs and renewing passports comes to mind – that I’d rather miss a bit and think fondly of than have to keep on doing every day.

Photo by Julius Born

(Left) A Notary Public Office in Mobeetie, Texas, circa 1910, photographed by Julius Born. Image obtained from The Portal to Texas History, created by University of North Texas Libraries.

And, of course, I recognize that every time something we’ve suffered through for what seems like a lifetime disappears, it theoretically creates new opportunities for eager entrepreneurs to provide alternative solutions, which are sometimes useful and valuable. I am pretty certain, however, that I’ll never need a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush to manage my oral hygiene.

Notwithstanding the dozens of daily robocalls and sleazy solicitations on my landline phone, for example, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to shut it off entirely and then be racing around in the middle of the night trying to find my cell phone to call in a fire or summon an ambulance. There’s something solid and very reassuring about that Ma Bell phone mounted on the wall or sitting right beside the bed.

Similarly, I’d add old-fashioned, relatively reasonably priced taxicabs to the list of sunset services that we’re going to miss as we get increasingly gouged every day by Uber and Lyft. You could once hail a cab in most major cities to get you quickly, safely, and economically to where you needed to go. Now the whole process is a Hail Mary at best and typically ends up with a charge that’s about what you’d pay for a week’s groceries at the supermarket.

And, as stinky as they may be, we’re likely to see a return to cloth diapers one of these days when it becomes unavoidably obvious that we’re polluting the country by stuffing zillions of “disposable” plastic Pampers into overflowing landfills, which are getting closer and closer to our own backyards and leaking their way into our water supplies.

Paper towels aren’t much better and at least as wasteful. But here at least a new Chicago-based startup called Yowell has a simple solution, which substitutes reusable, eco-friendly, machine-washable towels (in a simple countertop dispenser) for the millions of paper sheets we use and discard every day. Back to the future looks better all the time.

(Right) Demonstration of a Yowell reusable towel from a video on Kickstarter.

Video by Yowell

Banks with human tellers are on their last legs, paper checks are on the way out as well – in part because we’re not teaching kids to write anymore, so they can’t prepare a check or sign their names in cursive. Free-standing banks are also going to be a thing of the distant past pretty soon. We’ll see increasingly more of the banks creating fully automated storefront outlets that will compete with CBD shops and COVID-19 testing centers to take over vacant retail spaces, nail salons, and bookstores in struggling strip malls and on suburban main streets while their main bank facilities retreat to fill spaces in newly empty commercial office buildings.

Matches and matchbooks, postcards and travel souvenirs, old photographs and albums, collectibles of every size and shape in an increasingly transitory and digital world that’s come to value access and utility over possession and ownership. Every year, as we think we’re accumulating more and more, we’re actually owning less and less. We’ve become – whether we realize it or not – a world of renters.

Adobe Stock

Digital books, cloud-stored media, and of course, music are just the beginning of a new era where we have the right to access and use things rather than to fully own and possess them as long as we’re willing to continue to “subscribe” and pay the going rate.

Get off the auto-pay merry-go-round for a moment and everything disappears in a flash. And, while you can “own” crypto currencies for the moment and NFTs, which will soon be worthless pieces of digital memento mori, such illusory possessions are merely evidence of your ongoing membership in the greater fool club.

As Billy Joel would say, “life is a series of hellos and goodbyes,” and while I’d be perfectly happy to never again be standing in line at the post office to do anything, there are things vanishing all the time that I know we’ll eventually miss, although – far too often – we don’t really appreciate them until they’re long gone. Notaries, TSA agents, and insurance salespeople won’t be among them.

By Howard Tullman | Loop North News | h@g2t3v.com

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