Future Tense

In Defense of “Sent From My iPhone”

A woman looks at her smartphone as a train passes by at the 14th Street subway station, July 20, 2016 in New York City.  

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post both ran pieces reporting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with a Russian official during the 2016 campaign despite having denied the existence of any such meetings during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Soon after, the White House sent CNN’s Jim Acosta an angry denial:

It’s a funny statement in and of itself, practically inviting anyone with cartooning ambitions to draw “senator” and “campaign surrogate” hats for Sessions. But what about the four familiar little words at the end?

People on Twitter certainly didn’t overlook the “Sent from my iPhone” bit.

The excellent Margarita Noriega had a ball:

And others followed:

It’s commonly accepted that “Sent from my iPhone” is the lamest of sign-offs, a closing line that makes any email at least 10 percent more eyeroll-worthy. But why?

“Sent from my iPhone” is useful information. It explains why an email is brief to the point of curtness, or why there’s a bizarre typo. In 2013, Bianca Bosker wrote on the Huffington Post that she adds “Sent from my iPhone” to emails sent the old-fashioned way—it buys leniency:

When I fake an iPhone reply, I do so with the full knowledge the recipient will recognize that it means I’m operating at a limited capacity, on a tiny touchscreen device that won’t allow me to look up the detailed information he’s asking for, or include any pleasantries or answer in great depth.

I can’t endorse this subterfuge, which cynically takes advantage of the social contract. Are we no better than animals?

But Bosker nails the utility of the signature. Some of those mocking the Sessions statement might agree on the practicality point but argue that the specific wording is the issue. “You can do better than ‘Sent from my iPhone,’ ” Alexis Madrigal scolded on the Atlantic in 2013. And indeed, many people have composed witty, snappy alternatives to the default, vanilla “Sent from my iPhone.” Madrigal’s sister’s signature is rather winsome: “Sent from a phone. Regularly foiled by autocorrect. But duck it.” I’m particularly fond of one occasional email correspondent’s notice: “(From phone, through space!)”

But let’s be honest. The only thing lamer than “Sent from my iPhone” is trying too hard to create a witty alternative and coming up short. Few people sparkle in this medium—the sign-off has to be short, it has to communicate the message clearly, it has to suggest that you jotted it off quickly in a moment of inspiration. Above all, it must be funny and winky and self-deprecating. How exhausting.

I don’t blame the White House rep, then, for sticking with the default text. Why is it offensive for someone with a busy job—dismantling democracy is hard work!—to use his or her iPhone to send a work message late at night? I reserve the right to change my mind, though, if it comes out that the spokesperson added “Sent from my iPhone” as a way to buy time or forgiveness. That is a crime against email etiquette that I can’t abide.