Last week, I hosted a meeting in my office. I met the visitors in the lobby, escorted them to a conference room, and we took seats. There were introductions—four of them, and me—followed by an exchange of business cards. Well, not really an exchange. I didn’t have any business cards to give them. I haven’t had business cards for my day job in quite a while.
Business cards are one of those quaint appurtenances that the business world can’t seem to shake. The people with whom I were meeting were part of a technology company. You would think that by now, we would have a standardized electronic alternative to business cards. It is truly remarkable that we don’t.
There have been attempts to replace business cards with digital equivalents, but none of them have seemed to take. There are companies like Inigo and Haystack, but I have yet to run into someone—anyone—offering a digital business card instead of a physical one. The problem is that there is no overwhelmingly accepted standard for contact information. You’d think that by now, a standard, like vCard, would have filled this niche, but I just don’t see it happening. Maybe it is happening in niche markets. Maybe electronic business cards are the hip trend in Silicon Valley. But they are virtually unheard of in my part of the technology world.
I’ve wondered about this, just like I’ve wondered about whether or not we will ever truly have a paperless office. I suspect the reason is not so much about the availability or accessibility of the technology required for digital business cards, but that such a business card simply can’t compete with the simplicity of a stiff, and sometimes glossy piece of paper.
For technology to compete in this way, it has to be easy and as tangible as its analog equivalent. That is why I use business cards in the writing world. It’s easy to hand someone a card with pertinent contact information. Everyone has their own process for handling business cards. There is no confusion about the exchange process. You don’t stand there in the bar, saying, “Hang on a second, let me open this app and send you my info… darn it, I can’t get a good WiFi connection.” Instead, you pull a card from your wallet and hand it over. You take a card being offered and stuff it into your wallet.
In my experience, technology is never that easy. This is part of the reason I carry a Field Notes notebook wherever I go. Despite the good progress made by a variety of digital note-taking software companies, I still find it much easier to jot quick notes and reminders down with pen and paper, than to pull out my iPhone or iPad, open up and application, and type in the note.
Then, too, business cards are often a form of expression that conveys more than just contact information. People are always coming up with interesting, eye-catching designs. These designs are often integrated into the card itself, making it difficult to translate into digital form.
Business cards have another important use that can’t possibly be filled by their digital equivalents. They make great bookmarks. I can’t count how many hundreds of business cards I’ve put to good use holding my place in a book.