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Are business cards obsolete?

I decided it was time to sort through the boxes of business cards that I have accumulated over the past few years. There they were, dutifully filed from A to Z in four of those metal boxes that hold over 600 cards each (I say “over” because the covers never properly fit since the boxes were so full). I also have a couple of cardboard boxes with another 1000 cards collected over the past couple of years, waiting to be scanned and filed.

As I was going through each box, I found myself chuckling at how many of these contacts were no longer relevant to me. Some of the thoughts that came to mind as I sorted through the cards:

– Many of the people I can find on LinkedIn if I need to…

– Oh, interesting – he passed away in 2009

– I have three different cards from the same person. I wonder what project actually took off?

– Several companies no longer exist, or were bought out, or moved…

– I remember the conversation I had with that person at the Chamber of Commerce event in 2005…

It helped that on a good number of the cards I wrote a date of when we met, and maybe some details, a practice I haven’t been so good at doing in the past couple of years (now that’s a good habit to re-adopt!).

All of this got me thinking, what is the purpose of business cards in today’s smartphone, LinkedIn world?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the business card. It’s a physical token that is hard to forget. Yes it may stay propped up in front of my monitor as a reminder to followup, or be tossed into a box in the corner of my bookshelf for later filing. But when I pick up the card, I remember the person.

When was the last time I went through all of my 2000+ LinkedIn contacts or thousands of Facebook “friends”? But the act of going through the boxes of cards triggered a dozen reminders to do followups.

I wish there was a standard scannable mark on business cards, recognizable by smartphone cameras or scanners, that ensured that the contact information was properly transcribed in my database, because Optical Character Recognition is still baffled by the variety of fonts, colours, and designs.

So much of our life is de-atomizing. I haven’t bought paper books or music CD’s in years. I have hundreds of books on my Kindle, and gigs of tunes on my hard drive, but then I forget I have them until I actually go through the list.

Although I am scanning the cards I’m keeping, these same cards will be re-filed in my metal filing boxes. I believe that the business card will always have a place for the savvy entrepreneur, just like pens (or maybe styluses) stamped with your name and contact info. A physical reminder is more effective than being buried in an anonymous database. I need both – the database’s ease of access to your info when I think of you, but the card’s physical reminder of you.

So although I sorted a lot of cards into the circular file, I’m keeping enough to ensure that the metal filing boxes will be filled to the brim again soon. And I just ordered another 2000 cards to give away in the next year.

(insert obligatory American Psycho business card scene here)


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