In the recesses of a junk drawer somewhere in my basement is a stack of my first business cards. I just can’t bring myself to throw them out, even though they have absolutely no functional value anymore.
The day I received them was a watershed moment in my young career: I had made it. There was my name, title and phone number (strangely, no email address, even though this was well into the Internet age), neatly printed under the logo of my small-town newspaper employer. Something about those small rectangles of card stock legitimized my career path. I gave them to everyone I met, including my bemused coworkers who could easily contact me by shouting across the newsroom. I have a vague memory of mailing one to my parents.
My use of—and appreciation for—business cards has declined significantly in the years that have followed. Today, I almost never hand out my cards. In the increasingly rare instances that I meet someone I haven’t previously communicated with by phone or email, we almost always swap contact info electronically. In the era of LinkedIn, vCards and Google searches, the idea of actual, physical cards seems anachronistic and almost quaint.
So, I was surprised to discover that according to a recent survey from DesignCrowd.com, 87% of Americans still hand out business cards at networking events, meetings and conferences. Not only that, but the site—which serves as a virtual marketplace for designers—has seen a 357% increase in requests for business-card design in the past year.
“Business cards no longer just have your job title, phone number, address and email,” reasons Alec Lynch, founder and CEO of DesignCrowd. “More [people] are including their website, Twitter handle and even QR code.”
Fair points, but it seems to me that all those things can be conveyed in a more convenient (if perhaps less aesthetically pleasing) way by using technology.
What gives? In the Digital Age, why haven’t people abandoned the paper business card? Is it a sense of obligation to keep up longstanding business traditions? (Are we all really that fond of the routine dealing of cards before the start of a meeting?) Is it adherence to cultural practices? (Anyone who’s worked abroad knows how involved—and important—the rituals surrounding business-card transactions can be.) Is it simply something we do because it’s always been done? Deep down, is there a bit of that giddy 22-year-old eager to prove her place in the world in all of us? (I think it’s worth noting that even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, an icon of digital communication, held his I’m CEO, Bitch business cards as an early talisman of his success.)
Or is it that business cards are an almost refreshingly personal way of exchanging information? When you shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye and give them your card, could it be that it’s a bit more resonant than passively clicking on yet another vCard or LinkedIn profile?
There’s clearly something that’s keeping us from ditching paper cards altogether, and the reasons can’t be entirely rational or practical.
How do you account for the enduring popularity of business cards in this digital age? Would you ever abandon them entirely? Share your thoughts by commenting below.
Deborah Aarts is an award-winning senior editor at PROFIT magazine. Her coverage of the opportunities and challenges for Canada’s entrepreneurial innovators covers HR, leadership, sales and international trade, among other topics.
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