A recent article published on LinkedIn by the CEO of Hootsuite Ryan Holmes may have you second guessing the lifeline of the business card. As a true print nerd, and advocate for business cards, I have to disagree with a few of the points below. That said, Ryan may not be as far off from reality as some may think.
RIP Business Cards: Why It’s Time to (Finally) Ditch Them
Ryan Holmes, CEO at Hootsuite Oct 29, 2015
Business cards have a richer history than you might think. It turns out they’re descendents of a centuries-old ‘visiting card’ tradition, which originated in 17th-century France. Back then, people left their visiting cards in silver trays kept in the entry-area hallways of homes they stopped into. These small, paper cards—each adorned with the owner’s name and oftentimes some accompanying decoration—allowed homeowners to keep track of who visited and to whom reciprocal visits were owed. By the 19th century these cards were all the rage among upper-class society. Kaiser Wilhelm had one. Napoleon had one. Abraham Lincoln had a few made in his image.
Then during the Industrial Revolution, emerging entrepreneurs—faced with a constant need to exchange contact information for business—came up with a new iteration. Printed on plain, heavy paper with utilitarian lettering, these more proprietary cards were the first version of the modern business card as we know it.
But enough with the history lesson. What I want to know is why are we still stuck on this largely unchanged, archaic business tool? I personally don’t have a business card—and haven’t for years. I discovered early on in my career that, in the tech industry, it’s rare you’ll ever need one. But beyond Silicon Valley, I think it’s time we, across all industries, ditch the business card— at least in the form we know them—for good.
Let’s start with the most important (and obvious) reason why: They’re a huge waste of trees. Of the 27 million-plus business cards printed each day in the US alone, 88 percent are tossed away within a week of receiving them. Think of all the firs and pines—a precious and finite resource—that are being used up and disposed of, after serving little to no purpose. Then there’s the fact that younger generations of workers are switching jobs more frequently than ever before. According to one recent study, most millennials expect to leave their current job within three years. If each member of this new generation of short-term workers leaves behind a partly-used box of business cards with every departure, it certainly doesn’t look good for the corporate social responsibility movement.
So what is the best alternative moving forward? You could switch to biodegradable or recycled paper. But I’d argue high-tech is definitely the way to go … though the perfect solution may not be out there quite yet.
For a while there, we had Bump. The popular iOS and Android app let smartphone users exchange contact information digitally, with a quick (and pretty fun) physical bump of their smartphones. The service emerged in 2009 and by early 2013 had logged an impressive 125 million downloads. Google purchased Bump later that year for a rumored $35 million, then killed it off entirely several months later. (Rumors have it that Google is using its acquired technology for a new service similar to Apple’s AirDrop sharing functionality.)
Meanwhile, a school of similar apps like Prestoh, CardFlick, CardCloud, SnapDat,Intro and Haystack (the newest of the bunch) have also emerged over the past decade, all aiming to transform paper business cards into more convenient, digital mobile versions. None have yet to take off in a big way. Many have folded.
But now there’s the NFC (Near Field Communication) Ring, a sleek-looking “smart ring” that allows users to exchange contact information simply by tapping with their ring-bearing hand any smart device. Back in 2013, NFC Ring raised nearly $50,000 via crowdfunding site Kickstarter to launch. And just this month, it collected double that amount (over $100,000 in under three weeks) for itssecond Kickstarter campaign, to fund new and improved versions of its product for the market. While it’s too early to say whether something like the NFC Ring will tip the scales, one thing is for certain: business cards’ days are numbered.
After all, it’s only a matter of time before someone else takes a page out of Steve Job’s book and creates the perfect alternative: a tool we won’t know we desperately want, until we see it.
What do you think? Could the end be near for the business card? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below