MIT’s Technology Review recently published an article on how CardCloud Spells the End of Physical Business Cards.
As someone who spends most of their professional life immersed in the online world, I tend to agree that physical business cards are not an ideal tool for information exchange in the physical world.
But I have a slightly different idea about why I feel that’s the case.
Special Occasions and Wasted Opportunities
The majority of my interpersonal communications happen online. I work from home, and so do all my fellow employees at ReactionGrid. I’m constantly using tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, email and Skype to touch base with friends and coworkers. I also spend a lot of time in multiuser 3d virtual worlds like Jibe and Opensim, hosting meetings like the Hypergrid Adventurers Club as well as exploring how to use Unity3d to create engaging experiences in Jibe. I even hold weekly office hours in virtual worlds.
All of these tools are wonderful. But there’s still something uniquely powerful about meeting someone face-to-face. Technologies can augment interpersonal interactions, but they are no replacement for the high emotional bandwidth experience of sitting down with someone over a cup of coffee.
And given the fact that many of us spend most of our time communicating with other people electronically, meeting someone face-to-face can be a very special occasion.
But too often, I think we waste this opportunity.
Scenario #1: Excuse me while I tend to my electronic device
We’ve all seen it happen. We get a chance to meet with people in person for a lunch meeting or at a conference. And at some point, someone pulls out their smartphone or tablet and start pecking away. They often start out by saying “I’m taking notes.” But usually they’ll get distracted by email, text messages or Twitter feeds. This often prompts other people to then check their own electronic devices. And pretty soon, you have people sitting around cooling cups of coffee, ignoring each other in the physical world as they immerse themselves in a flurry of electronic communication and information sharing. Which is probably what you should be doing when you are not meeting face-to-face.
Scenario #2: Here’s my preprinted business card
This also happens all the time. And while physical business cards are a great way to quickly share contact information, they are inherently impersonal because they are one size fits all. If you’re lucky, a business card has some whitespace where you can jot down some personalized notes with a pen. But you’ve usually got precious little real estate to do that. And forget about drawing a detailed picture.
Scenario #3: Let me create a unique physical artifact for you
Conventional business cards and electronic devices can be useful tools for sharing information in a physical world meeting. But are they the best tools?
Leveraging unique opportunities when they present themselves is a critical strategy for success. And meeting with someone in the physical world is special. So why not make the most of that opportunity?
An example of my own strategy
I like pens and paper. Drawing and scribbling helps me think. So I carry around a little Shirt Pocket Briefcase full of blank 3 x 5 index cards.
I use this pad to take notes when I’m reading books or just thinking about something. The pad has a storage area for both completed and blank cards.
The ability to scribble notes or drawings wherever I am is very handy. And I use the info on these cards as seeds that I later expand upon when I’m writing at the computer (all my documents are in GoogleDocs.)
This system works great for my own personal workflow. But I’ve discovered it works even better when I’m meeting with someone in the physical world.
Rather than just handing someone a preprinted business card or pecking something out on my smartphone, I’m getting into the habit of writing out and giving them a custom card.
Is my handwriting a bit messy and unique? Yes. Is the card full of free-flowing ideas and doodles? Definitely.
But that’s what meeting in the physical world is all about.
Discovering a tasty new coffee drink together. Laughing while brainstorming. Watching someone scribble a rabbit while talking about animated 3d models in a virtual world. These are the things that happen when you physically meet with someone. Moments of creative collaboration and organic interaction in real-time.
And my card above both captures and reflects that moment.
So don’t throw away your business cards and electronic devices. Simply try thinking beyond them. Think about creating and handing someone a memorable and unique object that reflects the special occasion of meeting face-to-face.
A small handwritten card just might turn into an evocative artifact.
And that just might help your big ideas stand out in a world of prefabrication.
-John “Pathfinder” Lester