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Are business cards a waste of resources?
Business cards_Chris Downing

What your tech habits reveal about you


It all started with a LinkedIn post about business cards…

29th Sep 2022
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Sage’s accountant-influencer in chief Chris Downing spends much of his life on the road, either visiting customers or attending software events. Along the way, he collects business cards. A lot of business cards, as you can see from the picture above.

Chris’s LinkedIn post really spoke to me. I go to a lot of the same events and am always meeting new people. After more than 30 years in this game, that’s a lot of trade shows and a lot of business cards. At the risk of compromising the status of my data control regime, I have to admit to having a couple of boxes of business cards in the attic containing cards from people I met as far back as the 1990s.

The boxes sit up there alongside a pile of old magazines, photos and slides (remember them?) and even some tape cassettes (ditto). Frankly, I’m still hopelessly lost in the material era.

A little cultural history

For anyone under the age of 35, business cards are small rectangular pieces of cardboard that business people pass to contacts to show their contact details and credentials. They originated in China centuries ago and remain a big part of Asian business culture. In those countries, cards are an extension of the person. They should be shared with two hands and studied carefully by the recipient, who places the card on the table beside them during the ensuing conversation.

Thanks to historical TV dramas we all know how the tradition evolved in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. After knocking on the front door, visitors to any house of substance give their calling card to the butler to take to their master or mistress on a silver tray. The card was a status symbol, signifying that the person was so well established they could afford to spend money on a personal branding artefact.

In the 20th century, they became more widespread and for those of us who went to work in that era, your first business card was a rite of passage. In the 1980s TV detective series The Rockford Files, the character played by James Garner was a private eye who had a DIY printing kit in the trunk of his car. Before paying a visit to someone who could help him solve the case, he would make cards to convince them of his bogus bona fides.

Tech anthropology

A lifetime spent around business technology has fuelled my interest in the archaeology of devices and media in the workplace. There’s a treasure trove of nostalgia to mine down there – as we saw a few years back when AccountingWEB member Glennzy mourned the demise of Ralph, his first digital calculator (a 1997 Casio).

The reactions you get are especially strong when you delve into the first programs someone used at work. Accountants from the time I first encountered the profession (1997) were outraged that these infernal new Windows apps wouldn’t let you move between fields using the return key. If you could touch type on a numerical keypad, data entry speeds could be phenomenal – until Bill Gates imposed his mediocre tab-driven interface on the personal computer universe.

There’s a whole generation of accountants who learned their trade on Sage 50. Many of them are still using it, but they are probably outnumbered now by cloud accounting natives who really can’t understand why someone could be bothered to install, maintain and update an accounting program on their desktop PC.

It’s an age thing

Since Chris posted his call for help in front of an online LinkedIn audience, the responses have tended more towards digital than analogue by about 60:40. On behalf of the majority anti-card view, solicitor Helen Peach quipped: “They are really useful for getting my log burner going.”

The alternatives were instructive too: some people used OCR software to scan details into their CRM – a sure sign of someone from the TLA (three-letter acronym) heyday of the 1990s. Others from the smartphone generation passed around QR codes to swap LinkedIn details.

Lara Manton swapped to a V1CE card a couple of years ago, which uses near-field communication (NFC) to transmit details to a nearby contact’s phone. “Saves not just the cost of getting them printed, but wastes less paper,” she said.

In the analogue camp, bookkeeper Josie Carter-Kenny argued that business cards still had their uses: “I sometimes make notes on the card. Like where we meet, or why I think they’re important to keep in contact with.”

Although Chris Downing identifies himself as a technologist by trade on his LinkedIn profile, he threw his lot in with Josie: “Totally agree – the card acts as a useful memory jogger or a physical ‘promise’ reminder to follow up on an initial engaging conversation.”

His equivocal stance indicates that when it comes to this particular technology, his accountant heart still carries traces of the 20th century.

Strong hold

Even though I’ve been whittering for several hundred words about tech ephemera, there’s no denying what a strong hold the working tools we use have on us. Think for a second about your first computer or mobile phone: in an instant it can take you to a specific place and time, almost like recalling the first record you bought or kiss you shared.

If you pick up on the clues, you can learn a lot about the person’s background and technology habits.

When it came to the business card test, I’d like to think that like Chris, I have a foot in both camps. But with all those boxes in the loft, I might as well paste a big dot-matrix “Boomer” banner across my LinkedIn profile.

If you’re up for a bit of tech nostalgia, what were your first encounters with business and communications tech? Feel free to add your comments below. Or do you have no time for that because you’re too busy exploring the capabilities of your new iPhone 14?

Replies (4)

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By Hugo Fair
29th Sep 2022 18:44

An acoustic coupler in the briefcase? A line-printer which you could walk inside if there was a jam? A hard-disk drive so big that you could see the 'head crash' when it failed? The transaction editor for cutting/splicing paper-tape storage?

How far back do you want to go (above are early '80s going backwards to early '70s, but there's plenty afore them)?

Thanks (2)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
By Duggimon
30th Sep 2022 09:43

One of my university professors had an 8KB RAM chip in his office, it was about 35cm square, you could see the individual flip-flops for recording the bits.

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By johnjenkins
30th Sep 2022 11:09

IBM system 3 model 10 where we put all our accounts receivable (American company) on computer. A chap called Fred who was skinny as a rake but had an enormous appetite was the man who kept phoning me at all ours in the night when things had gone wrong. Earned good money for early 70's.

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By siddharthkmehta
04th Oct 2022 11:30

That's Great!!

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