Technology's Weakest Link


By Samuel Greengard

Optical scanning technology has come a long way in recent years. Flatbed and portable scanners, along with smartphone apps that snap pictures and convert the images to PDFs, have made it increasingly easy to crumple the paper jam and make data accessible--and sharable--anytime and from anywhere.

Unfortunately, business cards seem to be stuck in the equivalent of medieval times. For most of history, these rectangular sheets of printed cardboard worked well, even if it meant manually copying data into an address book or pasting the cards into a Rolodex that you plopped on your desk.

By today's standards, the paper business card is incredibly clunky and inefficient. It should have been crumpled and tossed a decade ago. I'm not sure whether anyone in the business world actually keeps cards in a binder or Rolodex any longer. Digital address books and cloud-based syncing are to the Rolodex what thermonuclear weapons are to the slingshot.

Yet we're still mired in a culture of passing paper business cards. While there are vCards, smartphone applications like Bump and various other tools for exchanging contact information electronically, they're often a bit awkward. There is still no perfect or universal tool for a one-to-one handoff of contact information.

QR (Quick Response) codes help bridge the gap. However, when I recently ventured online and tried to create a QR code with my contact info and then place it on a card for printing, the end result was a disaster. It took over an hour to create cards that didn't work.

So, the 500 cards I printed landed in the recycling bin, and I simply gave up on the idea of creating printed business cards. Of course, your results may vary but, in the end, QR codes are really nothing more than a bridge technology that solves only part of the problem.

I don't profess to have an answer for this conundrum, but I do think it's more than a bit ironic that no one has been able to figure out a seamless high-tech equivalent for the lowly business card. I also think there's an important takeaway embedded in all the madness: No matter how sophisticated and powerful technology becomes, it will always be ruled by the weakest link.