Business cards have been around for centuries. Some have traced them back to 15th-century China. Other historians point to the origins in the 17th-century European “visiting cards” passed between the servants of one rich nobleperson visiting the home of another rich or royal nobleperson, all to announce the arrival of the guest. These visiting cards had become entrenched by the reign of King Louis the XIV of France in the late 1600s.
In London and other cities, trade cards were used by business owners to provide map and directions to their establishments. By the time we get to the 18th and 19th centuries, we see social calling cards presented on trays to the lady of the house. All of this leads up to the modern-day business card, of which there are plenty. Some of them are actually works of art unto themselves.
Most people, however, end up converting the printed information to digital form so they can store it in the address books of their phones, tablets and computers. If you like the look of business cards (but left your big-wheel Rolodex back in the ’80s with your skinny ties and shoulder pads), you have plenty of ways to get that same essential business-card information — name, company, address, e-mail, phone number—into your digital contacts list without having to type it all.
- Email. If you’re contacted by email and the person includes all their contact information in the message’s signature, it’s pretty easy to save that right into the address book on your computer or mobile device. The ol’ cut-and-paste is easier than typing, but some apps may shortcut the process for you. Apple’s mail programs for OS X and iOS, for example, highlight the address information and offer to add it to your contacts when you tap it or pass the mouse over the info.
- Beaming. The act of wirelessly connecting two phones or tablets together to exchange contacts (and other files) is becoming a popular way to share your deets. We’ve all seen the commercial for the Samsung Galaxy owners sharing files by touching their phones together and transferring files with the Galaxy’s S Beam feature, but Google’s Android Beam technology brings wireless file transfer to other Android phones as long as they’re running at least Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and have Near Field Communication capabilities. Apple’s new iOS 7 system includes AirDrop, a similar wireless file transfer service that uses a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. AirDrop can be used to share contacts, photos and Web links. You don’t need a device with an NFC chip to use AirDrop — but you do need at least an iPhone 5, an iPad Mini, a 4th-generation iPad or a 5th-generation iPod Touch running the iOS 7 software.
- Apps. Aside from built-in services, you’ve got plenty of third-party apps out there for sharing files like contacts. Bump, which recently got bought by Google, is one such program that lets its users with Android handsets or iPhones gently tap their phones together to transfer data. Most app stores have other software for sharing contacts over a Bluetooth connection as well. And if you still get a lot of those little cardboard rectangles piling up from meetings and you don’t want to type in the info, check your App Store for a business-card scanning app. With most of these, you just point your phone’s camera at the card, snap a picture—and the app runs a little OCR sequence and pops the digitized info into your phone’s address book.
So much for business cards and contacts in the 21st century. Next stop: corporate mind-meld.