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The Lost Art of the Business Card

The startup era has uprooted a lot of genteel business customs. There was the firm handshake, the gray flannel suit, the quaint courtesy of eye contact—and now, it looks like the business card is coming into the crosshairs.

This Chicago Tribune piece lays it out in detail, but the gist is simple: after email signatures, you don’t need them, so fewer and fewer people are bothering to print them up at all.

But we’d like to offer a word of warning to anyone thinking of going paperless: when you give up your stack of cards, you’re giving up something much more precious than paper. You’re giving up control...

Here’s an example: the above card is from Warren Buffett’s second-in-command—his enforcer, you might say—who gave it to an Observer reporter as part of a legendary burn detailed here. You see, this isn’t her real card. Notice how there’s no number? This is the “fuck off” card, the one you give to people you don’t want to hear from.

It’s an advanced move from an advanced player, and that’s just the beginning. There are private numbers, usually scrawled on the back with an expensive pen. There are separate emails, or code words to drop into your subject line. But it’s hard to play the game if you’re limited to a few lines at the bottom of an email, and even the most exclusive email in the world doesn’t compare to the glamour of a well-printed rectangle of paper.

Seen in that light, the decline of the business card isn’t such bad news. With fewer cards on the block, it’ll be easier for yours to stand out. Just pick up a good one, and be stingy about handing it out.

And while you’re at it, maybe prune your email signature.