There is perhaps nothing so seemingly inconsequential in our
daily social and commercial activity than the giving and/or
receiving of business cards.
But I have come to regard them in a way that goes beyond their
immediate and designed utility.
First, a little history.
Business cards first appeared as elite social cards in 17th century
Europe. They were often elaborately printed or engraved on fine
paper stock. Through the mid-19th century they were exchanged
by aristocrats and upper middle class persons during social visits,
primarily to announce one’s arrival. In the 19th century, these
cards became increasingly used for trade purposes --- and by many
more persons --- especially after the 1840s when lithography was
invented and was used to make them. By the 20th century they had
become ubiquitous in social and commercial use, and today, almost
every adult has a personal or business card of their own (some very
creative) --- and receives many over the course of a work week.
As the internet and social media have transformed our daily
communications rituals and practices, the business card on paper
(or metal or plastic, recent innovations) might be considered an
endangered economic or social “species” in the 21st century, and
especially among the young.
I hope this isn’t so, and I’ll explain why.
In my work, I meet a lot of persons. From the beginning, I accepted
business cards, and made several of my own to give to others.
Unlike most persons, however, I did not throw them away. Business
cards are small, and don’t take up much space, so it did not take
much effort or inconvenience to save them and store them. A certain
number, of course, are always current, and I keep them close at
hand for quick use in simple card holders that are easily available
As I have become older, and have no other simple tool of
recalling persons I met years ago, I turned to my boxes of stored
old business cards --- and much to my delight, rediscovered
many names and places from my past now mostly forgotten.
I realize that this might be particularly useful for a writer, but I
suspect, a similar delight in reawakened memory could be
experienced by anyone. So I write this mainly for my younger
readers, those who might especially be inclined to eschew the
use of a small printed business card. I wonder aloud if the
internet, computers and social media will be able to provide the
stimulation of memory of names and places after years of so
much electronic data --- as do these little pieces of paper.
Like me, many friends and acquaintances have done a variety of
work in one or more industries. As I review and organize the
literally thousands of cards I have, I am also now returning cards
to those who gave them to me --- as souvenirs, especially if they
did not think to save them.
My readers know I usually write about much bigger subjects,
including the politics, economics and technologies of our time.
But a life is not only filled with big events --- it also includes the
total experience of what we do each day --- meet all kinds of
persons, buy groceries and eat in restaurants, do errands,
shop in stores,, use transport, attend sports and entertainments
--- and so many other interactive events of various kinds.
I think it’s worth mentioning that a small piece of paper can
connect us to much of it --- not only in the present, but also to
savor what memory can bring back to us.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.