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Why on earth did I keep all those business cards?
After 13 years, all that networking stacks up. Literally.
I found my stash of business cards this week, and it’s bigger than I remembered.
Cleaning out my desk at the Statesman is a sizable task. I’ve had a cubicle of some kind since the year Gerald Ford died.
For the past 13 years, I’ve been a food writer/reporter/columnist, where a big part of my job was meeting and connecting with people.
I had forgotten about these cards, really. These mementos of meeting someone new are packed neatly into three lightweight paper boxes. A catalog of conferences, an archive of SXSW activations, an outdated way to keep up with people now that we live in a digital world.
People still swap business cards, but I don’t think many people hold onto them. We might print out our contact information on a piece of paper, but most folks today ultimately connect with people on another platform (LinkedIn for Gen X, Instagram for millennials, Discord for my kids and their Gen Z friends).
It’s interesting to think about the point of business cards in the first place and what they signify. When I was a copy editor, working nights to make sure we spelled “Toney Burger Center” correctly, the company didn’t give me cards because I wasn’t representing the brand outside the building.
Who I knew then didn’t matter to the Statesman, but as soon as I became the food writer, knowing people became a significant part of my job.
If you wanted to know people, you needed business cards.
My first-ever business cards hit my desk the same summer I joined Twitter. They were painfully simply. After writing “@broylesa” on enough cards so people could follow me on the only place that mattered then, I went to the rubber stamp store (yes, we had one of these back then) and ordered a stamp that said “Follow me @broylesa!”
I stamped several hundred cards that I then gave out over the next few years.
The card exchange was officially on.
I went through several boxes of cards during my stint at the Statesman, and as I collected other people’s cards — it’s a one-in-one-out exchange — I let them stack up under my monitor.
If I needed to follow up with them, I could easily find their email address or phone number. As the months (and then years) passed by, I realized that if I stacked the small stacks on the large stacks, I could create a timeline of people I met.
This came in handy when you’re a newspaper food writer.
You never knew when you were going to need to call Hoover Alexander or that one PR person you met at the Bacon Takedown at South by Southwest, but when that moment came, I would be prepared.
At some point, however, we all stopped swapping quite so many cards.
My business card stack from the year prior to COVID was smaller than any year before, but it held the names of the people I met whose names I really did want to remember, including the folks who run Simple Promise Farms, the recovery-based agriculture program in Elgin that I wrote about last year.
But that was the last card on top of the stack when I went to clean out my desk last week. It was a reminder of when I met those folks at a farmers market during the pandemic, when we were all wearing masks and trying to socially distance and buy vegetables at the same time.
Does each card in that file carry a piece of a memory like that? What would happen if I called people from this scrappy Roladex and found out how they were doing? Would the number or email even go through?
Sounds like a fun project to me. :)