[NOTE: this post originally appeared on Datachondria, a blog dedicated to technology, data, and modern life.]
For various reasons too boring to get into, I've been handed an awful lot of business cards over the last few months. It was a relief, while attending BookCamp Toronto a couple of weeks ago, to escape the day w entirely ithout any of those sorry floppy items being apologetically proffered. I felt like some kind of temporary respite had been granted from my tenure in an extended episode of Life on Mars. What was behind it, of course, was that most of the participants at BookCamp had made the leap that something like Twitter is not just an improvement on Cro Magnon technologies like email, but geological epochs ahead of the Neanderthal business card.
That's not just because you have to carry business cards around and remember to input them into some kind of storage system later (usually, let's be honest, the desk drawer). And it's not just because, while they are occasionally gorgeous, creative, and inspiring, business cards usually showcase the most appalling and amateurish use of appalling and amateurish typefaces like Comic Sans. Let's not even mention the clip art.
No: these folks didn't give out business cards because exchanging contact details is, counter-intuitively, pretty much the worst way to go about developing contacts. It places an enormous burden upon first impressions and upon your powers of recall. Is that person you met several months ago at a technology conference really the right person to email about the idea you have just had at work? Did the person seem reliable and personable? Can I glean some insight into either of these questions from the sorry-looking creased piece of tree bark in front of me? Probably not. So I just won't bother.
The barriers of the medium just prevented me from getting something done.
Following someone new on Twitter, by contrast, allows you to enter their orbit -- to see what they think on the topics which, presumably, are of some shared interest. And, because of the mixture of personal and professional that Twitter allows, permits, and almost requires, you can develop some sense of whether their approach to life is likely to be conducive to yours. It will also allow you to get a glimpse into this new person's ability to engage (and survive) in a medium that allows all of that to happen. Does this person seem good at managing multiple streams of their life -- and maintaining the contacts necessary to do so?
You can then use Twitter to continue to lurk until an opportunity presents; to participate in a public conversation which by default is a casual interaction requiring less formal follow up; or to contact them privately via a direct message.
What's more, because there is only a single piece of information -- the username directly associated with you -- you don't risk losing every potential contact the moment that your phone number changes and those pieces of card you so diligently distributed become, everywhere, instantly, obsolete. (For those who simply can't live without lines and lines of personal contact information that you have to remember to update whenever they change, you may want to check out twtBizCard.)
In short, exchanging contact details is a waste of time. Don't give me a list of fourteen different means to contact you and try to entice me into doing it via some showy logo design. Give me access to your orbit. I'll take it from there.
First thing tomorrow morning, destroy your business cards. Let's make a stand.