Business card scanners and transient technologies

Just yesterday, LinkedIn published  the results of a survey on “dinosaur” technologies still used in the office. You know, those tape recorders and rolodexes that are well past their prime and completely unfamiliar to most people under the age of 20. In a poll of 7,000 professional around the world, Canadian respondents didn’t deviate much from the global average in terms of what technologies they thought would disappear (though apparently more naps and natural sunlight are “innovations” we’re keen to see in the workplace).

A large majority of Canadian professionals (85 per cent) think the tape recorder will be gone in five years, 81 per cent think the same of the rolodex, and 58 per cent think tablets will be “the office tool of the future,” according to LinkedIn.

None of this is surprising. What is surprising to me is that only 16 per cent of the Canucks polled expect business cards to disappear in the next five years. It’s not so much that I think they’re wrong but that I think they should be wrong. When only 16 per cent of people expect a technology to disappear, that probably means most of them don’t want it to.
But we really should be expecting their demise.  Personally, I think the telltale sign that something is becoming obsolescent is when a specific technology is developed to convert it to something more practical.
Remember film negatives? Sure, many of us do. But what about negative scanners, those devices that were used for a brief period to turn them into a more versatile digital format? I looked around recently, trying to see if anyone still sold these things, and as it turns out, they’re still for sale. But no, not at your local photography store. They’re now rare, expensive items with an apparently small user base that you’ll have to special order.
So, what of business card scanners? Is there any practical reason why people still need to exchange paper cards? None that I can think of. But you’re still handed one at just about every professional meeting. But of course, you don’t have a place to put them, so you scan them, either with a conventional scanner or with your mobile device, and then trash them.
It’s ironic that LinkedIn, the very kind of technology that’s replaces prehistoric business tools like business cards, provides its own app to convert dead-tree cards into digital contacts.  It’s an intermediate step that’s wholly unnecessary.
How long will “business card scanners” last? Probably less than five years, in my estimation.  Business cards themselves won’t disappear, but fewer people will use them, and those who still do probably won’t be the types who would bother scanning them.
I have to appeal to my fellow Canadians here. Let’s accept that business cards are relics of the last century and use the next five years to get rid of them completely.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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