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Generation BlackBerry ditches the business card

There's a scene in the movie American Psycho, based on the ruthless 1990 novel by Brett Easton Ellis about Manhattan power poseurs of the eighties, when protagonist Patrick Bateman flips out his business card as an exercise in shameless self-promotion.

To his surprise, the "bone"-hued stationery does not pass muster against his peers' refined shades of "eggshell" and "pale nimbus."

Fast-forward a couple of decades to where cellphones have shrunk to the size of the business card itself, and the scene would be about competing digital devices. Who will be the first to get Apple's new iPhone?

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Yes, ask the savviest A-listers and the answer is clear: The business card is on the way out. "The BlackBerry is revolutionary; a business card is a piece of paper with your name and phone number on it," says David Goodman, who works at Dynamic Funds in Toronto. "There was a time when if you forgot your business card, it was equivalent to capital punishment. A lot more people forget their business cards these days."

But ask them for their PIN -- an eight-digit personal identification number that is ascribed to a hand-held -- and they will be happy to oblige. Sending a message via PIN means it remains solely within the BlackBerry network, which therefore allows users to feel like they are a part of a smaller community.

"It's simple," sports chiropractor Mark Scappaticci says. "Realistically, it's not much different than sending an e-mail, but for someone who has a compatible device, it's easy to send information packets, which can then be updated into your address book."

According to a recent article in Forbes, there are now more than seven million BlackBerry users worldwide. That may help explain why Erik Austin, vice-president of sales and marketing for Intrawest Central Reservations in Vancouver, admits that the volume of business cards he handed out was "minuscule" in 2006 compared with years past. Where a 250-card box would once have lasted him roughly six months, he guesses he still has 50 cards left over from all of last year.

(And while the fashion set was all over the pretty new BlackBerry Pearl, the hard-core users still favour the 8700, which boasts a full QWERTY keyboard versus the more cellphone-esque SureType feature.)

Because the BlackBerry allows many ways of accessing addresses, it's also great for the ADD types who can never remember names. On a recent trip from Cairo to Kuwait, Manny Mounouchos, president of Toronto-based Avante Security, struck up a conversation with his fellow passenger and they happily added each other's contact information to their devices. Once home, Mounouchos merely needed to type "Kuwait" to recall the passenger's name.

"It's easy to exchange business cards in a calm environment like at dinner," he says. "But once you're back in the real world, they become difficult to file."

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Jason McMurtrie works at a law firm in Toronto. He notes that many firms have downloadable online business cards that can be synced to the BlackBerry. What's more, the electronic signature appended to many e-mails makes transferring contact information even easier, since the device recognizes phone numbers from plain text.

Still, McMurtrie points out that there remains that old-guard mentality, where presenting a tangible card is an appreciated gesture, especially with clients.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Peter Post, the director of the Emily Post Institute based in Burlington, Vt., agrees. While an electronic exchange is acceptable, the sharing of cards should not be overlooked.

"The card is universal," he says, adding that acknowledging it in an exchange confers respect and dignity. "There's this ritual that would be a shame to lose because we could push a button and electronically transmit the information."

Which is why Angela LaFosse, an account manager at Bell Canada, is utterly reliant on hers.

"I always say, the more important you are, the less you need a BlackBerry. I have to be there for my clients all the time." Investing in a chic yellow leather case from Links of London no doubt makes that reality more agreeable (incidentally, it has a slot for storing business cards).

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And indeed, there are those people who insist on carrying both. Barry Avrich feels that a business card is "completely reflective of who you are and what you want to say."

The Toronto-based filmmaker and president of Endeavour Marketing adds, "I'm not going to give them up. It's like letter-writing; they communicate a pedigree."

For Robin Lewis, president of buzz-worthy fashion label Binbin, a card's image is more powerful than an entry on a hand-held. His is navy on one side and orange on the other, and features the company's cool gryphon logo (designed by co-founder and creative director Marshall Hook).

Lewis says a hybrid would be the best of both worlds. "I think we're a couple of steps away from flipping visual pieces of contact information back and forth on the 'berries.' "

Of course, Apple might have beat BlackBerry to this objective, making Lewis's prediction a fruit, er, moot point.

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