Every summer I undertake at least one task intended to cut down on clutter. This is often a losing battle, as in most cases the time spent fixing the clutter keeps me from doing 10 other things, all of which induce massive clutter of their own
This summer, I decided to clean up my contacts file and business card file. I know that many people have this problem — how long do you keep business cards? How do you keep your address books up to date? Which ones do you keep? How do you match them against your online contacts?
About 12 years ago, I instituted a model where I stamped the date on the back on the business cards, and would throw them away in 6 months if I didn’t reference them. However, it quickly became too much trouble to weed through them, plus I accidentally threw away a few I wanted. So, I started just keeping them all. And as I went out to speak, attended conferences, and had visitors from around the world, the collection grew and grew (sort of similar to my waistline, but I think that is coincidental).
Somewhere along the line I got a reasonable address book program (Now Up-to-Date), and I had my assistant type in some addresses. It had a matching calendar program that linked things (yeah, I know, Outlook did too, but I was a Mac & Solaris guy), so I used that a lot. It was integrated with Palm software too, so I started using it heavily…until it stopped working sometime after the Qualcomm purchase, so I moved everything over to the Mac Addressbook. Over time, I’ve grown accustomed to that, although I still don’t particularly like it. However, syncing across my iPhone, iPad and various Macs plus a WWW interface make it really handy.
A few years back, I started using services that merged address books and even did lookups to correct some entries. As a result, I got addresses from LinkedIn, from Plaxo, from Facebook, and vcards from colleagues. Often, these didn’t play nicely together, so some address entries got really, really screwed up. It really needed a clean start, and I couldn’t afford the time for that.
Meanwhile, the business cards continued to accumulate.
This summer I had finally had enough. I made one big superset address book from all of the online sources. We hired a high school student looking for a part-time job, and she has been going through that superset address book, slowly cleaning up entries, removing duplicates, fixing entries where the software thought the last name was “Ph.D.” or “CISSP,” and generally bringing some order to what was online. Along the way, we’ve discovered several bugs in the Addressbook program, including one where the “Notes” field refuses to stay edited. But slowly and surely, she’s been cleaning everything up.
The next step is the business cards, which I still collect. I have some that go back to before 1994, and some from last week! I just finished going through all approximately 2500 of them. (Yes, I meet a lot of people, and I haven’t been good about organization.) It has been quite a trip down memory lane, as I remember about 80% of the people represented on those cards.
- I’ve run across dozens of cards listing people as “Assistant Professors” and they are now full Profs and deans (even a few university presidents!).
- I’ve found at least 10 cards where I recall that person dying — including friends Gene Schultz, Will Winsborough, Jim Anderson…. Sad to remember once again.
- At least a half-dozen listing “Captain” or “Major” of people I know went on to get General’s stars (for some reason, I didn’t have much interaction with Navy personnel in the 1990s).
- Many cards of technologists and members of technical staff who are now chief scientists and presidents of their own companies.
- Literally hundreds of cards from people whose companies no longer exist for one reason or another.
- Many, many more of people I know have retired, and who I hope are enjoying that lifestyle.
- Quite a few cards of people at 3-4-6 companies as they moved around and advanced.
- A few people I cared very deeply about who have drifted far, far away of their own volition, never to return.
- Many score more people I feel guilty I have not been in touch with for years (many!)
- Yeah, as a whole, none of this is surprising. People get older, some wiser, and movement occurs.
I’m really tempted to keep all the cards to look through in another 10 or 20 years when I retire. But that is what got me in the circumstances I am now. I’m resolved to throw out the ones I know for sure aren’t still even close to accurate. My brain is full as it is, so perhaps this is the best way to make room for the next round? And I know the memories triggered by looking at those cards are all still rattling around in between my ears, if only I get a prompt to think about them.
Although, it does raise some question in my own mind…I was quite a different person when I was collecting those. I wonder what memories of me, if any, those people have? And how different am I now from then, as well as them? That’s probably a deeper question than I should ponder on a Sunday night with three theses yet to review.
So, if you get an email from me (or an assistant) in the next month or two asking to check or update the info I have on file for you, consider yourself special for being in the “kept” list and please respond. (And if you think there’s a really good reason why you SHOULD be in my list, whether you’re there now or not, send me your info in a vcard with an explanation of why i should add it to my nice, clean new address book DB.)
As Robert Burns put it:
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and old lang syne?
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
“As I turned to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain…”