I had my first set of business cards printed by an old print shop near Canal Street in Manhattan. It was 1994, and I'd looked the place up in the Yellow Pages shortly after arriving in New York. The interior smelled of printing ink and oil, and I picked my card design from a rack of maybe twenty designs, classified by profession (like "Accountant" or "Dentist"). I picked the Dentist design, and a few weeks later I went back down to pick up a box of 500 cards with just my name and the phone number I shared with four other people.
Today the experience of purchasing business cards is a little different. You go to moo.com, and something like 45 seconds later the Postal Service hands you a box of fresh-off-the-press cards that 20 years ago would have come out of an ad agency. Branding isn't just for manufacturers and retail franchises any more - we all seem to be in the business of self-promotion. I sometimes wonder if, culturally speaking, we've substituted finding a purpose with defining a brand.