As he left for a business conference in Arizona recently, Siamak Masoudi grabbed a stack of his business cards. The vice president of HealthEZ, a health benefits administration firm in Bloomington, wanted the cards even though his smart phone has an app that enables him to trade all of his contact information simply by tapping it against a similarly equipped device.

"It's pretty cool," said Masoudi, whose fascination with computerized gadgets dates to when he minored in computer science 30 years ago at the University of Minnesota.

But it's not so cool that he, like many other people, is willing to give up his printed cards.

Although technological advances such as e-mailed digital calling cards, web-based networking programs and scannable bar and QR codes -- those funky printed boxes that look like tiny, high-tech mazes -- have led many observers to predict that the old-fashioned, printed business card is going to join the three-martini lunch and steno pool as business-world relics, it hasn't happened. According to printing industry statistics, 10 billion of the cards are printed a year. (The real estate business leads in their use.)

While many people predict that the day is coming in which business cards will disappear -- Masoudi among them -- the physical cards remain a viable and important business tool.

Handling the cards "creates a memory of the physical image of the person you just met," Masoudi said. "You can use your cellphone to take a picture of the person, but that's kind of awkward."

Exchanging cards also spares participants from the potential embarrassment of one person having to turn down the other's offer to swap electronic info, said John Purdy, a communication professor at the University of St. Thomas.

You can politely trade cards and then decide later which ones to keep and which to throw away.

"In face-to-face meetings at networking events, business cards offer the receiver a gracious means for deciding if he or she would like to actually record that person in his or her contacts file," he said. "This decision could be made after the event."

Some people find the mere presence of an electronic device problematic, said Carol Bruess, a St. Thomas professor and author of the 2005 book "Contemporary Issues in Interpersonal Communication." These are people who have been offended by "the sometimes rude and off-putting behavior of those around us who are attending to the digital devices in their hands" rather than focusing on the person in front of them, she said.

There is a generational element to the issue, too, said Tom Kosel, director of government relations at Globe University/Minnesota School of Business. The school's students, "with their ties to social media, might laugh at us" for still using cardboard business cards, he said.

"But when I go to a conference, most of the people there have the old-fashioned cards. They might scan them or enter the information into Outlook later, but they carry the cards," he said.

Even if the exchange of electronic data eventually becomes the predominant means of networking, Bruess doesn't think the traditional business card will disappear entirely.

"In a way, I think the business card will have even more symbolic value in the future as fewer people use them," she said. "It's a little bit like the handwritten thank-you note. As fewer of us send notes and cards -- think Facebook 'Happy Birthday' messages sent en masse, with a quick click -- those notes and greeting cards we do receive have greater symbolic value and actually are more meaningful, more prized."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392