By Mark L. Chambers

MacBook and computer owners alike share one lovely recurring fantasy that keeps cropping up over and over: Let’s call it the Data Elf Phenomenon. You see, Data Elves are the hard-working, silicon-based gnomes in tiny green suspenders who magically enter into your database (or Contacts, or Quicken, or whatever) all the information that you want to track. They burrow into your papers and presto! — out pops all that data, neatly typed and . . . whoa, Nellie! Let’s stop there.

For some reason, computer users seem to forget that there are no Data Elves. It’s difficult to hear a heartbroken computer owner say, “You mean I have to type all that stuff?”

The arrival of iCloud certainly makes it easier to share contacts you’ve already entered into your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad with the Contacts application on your MacBook (which is conveniently available on the Dock), but most folks don’t add the entire contents of their paper address book into their iOS devices, so you’re back to square one.

Therefore, make no mistake — adding a lifetime’s worth of paper-based contact information into your Contacts application can be several hours of monotonous and mind-bendingly boring work, which is another reason why many computer owners still depend on paper to store all those addresses. But make no mistake, dear reader: Your effort is worth it.

The next time that you sit down to prepare a batch of Christmas cards or you have to find Uncle Milton’s telephone number in a hurry, you will appreciate the effort that you made to enter contact information into the Contacts application. Just make sure that you back up your hard drive. In fact, it’s a good idea to back up using both Time Machine and iCloud, just for good measure.

“But, what if I’ve already entered that information in another device (or another application, like Microsoft Outlook)?” Never fear, you can usually reuse that data without retyping everything — that is, so long as your old device or program can export contacts in vCard format. After you export the records from their old location, just drag the vCards into the Contacts application window to add them, or import them by pressing cmd+O within Contacts.

If your old device or program can’t export in vCard format, try exporting information in tab-delimited format instead, and import the file using the Contacts application from the File→Import menu item. The Contacts application can also import tab-delimited text files as well (another popular old-school method of transferring data).

If your contacts are on paper and they’re typed (or printed), you can also consider a scanner using OCR (optical character recognition) software to help with the burden of data entry. OCR software can “read” much of the contents of a printed page for you and reproduce the data as a text document.