Reading through this article on the BBC about over-familiar websites, I was reminded about how there appears to be an increasing over-familiarity in communication in general.
One business colleague in particular grew quite annoyed at the widespread use of “Hi” at the start of (business) emails, and I have developed a tendency to agree. In client-supplier emails, for instance, the use of such relaxed greeting is (in my mind) both inappropriate and unprofessional.
My mobile provider, for instance, routinely sends out emails: “Hi Sven, we thought we’d just let you know your bill is available.” Great! You want to go for a beer this evening? Play a few games of pool?
Of course, it’s not even a human at the other end. The company probably send out thousands of these messages each day; the idea of familiarity is entirely fabricated.
Even the supermarkets are at it. My local supermarket clearly went through a stage of instructing its cashier staff to ask “how is your day?” as if they would be genuinely interested to hear a cheerful itinerary of my most recent activities. Of course not, and for all the time they’re asking the question behind fake smiles and feigned interest, I can’t help but imagine some marketing person thought this was actually a good idea, and that we enjoy being forced into conversation with somebody we’re never likely to meet again.
Of course, I take the negative view on this stuff. Maybe most people do enjoy the little artificial contact from the otherwise faceless corporations, which would explain why I ended up in a rather awkward conversation the other day when calling up a service provider. The person at the other end cheerfully spoke, “Hi Sven. Hope you’re having a good day. Can I call you Sven?” to which I rather bluntly replied, “No, I prefer Mr Latham.” I don’t think he was expecting somebody to actually object to that cosy relationship, and it put a bit of a downer on the rest of the conversation.
I wonder if he put the phone down at the end and genuinely despaired about losing a friend, but I doubt it. I never knew him before – he never knew me and we’ll probably never speak again.