Faux friends

Again this year, I have a collection of Christmas cards from businesses. What can you do with them? It’s one of those dilemmas of modern life. I am not going to display them along with cards from people I actually know, but it seems slightly inappropriate to throw them out right away. So I keep them lying around on a shelf for a month or so and then put them in the recycling.

I had a phone call the other night. It was from a friendly young women, a current student, on behalf of my alumni association. My telemarketer radar didn’t kick in right away, as she wanted me to update my contact information; this seemed legitimate. When I told her my email address, it seemed to naturally trigger a question about where I worked now. I hesitated but I had been lured in and now didn’t want to seem rude. Don’t you hate it when a complete stranger puts you in that position?

I reluctantly answered a question or two, which put me in the further weakened position where she could move on to ask about supporting a deserving organization. Now I attempted to regain control by asking her to email me the details.  We played the usual game: if I pledged something over the phone, I could change the amount later on (actually, she suggested I could increase it later on). At this point, I could say no — she was not my friend; she was just another person asking for money.

Well, I suppose some of this is inevitable. I am part of the consumer culture. I am in far too many databases: many of them by a kind of choice. I know collecting all those loyalty cards comes with a price: you get discounts but you provide information. And part of the price is that complete strangers know my name. Obviously, studies must have shown that people in general respond to the more personal approach.

Then there is the other side of the coin where people tell me their names. Perhaps it all started with the Keg waiters saying, “Hello, I’m Bob: I’ll be your server tonight.” There was a time when serving staff at medium-price-range restaurants were pleasantly anonymous, but no more.  Maybe someone noticed that a server got more tips when we knew his name.

But I want businesses to apply more sublety. I want them to distinguish between a friendly but businesslike manner and a false friendliness. Customer relationship management has become customer relationship invasion and far too many faux friends are invading my personal space.

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