While we were busy complaining about the decline of civility, a new institution took its place, one that slipped in gradually over the course of decades, and didn’t have a name. Until now.  I’m talking about friend –ziness. Friendziness is to friendship as truthiness is to truth. Both sorta kinda feel like the concepts they mimic, but are totally lacking in the original’s content.  

Business once tried to attract and retain customers by emphasizing the superiority of their product. Now they hoping you’ll buy because you are friends. Charities and nonprofit organizations traditionally solicited donations with appeals to conscience. The current approach features friendziness, as in this email from a school I briefly attended.

“I am reaching out today as we, xxx, hope to reconnect with you as one of our valued alumni. I know that time has probably gone by since your studies without much personal communication from xxx - so let me sincerely apologize for that.

There are many exciting changes around xxx and we would love the opportunity to reintroduce you to xxx. In addition, our current dean, has charged us with reaching out to our alumni population to collect feedback on ways xxx, can strengthen its relationship with alumni. This is not a fundraising call—we are simply hoping to reconnect with you.”

Does any reader doubt this is indeed a fundraising call—simply one with a time-lag built in? Do you think they want to “reconnect” for any reason other than self-interest? Note the “sincerely apologize,” and

Welcome to friend-ziness.

When did friendziness begin?  It’s hard to pinpoint the moment. Perhaps it was when Tupperware redefined “party” to mean a sales call with chips on the side. Or maybe it began the day networking overwhelmed ordinary social life. The boundaries between private life and business blurred and eventually all but dissolved.

The Supreme Court helped the cause of friendziness when it declared corporations to be people.  Why not—both can be friended on Facebook… 

Perhaps that’s when it began, when friend became a verb, and everyone wanted to be friended…

Many writers decry rudeness in the public square, and mourn the loss of manners and refinement. We watch as civility goes the way of privacy, both rapidly fading to quaintness.

Most of us don’t want to return to the days of white gloves and girdles, but we’d like to retain some old-fashioned courtesies, like offering your seat to an older person, or using their last name until specifically invited to do otherwise.

Who wouldn’t like to return to the days when wedding invitations came without price tags, and “maybe” was not one of the choices for an R.S.V.P.?

Instead of the respectful distance that formality once imposed we have rudeness masquerading as casualness on the one hand (the 50 year old dinner party guest who arrives 30 minutes late wearng jeans & a t-shirt) and corporate friend-ziness on the other. 

I once owned a rare lemon of a computer made by Apple.  After it’s 2nd trip back to the Cupertino workshop it still malfunctioned and my frustration was met with a great deal of scripted customer service empathy. “I understand how you feel,” said the customer service rep.  She said it again and again, until I finally exploded, “I have friends who understand me!,” I yelled.  What I want from you is a new computer!” I got it.

The Dilbert cartoon attached says it all. Friend-ziness, being free, is freely offered in place of service. Friendziness instead of authenticity. 

My local bank, probably like yours, has added fees upon fees in recent years: fees to withdraw your own money, Fees to use a human teller, fees for a paper copy of a bank statement. In an attempt to mollify their anger, alienated customers were provided greeters who now welcome them to the bank and thank them for coming as they exit. 

That’s friendziness.

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