The age of deference has long gone, and I don't mourn it's loss. To me deference carried with it unquestioned authority which led to paternalism.
However deference and familiarity are not inherently tied together. It is striking how people struggle (probably unconsciously) with how to address one other in correspondence. For example in recent emails and letters I have had:
Dear Mr Kitcat
Dear Cllr Kitcat
Dear Jason Kitcat
I don't wish to be overly formal. I also am certainly not looking for deference. I very much see my role as being a servant of the people.
But for someone I've never met, let alone corresponded with, I personally wouldn't open a letter on firstname terms. I wouldn't greet them on firstname terms either when I first met them.
In many cases I think people aren't aware of the distinctions: they rarely write formal letters or emails and so just write them as they would a message to a friend.
Others do intentionally use familiarity as a tool in managing relationships. Officers in some public services are notable for always using first names, perhaps that's their training.
Why does it matter? I think properly addressing people says something fundamental about how we treat each other and respect each other.
There's little I can do about this issue except try to correspond in the way I think most appropiate but I hope that by blogging it I might at least raise awareness amongst my tiny readership!