The Memorial Day weekend is nearly upon us… and, with it, some of the first summer gatherings.
Many of the invitations to this year’s Memorial Day barbeques will have been made in a way no one had heard of just a few years ago—“e-invitations” sent over the internet.
In the last few months, I’ve sent e-invitations for the first time as a hostess—yes, I’m behind the times in being so late to giving e-invitations a try! But then, I’m one of the handful of people still holding onto my years-old cell phone rather than upgrading to a “smart phone”…
It’s no surprise that invitations are now being sent over the internet rather than by telephone call or through the mail. New ways of communicating always change our social practices. I have an Emily Post’s Etiquette from the era when the telephone was a newfangled contraption, and Mrs. Post felt it necessary then to discuss the propriety of issuing invitations by telephone rather than by mail (as well as when it is acceptable for a butler to place the call rather than the hostess herself).
There’s much that appeals about these new e-invitations: the convenience of sending them with the click of a mouse; the automatic tracking of RSVPs; and the invitations’ clever designs, which often imitate paper invitations, even down to having an “envelope” that opens on screen.
Still, I’m not entirely won over by these new e-invitations. An invitation is a gift—an act of generosity and friendship. Meanwhile, the internet is a ready conduit for money-making and commerce. Commerce is certainly fine in itself. But friends don’t relate to each other as though they were in a commercial transaction—and, if they do act this way, it can disrupt the friendship.
The danger of e-invitations is that they can allow commerce to intrude upon the act of friendship expressed in an invitation, as I learned during my first trial an e-invitation website. As the event drew near, I was surprised and embarrassed when, unprompted by me, my guests were sent a reminder email, as though they couldn’t be relied upon to remember the party. But I was appalled when I read the reminder email and saw that my guests had been invited to “send the perfect gift today” and provided with a link to a shop for a hostess gift! By design, this e-invitation had reversed the notion that the invitation is a gift from the host or hostess and made the invitation a plea for gifts from the guests.
And, it’s not just the exhortation to guests to buy their host or hostess a gift. It’s possible to choose “sponsored” invitations that bear the mark “brought to you by….” It’s like getting a commercial sponsor for a birthday party! Once one has selected an invitation, there’s a prompt to set up a gift registry.
As Matthew Crawford recently observed, commercials and corporate messages are now found nearly everywhere we look, and “the fields of view that haven’t been claimed for commerce are getting fewer and narrower.” Advertisements are found in places they would not have been found a decade ago—even, as Crawford ruefully observes, in the TSA bins used for screening carry-on luggage. If we want to keep commerce out of our airport screening lines, surely the relationship between host and guest is an even important space we want to keep from being commercialized.
As with so many things, you can’t stop progress—and I expect that I’ll use e-invitations again. But I’m still wary of how e-invitations make it just a little bit easier for the gift of an invitation to verge into a commercial transaction.