Do Evites invite ills?

  • Article by: KIM ODE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 21, 2009 - 5:18 PM

Stationery might be an endangered species, with engraved invitations on the wane and even postcards with who, what, when and where being replaced by electronic invites.

Evite is the biggest online party animal, used by millions to host baby showers, wine tastings, birthday parties and high school reunions. Competition is growing among others such as Socializr, pingg, Center'd and MyPunchbowl.

Even Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post, says e-invites are OK.

"I think they're acceptable, but that depends on the party you're throwing," she said. "For a wedding, no. For a major gala event, no. For a holiday ugly-sweater party, yes, I think they're great."

Post, 26, hasn't actually used Evite or its ilk for her own parties, but said that given how few guests bother to RSVP by phone, "this may be the only way to get people my age to respond."

OK, fine. Yet these electronic requests have a feature that draws a raucous conga line between the generations: Each lets invitees eyeball the guest list before deciding whether to attend -- or to ditch these losers.

It takes us back to those paranoid days of adolescence when great attention was paid not only to whom you invited to a sleepover, but the order in which they were invited. All we really need to forget we learned in middle school.

Guests then reply yes, no or maybe (more on that option in a bit), with a comments box where they can elaborate for everyone else to read. If that comment happens to be, "Sorry, I'll be in Paris taking a master class in cheese-making," well, you were just sayin'. If it's a more mundane, "I'll be there right after yoga," why do we need to know that?

From Evite's perspective, it's simply social networking. "The banter starts on the invitation, giving people a way of saying, 'Let's get this party started,' " said Lariayn Payne, vice president of marketing and public relations for Evite, based in Los Angeles. "This lets you RSVP with a bit of explanation that you might like to give the host."

Payne allowed that comfort with such disclosure varies among generations. "People who are more into social networking really like having their comments out there and known," she said.

Still, the public guest list fosters a collision of human nature, etiquette, technology and privacy. Just because something is viewable, should it be? And where does a host's transparency and a guest's self-interest overlap? Payne said that hosts can opt to hide the guest list. But it's easier said than done. The instructions are deep within Evite's FAQs option. Some other e-invites are a bit more helpful, but only a bit, which might speak to how few think it's gauche to get a gander at the guests.

Post said that if the choice were hers, she would disable the function. "It's not OK to decide whether or not to go to the party based on who's going. You would never ask the hostess, 'Oh, who else will be there?' " she said, then wavered. Looking at the list itself "isn't a horribly offensive thing" -- but using it as a yardstick to determine whether to say yes or no is.

Frankly, Post's peeve is with the "maybe" option. "I've had friends who 'maybe' me all the way until the day of the party and I finally say, 'You know, I'm counting you as not coming.' It's not nice."

When all is said and done, Post knows that electronic invitations' efficiency inevitably chips away at great-great-grandma Emily's ideas of etiquette. And without quite saying "Whatever," she's heartened by the resurgence of actual invitations to actual parties.

She described a recent shindig where the hosts had a theme (ugly sweaters), supplied the food themselves, met people at the door and led everyone in a sing-along. "I mean, they really hosted the party, which made me think it's possible for my generation," she said. "Anything that gets people in the mode of hosting and knowing what it means to host is OK."

Wait! This just in: The e-invite service pingg has announced a new option that lets you send printed versions of your online invitations. "You design invitations online and the company prints, stamps and mails everything for you to all or a part of your guest list," according to a company announcement. The service is for those who may want to keep an invitation as a keepsake.

How ... innovative.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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