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We’re just Eviting bad manners

DESPITE THE fact that it was 96 degrees a few weeks ago, we are just days away from the official start of the holiday party season. True, many of these parties are thrown by our hair salons, car dealerships and opticians, but it’s nice to be included, even if the event is really just an effort to sell us a new pair of Ferragamo frames.

However, being invited is one thing, dealing with the invitation is another. And many of us will receive a large share of invitations via a certain little Internet service called Evite. I know, I know. Everyone loves Evite. Before this great innovation came our way, party hosts had the laborious task of writing up an e-mail announcing their events and then, gasp, typing people’s addresses in the recipient field and sending it from their own accounts. And if you think that sounds medieval, I’ve heard there was a time when people called their friends on the phone to invite them to a party or, get this, wrote invitations by hand and distributed them through the U.S. mail!

Like polio and Betamax video recording systems, such archaic methods of party planning no longer plague our nation. And thank goodness. With Evite, all those hours that would have been wasted sending and answering e-mails can be spent monitoring your invitation page to see who’s viewed it and how long they’re waiting around before responding. You heard me right. Anyone who sends an Evite can know instantly who’s opened it, even if the recipient hasn’t yet checked one of the RSVP boxes. So if you’re the kind of person who hides the fact that you check your e-mail every three seconds, give yourself a big window of time before clicking an Evite link.

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Actually, I’m going to take that suggestion a step further. How about not responding to Evites at all? Maybe I’m just bitter because I wasn’t invited to the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes wedding (I heard you needed to download a special version of Acrobat Reader), but it seems to me that Evite is quickly eroding what’s left of our sense of decorum. Sure, it was fine in the beginning. I’ll admit to having once used it myself, albeit under duress (here’s a topic for another day: friends who make friends plan their birthday parties). And besides, some (probably all) of my best friends use it.

But Evite, now in its eighth year, isn’t just for parties anymore. In the last six weeks, I’ve received Evites asking me to attend concerts, movie premieres, book signings and, yes, a party at my optician’s Brentwood boutique. The recipient list for such events extends well into the hundreds and the sender, in most cases, is some person or organization I’ve never heard of. And because Evite is nothing if not a model of automated persistence, my refusal to answer such invitations only generates more reminders that I have not yet responded.

This brings me to the most vexing component of the technology, the new literary genre that is Evite’s response form. It’s not enough that Evite allows you to see who else has been invited to the event and whether they’re planning to attend (if you can decipher some of the screen names), it’s all but mandatory to accompany your “yes” or “no” with an extremely witty remark. These remarks turn the whole enterprise into a cutthroat game of one-upmanship.

If one recipient (let’s call him MikeTheDude77) responds to a 1980s nostalgia party invitation with “I’m there, bro -- gonna put on the Spandex unitard and party like it’s 1979,” MissShakeNBake has no choice but to raise the bar with “will come bearing Ruinite and the Jane Fonda workout video!” It’s also customary to respond with inside jokes that only the host and a few select invitees will understand -- “I’ll bring the fish sticks if Adam supplies the Oxford English Dictionary.”

And in case you think you can rise above the fray by not commenting, think again. A friend of mine did this and immediately received a call from the hostess asking, “Are you mad at me?” Given the party giver’s apparent proximity to the telephone and concern for my friend’s state of mind, you have to wonder why the invite didn’t come in the form of a personal call in the first place. The reason is that there’s just no drama in that. With its overt competitiveness, flashy graphics and emphasis on strategy (no need to commit until you know if anyone interesting will be in attendance), Evite is essentially a written transcript of our collective social anxieties.

And nothing leads to bad manners quite like social anxiety. Evites, which allow potential guests to check a “maybe” box (talk about enabling commitment phobias), do more than just invite guests. They invite the notion that the guest list is more important than the guests.

Maybe that’s why I like receiving a simple e-mail with a simple subject heading like “come to my party.” Sure, it’s cryptic compared to an Evite, but what fun is a party without a little mystery? Besides, as important as guest lists are, everyone knows that a party is only as good as its cheese selection.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com


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