Digital Manners: The Virtual Baby Shower

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Nov. 7 2011 4:36 PM

The Virtual Baby Shower (Transcript) 

Is it tacky to send links to a gift registry to the expectant mother’s far-flung friends and call it a shower?

Farhad Majoo:  Gather around your laptops. It’s a virtual baby shower!

Emily Yoffe:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad Manjoo:   I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

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Emily:  Today’s question is from a listener who wonders if the modern trend toward online celebrations is just plain tacky. She writes, “Dear Emily and Farhad, I was chatting with my sister the other day and she asked my advice in planning a virtual baby shower for a college friend who’s expecting. Apparently, in a virtual baby shower, no one eats cake and plays games. They simply are e-mailed a link to the baby registry with an invitation to buy gifts. My sister reasoned that she was sending it out to the expectant mother’s college friends who are still in touch with her, but didn’t live close by. A quick Google search reveals that people also hold virtual bridal showers. I balk at the idea of asking people to send gifts without a host at least giving them snacks in return. Is this terribly old-fashioned?” Signed, Not a Fan of the Cold Shower.

Well, Not a Fan of the Cold Shower is actually Alisa Harris*. We have her on the phone with us and we’re going to ask her what’s happened since she wrote this letter.

Alisa:  Well, I guess that I was able to convince my sister that it was a tacky idea, because the more she thought about it the more she decided it wasn’t something that she really wanted to do. But, what she did end up doing instead of billing it as a virtual baby shower is she just send the link out privately to a few friends and just said that they might want to look at the registry if they were interested in buying a gift.

Emily:  Farhad, I’ve got to bring you in here. You have an adorable one-year-old. How many virtual baby showers did you guys have?

Farhad:  We had zero virtual baby showers. We had a real baby shower where we got lots of wonderful gifts that we still use. It was very helpful to get those gifts.

Emily:  Were you there at the shower?

Farhad:  I was not there at the shower.

Emily:  That’s good.

Farhad:  But, we did not do it for the gifts. I was talking to my wife about this – the point of the baby shower and the bridal shower that she had before our wedding – and she thought that it was great to have other people there and participating and talking about the baby and the upcoming wedding and it was not about the gifts. This idea of having a virtual baby shower, and even sending out the link – even the compromise that you arrived at with your sister – I think it’s totally tacky.

Emily:  I agree with you and Alisa that this is just not a good development. I had not heard of it, Alisa, until your letter. I looked it up and there seem to be several different styles of the virtual baby shower. One is, as your sister was going to do, just kind of announce to everyone, “Hey, here’s where you buy the stuff, so buy it and send it.”

The other is even more bizarre. Everyone gathers around their laptop at the same time. I don’t know if there’s Skype involved. I don’t know if you’re supposed to go to your blender and make your own pina colada and drink it alone. I guess in advance everyone sent the gifts.

So, the mother-to-be is home alone with the boxes. She opens them and “oohs” and “ahhs,” and you’re all virtually oohing and ahhing and getting drunk alone. I’m not sure that’s a social advance.

Alisa:  I would agree with that.

Farhad:  It seems like there’s an obvious solution here, which is you should hold a real baby shower and invite the people even though you know they can’t make it because they live far away. Invite them in the same way that you invited everyone else, and if they want to send a gift and send in their regrets that they can’t make it, they can do so, but at least they’re invited to the event.

Emily:  That’s interesting, Farhad, because that’s another area of etiquette. Should you invite people who are really far away and really unlikely to fly across the country for a shower? It is a gift-grab, or should you only invite people who reasonably could come to a shower?

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