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?

We’re not going to go down that path, but in general I agree with you. There’s no need for the virtual shower because you should have a real shower. As your wife experienced, it’s fun to be in the room with your friends who either have babies or are going to have babies that are excited about you having a baby, and it’s a really warm, wonderful social event.

And other people who are good enough friends to know that you’re expecting, all they have to do is, “Hey, is Farhad’s wife registered? Where is she registered? What would she like?”

Farhad:  I don’t even think this is a technological issue. If you remove the technology here, which is e-mail or Facebook, and you thought about how you would do this the old way, you would never send somebody a card that said where you were registered and told them to mail you a gift.

So if you’re doing that just with the new technology, it’s just equally repugnant.

Emily:  No. It is not polite to solicit gifts in that way. And, Alisa, although you’ve got your sister to back down, anyone who’s moved to get a gift – I agree with you, Farhad – you don’t need new technology to find out where your friend is registered or what your friend would like.

Alisa:  And I’m sure that she did have a real shower, but I think there’s also a trend of having multiple showers with different groups – particularly when it comes to bridal showers – and probably baby showers are going in the same direction.

Emily:  You’re right again there, Alisa. I hear from people who talk about their fifth shower. I hear from people who have been invited to someone’s fifth shower and say, “I got three gifts. I didn’t get a gift for the fourth shower.” Stop it, please. Just stop. One shower for your friend. Sometimes people at work will gather together voluntarily and have you a shower.

Beyond that, you have the power to say, “Thank you so much for offering to have a shower. So-and-so is having a shower for me. I hope you can make it.” You don’t have to have five showers.

Alisa, you are upholding old-fashioned virtues and we appreciate it. Thank you so much for the letter and for calling.

Alisa:  Thank you so much.

Emily:  So, Farhad, you and I have gone the old-fashioned way together on this one. You’ve been in the world of showers much more recently than I have, and I’m very happy to hear your wife got together with her friends and opened the gifts and had a really good time and that mass e-mail was not send – “Here’s what I want. Mail it to me.”

Farhad:  If we have a baby again, I’m just going to send a link out to all my Twitter followers to say where we’re registered.

Emily:  But you should do the Skype shower and give them your recipe for Mai-Tais so they can get drunk while you’re opening their gifts.

Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Correction, Nov. 8, 2011: This transcript originally misspelled Alisa Harris' first name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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