DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many of my friends keep blogs -- online diaries and discussion forums -- as a casual way to keep in touch with distant friends and as another forum for social chatter with friends who live nearby.
One friend recently commented in her blog that she hadn't enjoyed the novel she'd just read. To her surprise, the novel's author found the post after searching the Web for his own name and responded angrily to her "review."
Although we are all aware that blogs can be read by any friend or stranger who passes by, our own blogs are so mundane that they are usually only read by our own friends, and we like it that way. We tend to think of blogs as being akin to conversations with friends at a public cafe -- while they might be overheard by strangers, we don't really expect them to, or expect strangers to get involved.
Should we instead be thinking of blogs as something more like letters published in the newspaper? Or simply refrain from keeping blogs and put more effort into writing letters? Letters sound good in theory, but in practice I have trouble deriving the same sense of community from them.
From time to time, people post announcements or invitations to parties on their blogs. If I read such an invitation in the blog of one of my closest friends, I take it as a personal invitation and respond accordingly. If I read an invitation on the blog of a more distant friend, or a friend-of-a-friend, I am not sure whether I should consider myself invited (and send a reply as to whether or not I can attend) or whether I should assume it is intended for others and ignore it. What is the proper reaction?
GENTLE READER: You believed that Internet users turn discreetly away when they realize that something is not intended for them? And people accuse Miss Manners of not living in the real world!
You can hardly go more public than putting things online. We used to use the phrase "shouting it from the rooftops" to indicate going public, but you could shout yourself hoarse, put it in the newspapers, announce it on television, and still not reach a fraction of the potential audience of your blog.
Indeed, that is the attraction for most bloggers, Miss Manners is given to understand. Few diarists of old could hope to reach anyone beyond a suspicious parent or spouse.
True, this is only a potential audience. Not everyone wants to spend time following the lives and thoughts of strangers. But as you found out, you cannot control entry. Nor can you fault those who participate and who assume that publicly issued invitations included them.
There are more private means at your disposal. Isn't Miss Manners the one who is supposed to think first of letters, and everyone else to think of e-mail?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband was asked to play the organ at a wedding next month. The groom said that would be the gift. However, we just received a wedding invitation with a card enclosed advising us where they are registered for gifts. Since my husband is the church organist and not charging for this as the "gift," are we required to purchase a second present? The couple aren't friends or relatives of ours, just members of the church.
GENTLE READER: Your husband has already been cheated out of the fee for his services. You owed no present for a wedding you would not have otherwise attended. And Miss Manners can assure you that you certainly do not owe two. The bridegroom is just trolling for freebies from others as he did from you.