Is it bizarre, appalling, mean-spirited, or all of the above? That’s surely part of what’s going through the mind of a Minnesota woman who was sent a bill by the bride of a wedding she was not able to attend. Here’s the lead from the Minneapolis television station KARE:
It was a couple weeks ago, Jessica Baker was getting ready to go to a wedding with her husband when she got a call from her mom.
"She called at the last minute and had something come up and said I can't make it," said Baker.
Her mom was supposed to watch their kids. And since the invitation said no children, that meant no wedding. But then this week, she received a bill for the dinner they were supposed to have enjoyed.
The bill came to $79.50 and came with a note: "This cost reflects the amount paid by the bride and groom for meals that were RSVP'd for, reimbursement and explanation for no show, card, call or text would be appreciated.” (The bill also included a helpful $7.95 service and tax charge.)
Wow. So how to break this down ethically?
Weddings are expensive – somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000, with significant regional variations between New York City and Alaska. (Minneapolis is probably right in the middle of the pack.) But they almost always involve a lot of fussing over the guest list.
If you’ve had people flake on you after they RSVP’d to an enormously pricey party you chose to invite them to, you know it’s frustrating. Not only did you pay for their food and drink (two herb-crusted walleyes!), you had to leave out other people – colleagues from work, relatives, actual friends -- who you could have asked instead.
But to send them a bill? Presumably, the bride and groom invited this couple because they liked them. So to treat them like patients who skipped a doctor’s appointment is a little weird.
So what is Baker to do? Well, for now, she seems to be ignoring the bill. (Are there collection agencies that will pursue such a thing?) But besides venting on Facebook and speaking to a local television station, there’s not much else she can do.
That’s why we’re delighted with a new technological wonder: A Yelp-like app for rating… people. The Washington Post describes Peeble this way:
When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.
One of the app’s co-founders, Julia Cordray, sees it as a helpful tool: “As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity. We want to operate with thoughtfulness.”
Well, given the way the web bullying, Yelp ratings, and crowdsourcing in general have gone so far, this persistence of good vibes is kind of hard to fathom. There are some safeguards built in, but they seem pretty easy to jack. It also makes us think of Evgeny Morozov's diagnosis of "technology solutionism."
And isn’t the whole idea here a bit invasive? “Where once you may have viewed a date or a teacher conference as a private encounter, Peeple transforms it into a radically public performance: Everything you do can be judged, publicized, recorded,” the Post points out. “That justification hasn’t worked out so well, though, for the various edgy apps that have tried it before."
Now, I’m afraid this whole thing is making my skin crawl. But sometimes, two wrongs do make a right. There are not a lot of people who deserve to be “rated” on a creepy site that quantifies human beings. But if anyone does, it’s someone who would sent a friend a bill for missing a party when childcare falls through. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Peeble will be used to shame obnoxious behavior. And that it’s founders find a way to change the app’s name before it’s too late.