Surprise! Technology Can Be an Unwelcome Party Guest

Like any kid growing up, I relished receiving birthday invitations. A 3-by-5 card would arrive in the mail, festooned with images of cowboys, spaceships, sports equipment or whatever theme the birthday recipient had chosen. Amazingly, this continues to be the preferred method of announcing kids' parties, as evidenced by new cards that frequently appear on my refrigerator door, usually affixed with magnets touting real estate services. The cards serve as reminders that my 12-year-old daughter has an active social calendar and many friends, all of whom will soon be receiving iTunes gift cards.

In hindsight, I should have employed this somewhat archaic invitation system when planning my wife's secretive 50th birthday party. Instead, I chose to overthink the event by introducing technology into the simple act of yelling, "SURPRISE!" No, that doesn't mean I set up a 50-participant FaceTime session. But I did learn that Apple, Sony and the Internet itself are no substitutes for a handwritten note and a postage stamp.

I chose to send my invitations electronically, employing one of those free, online social event planning services. No more arm cramps and a sour tongue due to addressing invitations and licking their accompanying envelopes, I thought. One click and the word would be out.

Of course, I failed to realize what is fast becoming the number one defect of email: Nobody reads it. And those who do read only the first two lines. Midway through the invitation, I implored the guests not to RSVP via text message. A mere three minutes after clicking "send," I received the first text message: "We'll be there. She will be SO surprised."

Oh yeah, she'll be surprised all right. Particularly when a guest inadvertently texts her iPhone as opposed to mine.

Two weeks after sending the invites, rather the evites, I hadn't heard from more than half the guests. Follow up phone calls were met with comments ranging from, "Let me check my spam folder" to "I rarely use that email address" to, my favorite, "My whole family's on that account. Maybe my kids deleted it."

Score one for the good old U.S. Postal Service.

Those who did read the email also read my brilliant idea to compile birthday wishes electronically. The directions were -- in my mind anyway -- simple: Get creative and wish my wife happy birthday via a 15- to 30-second cellphone video clip. Considering our friends, like us, have recorded thousands of identical-looking hours of kids playing soccer, this seemed like an easy task.

Most guests complied, although I learned three things about humanity in the process:

1. The average 15 to 30 second video clocks in at 90 seconds.

2. Contrary to popular belief, NOBODY has a fear of public speaking

3. Everybody has excellent procrastination skills.

It's worth repeating that nobody thoroughly reads emails as evidenced by all the text messages with video attachments and the subject, "How's this?" I hurriedly moved them to a private folder.

Then it was time to compile all the clips into a single DVD using my limited moviemaking talents and my Sony video editing software. Speaking of not reading things, I obviously failed to read the program's fine print which specifically states: "This software will repeatedly crash if the user is planning a surprise birthday party. Issues can be resolved by purchasing the latest version or a new computer. Ha ha! Whatcha gonna do now?

I opted for the former and created not one but two DVDs: one containing all the video clips and a second containing all those clips plus the two that I received, via text message of course, three hours before the party. I'm sure my wife suspected nothing; plenty of husbands lock themselves in their home offices on Friday afternoons, correct?

Following the celebration my wife claimed surprise, but I have my doubts. Still I plan to thank all the guests for their time, their creativity and the appetizers they contributed.

They will find my praises in that metal storage unit at the end of their driveways. It's called a mailbox.

I hope they read whatever is inside.