The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 2 February

Dear Thomas

I’m not very good with computers. Last week there was a disaster: I pressed ‘Reply All.’ How was I to know there were a whole lot of emails attached, and that someone was going to get them who wasn’t supposed to? This person read disobliging comments about himself from other people on the residents’ committee. Now he’s saying his detractors aren’t fit to serve and they’re all blaming me. Can you advise?

April Housego, Southend

Dear April

Oh dear! This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this subject. I see quite a complicated chain of blame. In the first place, it’s unwise to put anything in an email that might be damaging if it were to fall into the wrong hands.

Sadly, your loss of control with the ‘Reply All’ button is also a factor. All I can say is this: do be ferociously careful with the Reply All button. Always scroll down to check what other emails are glued on to the ‘thread’. And make sure you know exactly who ‘all’ are.

But there’s another aspect to this, which, as far as I know, isn’t ever mentioned. It was always an absolute black mark to read other people’s letters. So why not emails that may have been sent to you accidently but which clearly aren’t addressed to you? Nobody ever says this, but the truth is: if you’re not the recipient, you shouldn’t be reading them. You shouldn’t be snooping. Nobody would open and read a letter sent to them in error. So, I have only limited sympathy for your fellow committee member. Rather serves him right that he read unpleasant things about himself.

Etiquette of the internet has been slow to evolve. In the early days it was all a happy, glorious free-for-all. But concern about privacy wouldn’t go away. Now there’s more talk, even amongst obvious internet devotees, such as young people, about stalkers and snoopers. It’s becoming clear that just because material is posted online, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for general consumption. Not everybody is a master of the Facebook privacy settings. If a friend has a business of some kind and gets a bad review online, don’t read it. Worse still is where pictures, videos, even voice messages, etc, are posted with purely malicious intent. If it’s about people you know, don’t look. We’re all going to have to be much more restrained in future about what we look at online.

Going back to the original problem, I offer two clichés: accidents happen and it’s no use crying over spilt milk. The man who was ‘insulted’ might reflect, like Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, on the reform of his character, and the others should be more circumspect about what they put in writing in future. And you should exercise extreme caution with the Reply All button.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Smartphones

In case you’re thinking, ‘I’ve had enough of the it theme for one week’, let’s talk about smartphones, not in use but in the pocket – almost always a man’s. This menace is growing, especially in an era where nobody has a proper winter coat in which the device would otherwise be concealed. Time and again you see it on the streets – that tell-tale rectangular outline of the smartphone stuffed into the front or back pocket of the trousers – and ruining the outline of the outfit. ‘Mind your own business,’ I hear you saying. ‘Such a thing is hardly a threat to civilisation as we know it.’ Yes, but it’s annoying – in the same way as young men going about in winter’s depths without a coat on is annoying. It’s an affront somehow. All wrong. Such people do carry bags, usually rucksacks, about which I’ve also complained in the past, having been biffed once too often. The poor things can’t win. The phones are in the pocket, though, not in the bag, for easy access: they might be needed at any moment. Well, there could be cause for real objection there.