The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 21 November

Should the young be wrested away from social media? Or is it just a new way of communicating? Thomas Blaikie advises
Dear Thomas,
After a week of teenage grandchildren staying over half-term, I’m beginning to wonder: would it be an improvement if they were to be separated from their computers and smartphones?
Bernie Sharpe, Dumfries

Dear Bernie,
I approach with caution. Staying in a hotel recently I overheard a gent in his 60s expounding at length on this subject. ‘Why don’t young people write letters?’ he moaned. ‘Take away their phones. Get them off Facebook.’

The notion that the internet is universally bad for the young is embedded throughout society. I look back to my own childhood in the 1960s. Letter writing? Of course, how could I have forgotten? My voluminous correspondence with Squit Parker or Reggie Sweet-Escott, the Basildon Bond flying back and forth at least three times a day in the holidays… I don’t think so. The only letter I ever wrote, apart from required Christmas thank-yous, was a furious complaint to Look And Learn, which my father steamed open to make sure I wasn’t being ruthlessly pursued by commercial interests.

Is it possible, as the years increase, that our view of the past gets conveniently adjusted? What about all that wrangling over who got to use the telephone? ‘Get off that phone… who’s paying for this call, I’d like to know?’

Far more inconvenient for everybody concerned than any smartphone or computer.

Why is conversation via social media any less ‘real’ than a face-to-face encounter? Young people use it to ‘talk’ to people they already know. It seems that the young generation of today is far less bored than we were 40 years ago. A few might be possessed by computer frenzy but this can happen at any age. Besides, think of all those letters that should never have been written, let alone posted.

For the young, the benefits of social media far outweigh the drawbacks. They acquire skill in written communication, arguably more complex and demanding than speech. There is evidence that they don’t use text language as extensively as thought and take care to edit what they post online.

Far from droopy and self-involved, these teenagers are developing a keen sense of audience. Young people subscribing to fan and hobby websites are often involved with the life of these communities and also might find outlets, often lucrative, for their talents. I’d be far more worried about a young person who is not engaged with social media than one who is.

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


Recently I rode a cock horse to Banbury Cross. Or rather I went by Chiltern Railways’ somewhat miniaturised service, so crowded that when the woman next to me started eating a banana I might as well have been having it too. An old friend of mine is an entrepreneur. He has a notice in his office: ‘No Smelly Food To Be Eaten At Your Desk.’ This is in Prague where alarming kinds of sausage prevail.

The trouble is: can we agree as to what food is smelly? Perhaps the issue is more to do with what can be consumed in public near others or in the workplace. Should we decree: nothing hot? I remember being knocked down by a Cup A Soup in a workplace. Repulsive stink. I don’t like to see people having what amounts to a meal (oh dear! I’ve said ‘meal’) on a train or bus, ie, fish and chips, McDonald’s. If these forms of transport were meant for this purpose they’d have dining cars, surely? At work, I suppose you’ve just got to avoid anything that smells strongly, even if it’s notably middle class like oysters, Roquefort or bottarga.