Life Advice



Keep Camera On -- But Only If You Can Look Interested

Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin on

DEAR MISS MANNERS: During normal times, we refrained from turning our backs on people speaking to us, or from looking elsewhere the entire time. Now, online, I attend speaker events in which the audience is primarily comprised of black boxes with or without their names listed. For the speaker, the lack of facial responses must be difficult, as there are only a few live faces to speak to.

Should one always be present (with video turned on) when attending a talk by a live, online speaker? Is it a courtesy to the speaker to show one's face in the audience, as if one were there in person, or is it considered good manners either way?

This is new territory, but I feel I should be fully present if I sign on to the link.

GENTLE READER: Fully present also means not walking in and out, falling asleep or multitasking, all of which behaviors Miss Manners often sees from audience members who have activated their cameras during a live video talk. Those who cannot manage to seem interested and alert are better not seen.

That the format presents problems for speakers accustomed to lecture halls, Miss Manners acknowledges, although it is not easy to see facial expressions in a darkened auditorium from a lighted stage. For anyone accustomed to getting laughs, silence from a muted audience is disconcerting, and it might help to see smiles.

But it definitely does not help to be able to see close-ups of people who are not paying attention.


DEAR MISS MANNERS: The people at my dentist's front desk always refer to me as Miss Jane and my husband as Mr. Tom. We are in our 70s, and would prefer to be called Jane and Tom or Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Do we mention this to the dentist, to the front desk people, or just let it go?

GENTLE READER: As you have not made up your own minds about whether you want to be addressed informally or formally, you should hardly blame the staff for using a compromise between the two. Especially in the South, their form is both warm and respectful.

As the situation here is professional, not personal, Miss Manners would consider the Mr. and Mrs. form more appropriate. But if you prefer to have them address you as pals, that is your choice. Just ask them.


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