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Joanna Witt
December 2016.
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Which single change in manners would most improve the modern world?
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Let’s begin by making a general point that the essence of good manners is to consider other people and not to make them feel uncomfortable. 

As such, there are many considerate little things that we can do every day, such as holding the door open for someone else, never mind their age or sex, or letting someone who needs it take your seat on public transport. All of these little gestures are signs of a more civilised society. 

However, I think the single thing that would most improve the way we interact with each other is to be more aware of how we use our mobile phones. Today we are so engrossed in our mobiles that we’re having less and less contact with the people around us. This is all tied up with our obsession with social media and the virtual world, which means we are spending more time on our phones and less time with real people. 

"All of these little gestures are signs of a more civilised society." 

In particular, not using our phones while we’re walking down the street would be a huge improvement. It’s not unusual to see people so distracted by whatever they’re doing on their phone that they bump into people and can even cross busy roads without looking properly. I think the height of rudeness is someone carrying out a transaction while looking at or talking on their phone, whether they’re in a shop or a restaurant or wherever, and making no eye contact with the person serving them. It’s almost as if they they think they’re being served by a machine. 

"That sort of behaviour just goes to show how disengaged some of us are in everyday life and how far the virtual world has taken over from reality."

If you absolutely have to remain on the phone for some reason, the least you can do is acknowledge the other person with a smile or a wave of the hand. Of course you can’t tell people they can’t use their phones in public places but it’s all about compromise, and respect for others. If I arrive first for a meeting I’ll keep my phone on the table in case someone messages to say they’re running late, but the moment that other person arrives I put it away. 

The same is true of the theatre. By all means check your phone before the performance, but the moment the lights go down put it on silent and put it away. It’s incredibly rude to be scanning your phone throughout a show –the people around you shouldn’t have to put up with a bright screen glowing next to them. That sort of behaviour just goes to show how disengaged some of us are in everyday life and how far the virtual world has taken over from reality.