Advice on manners and morals.
March 28 1998 3:30 AM

Many Slate readers have expressed regret that Prudence has abandoned her advice column in favor of her needlework. Sensitive to the continuing need for guidance among Slate readers, however, Prudence has prevailed upon her niece and namesake, Prudence, to assume the responsibility. In coming weeks, Prudie (as she is known to friends) will begin to respond to some of the unanswered e-mails that have piled up in her aunt's queue as well as to new inquiries that readers may submit. Like her aunt, Prudie will be drawing upon her rich experience of life in responding to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Unlike her aunt, she does not do macroeconomics--though, in the family tradition, she does do needlepoint.

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As before, you should send your questions for publication to Prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

Dear Prudie,

Recently Bill Gates received a pie in the face from what I assume were self-proclaimed enemies. How did Gates handle it, and what would have been the best response?

--Wondering From Arizona

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Dear Won,

Prudie, of course, does not accompany Mr. Gates on trips, so she is unable to tell you his reaction. All one could see in the news photos was a picture of him mopping up.

There is really no gracious way to receive a pie in the face ... unless it might be to say, "This is not quite as good as my mother used to make."

--Prudie, tastefully

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Oh, Prudie,

You quite clearly state your unwillingness to advise on issues of macroeconomics, but one assumes you are aware of all this "tragedy of the commons" talk that's going around about the Web. (It's mostly loose talk about the incentives that individuals have to use the resources of the Web, regardless of the consequences to others in terms of slower response now and eventually even strangulation of the Web altogether.)

If we assume (since you don't do macro) that these prognosticators of doom are correct, what's a body to do? If my actions won't, in the big scheme of things, make a teeny, tiny spot of difference, and the Web as we know it is doomed eventually whatever I do, is it moral of me to download those huge film-and-sound files that I might someday like to see, eventually discarding them without even opening them just to get back the local disk space? More importantly, is it good manners? As the teeming millions flock to the Web, is it devil take the hindmost in the scramble for resources? Or is bandwidth abuse a real moral question? Should we be boycotting multimedia sites that make even my fractional T3 connection choke? We need your help and advice on this issue, before it's too late.

--Confused in Chicago

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Dear Con,

Prudie realizes that you are raising an issue of burning concern to many Webbies, but she thinks it would take an economist to do it justice. Fortunately, she has prevailed upon her Aunt Prudence--just this one time--to set aside her needlework and help out her niece. Auntie Prudence offers the following advice:

Since you raise the question, you obviously feel uneasy about your frivolous use of the Web. You would feel better, and the world would be infinitesimally better, if you restrained yourself. But in the end the solution will have to come from technology, policy, and economics. That is, a way will be found to charge for the use of the Web. Someone will have a great incentive to sell speedy access, as free access becomes slower, and find a way to do it.

An Israeli scientist has developed an Internet monitoring program that tracks a user's actions on the Net. The program is called Scout. Surely there will be others. If the private sector does not devise ways to sell, and so limit, use of the Net, the government will surely find a way to tax it.

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I hope this helps.

--Prudie, accessibly

Dear Prudie,

Inform us, please, why all Americans seem now to be embedded in some sort of system or process? Not a single wise guy or wise doll in business or the media fails to note that he, she, or the subject under discussion is part of a "process."

Raising capital is part of a process. Just talking on the Larry King Show or the Imus thing is part of a process. Lawyering is processing. Every process seems to be part of a "system." Don't give us the guff that everyone is part of the food chain, please. Has processing the American population led to a class system of the process designers and the processed?

Thank you.

--Wexxford 1

Dear Wexx,

Alas, "processing" is the word du jour, and the jour is proving to have a fairly long shelf life. Prudie totally agrees with you in your response to this example of tech-speak. I suspect you and I both remember the time when the only things "processed" were cheese and applications for licenses and passports. The only thing you can do to counteract this unwelcome addition to the language is never to use the P word yourself.

--Prudie, sympathetically

Dear Prudence,

My girlfriend and I recently returned from a holiday. I left the vacation photos on my desk, and when I was gone, she went through them and removed the ones she didn't like. She won't give them back, and I'm annoyed. They're my pictures, after all. What do you think?

--Out of Film in Seattle

Dear Out,

Prudie blushes to say it, but she would do the same. It may be a girl thing. Some of us are not always photogenic, and who needs to have rotten pictures recorded for posterity?

--Prudie, narcissistically

Dear Prudence,

I am 17. My parents divorced when I was 11 because of my mom's alcoholism and clinical depression. Three years later my dad and I were really close, and my life was getting back on track. He then found another woman and asked my permission to marry her. Not knowing what I was getting into, I had no reason to say no. Since then we've moved to another house, and my dad and I have grown apart. I miss my old house so much that I dream about it. I just feel so alone, and I'm afraid of depression. And it now feels like the guy who was once my dad is now only a new husband.

--Misplaced in Wis.

Dear Mis,

Prudie is sorry for your losses--first your mother, and then, in a different sense, your father. You might try to discuss your loneliness with your dad, for he may be unaware of what is transpiring. You might also ask to see a counselor. Your age makes Prudie hope you can go away to college so that the natural progression of growing up--and away--will help move you into your own life. Good luck to you.

--Prudie, hopefully