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Lucy Mangan: "The principle of online shopping is not a new thing"


"My husband is baffled by the number of parcels that come to the house. All for me. All from somewhere lovely and filled with lovely things. Clothes and toys for the toddler from gap and John Lewis. Boringly sensible but satisfying tights and underwear from m&S. Less sensible but even more satisfying tops, trousers and bags from topshop, asos, hush and atterley road (so far I just look at Net-a-porter, but one far-distant day, when disposable income and dietary discipline allow, I shall make my move – there’s no point going into debt for clothes, nor in ruining the line of something beautiful with thighs that require separate postcodes). And of course, there’s my amazon habit. I know I shouldn’t – tax-avoiding, indie-everything-smashing juggernaut that it is – but I can’t go cold turkey now. I suppose ocado is for both of us, but as I choose everything, I feel – as I do with the toddler – that it’s really all mine.

‘You weren’t a shopper when we first met,’ says the husband, stepping over cardboard boxes spilling tissue paper everywhere. ‘What happened?’

What happened to me is the same thing that has happened to most of us over the last few years and that makes online shopping predicted to be worth £50 billion a year by 2018 – it just got so much easier. So much easier than it was at the beginning, when you could only do it from a desktop (which meant doing it secretly at work, missing your lunch hour or isolating yourself from the rest of the family to commune with the pC at home) and so much easier full stop than going to the shops. At the moment one in every £10 spent is spent online – by 2018 it will probably be one in every seven. Now we can shop literally from the sofa, with our smartphones and tablets. We can shop while watching television. We are living the dream.

Our grandmothers used to get everything delivered

Of course, we are living a dream that previous generations would have called absolute and utter normality. Our mothers lived out of catalogues. Grattan, Kays, Freemans, Littlewoods, Clothkits – these are names from the darkness of the Seventies that make the spirits of the unfortunates thereby clad quake still. our grandmothers used to get everything delivered. Food and everything else would be ordered from shops – face to face, if you can imagine such a thing, or by a phone call (after which the ‘receiver’ was replaced on the ‘cradle’) and brought to the house by a delivery boy or van. Ancient, ancient technology, but the principle’s the same. You stay put, retailers bring stuff to you.

The modern part isn’t really the shiny tablet, it’s not having to wear a nice twinset and matching lipstick for when parcel carriers arrive who know your name and could blight your reputation for villages around if the door is answered by a woman in a tea-stained onesie. and now we sit, doing pretty much exactly the same thing and feeling like we’re about to burst with clever modernity.

It’s just like when Jamie oliver ‘discovered’ lamb shanks, or the green lobby went mad over baking soda as a replacement for all known cleaners. this was not new knowledge. this was knowledge mislaid by an entire generation. See also: privatising the NHS, scrunchies (missoni have designed one) and feminism. humanity – we is idiots. Well, not idiots exactly, but certainly Quite Stupid, shorttermist and not very keen to put into practice the idea of history as linear progress. Why do we keep reinventing so many wheels? Why do we have no collective memory of how things used to be? I have a feeling that we used to. I don’t know of course – I can’t remember, and if there’s anything out there that I’m supposed to be absorbing by cultural osmosis, I’m too busy clicking on links to kittens in glass bowls from my sofa to do so.

Ah, well. We may all be disaffected, unwitting members of a mass engagement in infinite retrogression hung about with a few distracting baubles, but not to worry. Look, here comes the courier with my new bag!”



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