The news that Tesco is to close its fresh food counters is just another sign that we don’t even want to have nice things. You can’t really blame the internet for people not wanting to queue up and ask for a slice of that pork pie thing with egg in the middle, or exactly 175g of mince, or three sausages and six anchovies. The metric system maybe? After all, a lot of people probably know what 2oz of cheese looks like but don’t know how to ask for it in grams. But it’s a symptom all the same that when offered the choice between convenience and service we’ll pick convenience every time. Of course it doesn’t help matters when the tappety-tap-tap of people paid to have opinions spreads its jism all over the comment pages and convinces someone somewhere for five minutes that, no, indeed, fresh food counters and customer service are rubbish and of course we won’t miss them. Like we don’t miss the milkman and milk in glass bottles, do we?
(Let’s set aside the ironic lack of self awareness of someone who writes for a newspaper in 2019 telling us about something they won’t miss when it’s gone.)
Which brings us onto the things that the internet really did ruin. While I can barely remember that time I asked for anchovies at the deli counter in Waitrose, the last time I bought a newspaper is an even dimmer memory. I never did quite understand why newspapers and magazines even started giving away their content for free on the internet. It was a collective insanity that cost them dear. They swallowed some canard about how information wants to be free and nobody listened to the little boy in the crowd who shouted that it was just a fucking metaphor.
So while the presses still rolled, and the newspaper groups still paid for staff and offices and newsprint, and even as they cannibalised their own advertising revenue with online content, they were caught off balance when people without expensive printworks and distribution networks to support came along and undercut them by not even paying the idiots who wrote their content. Because, turns out, the logical corollary of information wants to be free is writers don’t want to be paid.
So there went the printing jobs, and the journalism jobs, and what a hilarious trick that was: suddenly any idiot could be a writer or a photographer, but nobody was getting paid. And now even low-overhead outlets like Vice, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are laying off staff. Meanwhile, others are in administration. There’s no there there. Nothing is real. Strawberry Fields forever.
And then there was a mad scrabble to pivot to video and podcasts and promote your shouldn’t-be-free content on social networks and look how that turned out. It goes without saying that instead of liberating us, the internet ruined politics too. It wasn’t as if we were well served, politically, by old media, but new media didn’t help at all. It just said, hold my pint.
The thing about most news content is, usually the headline is enough for most people, so putting the headline on Twitter was a good way of reducing your readership. And Twitter or Facebook can make money off your content, but you can’t.
And all those podcasts, I love them, I absolutely do, but at the same time, all the podcast adverts are just a list of ways in which the internet is setting out to ruin everything. Go to the mattresses! So let’s kill off the mattress retailers, and the opticians, the clothes retailers, the grocers, and in a final ironic twist, let’s kill off independent web designers. Use Squarespace for all your needs. Put those pixel pushers on the dole.
But as much as nobody loves shopping for mattresses, there’s a whole ecosystem there isn’t there? You go to the retail park to buy a mattress, and you might pop into the electronics store, or the pet supply place, or Halfords, whatever. But if you’re no longer going to buy a mattress, everybody else is screwed. Do Amazon sell tyres? Of course they fucking do.
Which, talking of which, brings us to Amazon’s Evil Empire, and how we all chose to kill off book stores and record stores and all the other stores where people might work reasonable hours for reasonable pay and get a staff discount and have a bit of a laugh with their colleagues. First they killed the Net Book Agreement, which okay, was a bit of a cartel, but it wasn’t as if there weren’t discount bookshops with remaindered titles. It was a system and it worked. And it was like milk from the milkman. You paid a bit more but somehow we still had a society.
I’m probably the most guilty person when it comes to using Amazon instead of retail stores. I mean, when I needed a petrol cap for the strimmer in France, I ordered it from Amazon instead of trying a local stockist, just because I knew the local stockist would probably be hopeless. But what are we going to do when Amazon has killed everything, has an effective monopoly, and pulls the trigger on raising prices so they can turn a profit?
I once ordered a car online, that’s how guilty I am.
And I’d do it again, probably, because car salespeople are horrible, aren’t they? And so are journalists, aren’t they? I mean, a lot of them work(ed) for Murdoch and the Daily Mail etc. What kind of shitty human being do you have to be to work for the Daily Mail? There are all kinds of categories of people it’s easy to avoid by shopping online.
All that’ll be left on the high street will be the coffee shops, and when all the other shops have gone, they’ll have to go too, because the footfall will be gone.
And it’ll be the internet wot dunnit, and everything will be a little bit (or a lot) worse, and we’ll complain about it, but we did it to ourselves.
*Takes cardboard packaging out to the recycling bin*