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Swellboy on… the internet

World wide web of evil? Perhaps not

Swellboy on… the internet

Image: Brijesh Patel

July 29 2010
Nick Foulkes

It is one of the truisms of the modern world that the internet will kill human involvement in everything, and I have to admit that there have been times when my feelings vis-à-vis the virtual world have been uncannily similar to those of the average late 18th-century Lancastrian cotton spinner concerning the spinning jenny. In general my view towards “progress” has been that of an unusually perspicacious governor of the Bank of England, I forget which one, who averred that “All change is bad – even change for the better!” However, as King Canute demonstrated, there are things that are beyond human control, and change is one of them. In fact, beyond my choice of shirt, tie and cuff links of a morning and cigar of an evening, I have next to no control over what happens to me.

But anyway, back to the internet. The other day I was asked to the 10th birthday celebrations of Net-a-Porter. The online fashion retailer is the creation of gamine Natalie Massenet and is probably part of the MBA syllabus at your local business school: I challenge you to find anyone who is not a fan, and Mr Porter is scheduled to be with us soon. But what really impressed me was the global HQ in Westfield – it was as if Ken Adam, the legendary art director of the Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s, had been given a limitless budget to create a set for The Devil Wears Prada. As well as an amphitheatrical cinema, numerous trendy meeting rooms, dining areas and smart spaces, the hub, if you like, was a cavernous hall, so vast that it boasted its own climate (well almost). Row after row of desks stretched off into the distance, at which I presume toil the vendeuses of the Net-a-Porter empire like so many kitten-heeled oarsmen in the quinqueremes of antiquity.

Although I would doubtless make a lousy oarsman and Net-a-Porter vendeur, it actually filled me with hope. Far from pirating the creative endeavour of musicians, threatening the written word, and outsourcing the helpdesk to another hemisphere, here, a few minutes’ walk from my house, was an example of the internet actually generating work for human beings. As a result, I am already taking a more benign view of the Net-a-Porter bags and parcels that have become a familiar presence in my house.