Monday, 14 November 2011

The Box of Delights

Shopping these days has, for me, evolved into a somewhat functional, even utilitarian process. The DHL van turns up sometime in the early afternoon, bearing its cargo of brown packages from dot coms and dot de's with names entirely written in lower case.

Sometimes the packages are for me, but usually they are for neighbours. But they all look alike, distinguished only by the inscription on the address label. There's nothing unexpected, nothing inspired, just a sense of mild annoyance when you've been out and will have to make the trek to the Post Office with its strange idea of opening hours, which you can never remember.

Now contrast that with dusk on a late afternoon in mid-November and a stroll along Piccadilly and up Regent Street. The Christmas lights are still freshly turned on and there are long-legged elves outside Fortnum and Mason, causing a hold-up to the pedestrian traffic. From the childhood memories of Hamleys to the 21st century hi-tech of Uniglo it's a world of glitter and magic, enchantment and surprise.

In the same way that rumours of the death of TV have been exaggerated, so too has the need for wonder, for sensory participation been played down in the progress of retailing. In the end, media are not replaced - we simply add more layers of experience. It's not either:or. We still watch TV, albeit with a laptop to add extra texture and layers of meaning.

And as Christmas approaches, we still need the allure of Santa's grotto and the sensory carnival of Aladdin's cave.

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