Re-inventing the high street

Someone once said, technology could solve any problem. But the reality is that it can just as equally cause them… and then there’s the definition of “problem” itself; be it logical, social, economical or whatever.

I was recently asked my thoughts on how we might use technology to re-invent the high street. My first response was “Why?”.

I can’t remember who it was that changed the way we shop (was it Terence Conran and Habitat?), but in the old days a store was a desk with a clerk where one person was served at a time… Before brand awareness and loyalty, soap was soap and milk was milk, and people only bought what they knew they needed. Then someone opened it up and allowed people to browse and I’m guessing the “impulse buy” was born (or was at least given a stable platform).

Today the stores come to us and the clerk is long gone. We get emails tempting us with things we never even knew existed that link straight into the basket for checkout to be delivered to us the next day. And so the internet resolves a vast majority of our shopping requirements in a single swipe. So why do I need a high street at all.

“To me, high streets are for slowing down city commuters”

Well the fact is that our communities need the high-street for obvious economical and social reasons. And therein lies the predicament of technology solving one problem and (quite innocently) causing another. And though I’m somewhat cynical that a “single” mobile phone app can fix such a problem I do believe that technology can be used as a pipeline to bring water to a dessert.

My issue here though is with the word “re-invent”. The re-invention of something, suggests to me, that some version of the original is even still needed, and even goes so far as to assumes the requirements from its original conception remain the same. Whereas if you re-examine the contemporary requirements you should find yourself creating something new (in as much as you’re attempting to break away from what has influenced you as a solution thus far).

<Insert Henry Ford quote here ;-)>

Re-inventing the wheel assumes we all still want to ride along the ground. But of course the original problem the wheel was solving was simply to get us from one place to another. The high street wasn’t invented, it sprung up naturally and though poses financial problems to be resolved by the business’ and their strategies, it is, I believe an important part of our social ecology that needs to be sustained… in some form. How that’s done I suppose is another discussion.

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