Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man 

A fortnightly column on technology and the web

Local newspapaers usually have a slightly dotty reverence for the area they serve. My own local paper recently described Winston Churchill as ‘the former Westerham resident and wartime prime-minister’.

The Evening Standard has the opposite problem in that it is a London paper which really doesn’t much like London. In fact it wants its readers to leave. Articles along the lines of Why I’m Buying a Big House in France with the Money I Earn Writing this Rubbish appear alongside news of desperate couples driven away by ‘rush-hour chaos’, ‘crumbling infrastructure’ or ‘soaring crime’.

There is, it’s perfectly true, an exodus from London and from Britain in general, but not necessarily for the bleak reasons the Standard or the Daily Mail suggest. Another plausible reason for the migration is that technology has simply made remoter parts of the country (or the world) far less crappy places to live than they were only a few years ago.

In a little over a decade the country’s biggest, most interesting bookshops, electrical shops, music shops, cheese shops, hat shops, junk shops have all moved. They are no longer found in London but online. And they are exactly the same whether you browse them in Knightsbridge or Bonar Bridge.

Retail is only part of the story. Even if you move to the kind of place where children still wave at passing cars, you can tune in online to the same 10,000 radio stations you have in London or New York. Television isn’t yet quite as universal, but a couple of phone calls to a local chancer will get you a Sky subscription almost anywhere in Europe.

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