Focus: Home sweet digital home

The new 'cocooner' is no couch potato. But why go out when you can make the world come to you?

Greg Rowland last left his house around two days ago - he thinks. He says he popped out for a pint of milk the day before yesterday, just between Fifteen To One and Countdown. Then he scuttled back to make his son's tea and catch Richard Whiteley on the box.

Greg wouldn't want you to assume he's a couch potato. He is a television critic, plays in a band, helps to look after his seven-month-old son and writes articles about the finer points of home living, such as pizza delivery etiquette.

Greg is one of a new breed of "cocooners" - people who believe their home is not just their castle but, thanks to technology and digital culture, their supermarket, cinema, games arcade and social life. Not for them the harsh realities of the external world; scrumming it on the Tube; schlepping to over-crowded bars and overrated restaurants. At 32, Greg is settling down, "not to a pipe and slippers but to the digital age".

He has a full and active life with his partner, son and friends; it's just that it all takes place within the four safe walls of home. "When my friends visit they say my house has a very strong centre of gravity," he says. "They find themselves getting sucked in and never want to leave. Everything you'd want is on tap: food, drink, videos, large TV and comics." He is, naturally, an avid e-mailer and internet user.

Soon, even more of us will become cocooners. According to a survey by Active Centre Management Associates published last week, half of all retail sales will take place on the internet in 10 years' time. UK shoppers spent pounds 500m on five billion on-line purchases last year, and based on the fact that the internet attracts 11,000 new subscribers each day, the study predicts that website shopping could well rise to pounds 6bn by 2003, providing us with door-to-door deliveries on a daily basis of groceries, books, clothes, holidays - even your favourite LP. If this sealed existence seems a little, well, slobby, you can always call a personal trainer.

That we're a nation of stay-at-home DIY-ers is an established fact; first there was Changing Rooms and now there's Ground Force, vehicle for the famously bra-less gardener Charlie Dimmock, which is BBC1's most popular programme, after EastEnders.

But when we're not rag-rolling or building water features in our backyard, we like to take it easy. In fact, we are chomping our way through more TV-type dinners and other convenience foods than ever before - pounds 6.6bn- worth. Tesco's has announced it will expand its hugely successful internet home delivery service from two London stores to more than a 100 nationwide by Christmas.

And in the same week we heard about a home device called the Bluetooth, which will, apparently, revolutionise our domestic lives: a mobile phone will be able to "communicate" with all our household appliances, make shopping lists and record TV programmes.

But critics have suggested that feathering the nest this much and making our lives so much easier in such a self-indulgent fashion will make us fat, anti-social and lazy. One recent study, Young People, New Media, carried out at the London School of Economics, concluded that teenagers rarely venture into the outside world. Last week University of Minnesota researchers claimed that changes in lifestyle meant babies were becoming more inert, spending hours in front of the television or strapped into a car seat. This has increased worries that children are more overweight than ever before.

Yet for all that, the majority of us are hardly ever at home. Working hours are longer and more harrowing; while employees yearn to be home- based, plenty are increasingly office-bound. No wonder, then, that the home is such a powerful focus for our fantasies, a refuge for our shattered egos and identities.

"Being at home is about having your own agenda," says Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson. "Reflect- ing and doing things you enjoy doing; creating your own experience rather than believing other people's idea of fun."

But the notion of the home-as-insulated-capsule is bound to cause moral indignation; any pleasurable pursuit that can be enjoyed alone usually does. That doesn't mean it's bad for you; nor that you are inward looking and self-indulgent. Hodgkinson suggests that guilt is to blame for the inevitable criticism of cocoon culture. "People are guilty that life can be made easier; it's a sort of collective masochism," he says.

Essential to the 1990s cocoon is choice; to be able to furnish it digitally, electronically - and stylishly. But, more importantly, choice means that you want to be there in the first place. If your cocoon is anything less than a conscious lifestyle decision, then probably the best thing you could do is get out a little more.

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