What do pink Neanderthalsand lawyers have in common?

The fashion Amazons aretrained to spot an Internet person. They can smell the silicon from 100 yards
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WITH THE recentexplosion in the number of Internet start-ups and the ubiquity of the modemsin our lives, you would think we had passed the "Net phobia" phaseyears ago. Wrong.

WITH THE recentexplosion in the number of Internet start-ups and the ubiquity of the modemsin our lives, you would think we had passed the "Net phobia" phaseyears ago. Wrong.

We didn't account for the last Neanderthals ofthe wired world, the fashion PRs. They are in a different world.Their spiritual leaders are eccentric, middle-aged women withgravity-defying hairdos, and their church is London Fashion Week.

The fashion PR companies run the shows. To get in you must battle a set ofAmazons whose sole mission is to keep the riff-raff out and the gurus -with pink-feathered hair - in. The PR Amazons are highly skilled inthe ritual of making one feel not pink enough - not to be sporting feathersthis season was a sure sign of bad manners.

However, since I actuallyhad a proper invitation to a few shows, it seemed I should be able to getthrough without dead ferrets or peacock tails on my head. Little did Iknow. The Amazons are trained to spot an "Internet person". Theycan smell silicon from 100 yards. OK, I confess, my friend hadbrought a tiny Sharp laptop with a microscopic digital camera, but bothgizmos had very high style ranking, the absolute cutting edge of laptopfashion. It was a tool to take pictures that my friend, a reporter for awell-known online daily fashion magazine, intended to send with theupdated information.

The moment we were spotted, the Amazonsattacked. Despite our proper tickets, we were firmly shown the door andescorted out by a severe looking woman who said were were lucky that shedidn't call the armed forces. Her explanations, delivered inhigh-pitched hissing voice, were something on the lines of "thedesigners are afraid that people will download the pictures from the Internet andcopy the designs". Somewhat shocked, we then watched the long stringof photographers and cameramen from all the glossy magazines, newspapers andTV channels. The strange thing was that the very next day Sky and a few otherchannels ran a comprehensive report from the show, demonstrating the designsin great detail. Anybody who wanted to copy every single stitch only had torecord the programme. The fear of the PR Amazon was misplaced.

Thebiggest issue here was clearly the monopoly of the glossy magazines and a few TVchannels, the elite approach of the analogue world, that the PR communityis desperately trying to preserve. They are petrified of the Internet. Itoffers quality reporting but in a more democratic manner, where the pinkfeathers and ritual lunches do not apply. The culture chasm was obvious.The Internet reporter I was with was a former fashion model for Oswald Boatengand an online fashion guru to boot. Although he was wearing the right kit(but no feathers), his laptop was just too scary for the PRgirl.

I subsequently found out that almost none of the fashion PR firms arewired, and are therefore simply unable to check the quality of online fashionreporting. The quality of images and attention to detail is as high as it isin the glossy mags so this is not the real issue. No. It is simply the21st century that the fashion PRs are having difficulty in coming to termswith.

There are exceptions. A notable one is the company responsiblefor the London Fashion Week website, which was sponsored by the BritishFashion Council and executed in a very informative, attractive manner.Let's hope the designers will learn from it and train up their PRteams.

The fashion industry isn't the only one still suffering from"Net phobia". Strangely enough, one of the least wiredprofessions in the UK is the legal community. Less than 30 per cent of legalfirms have access to the Internet, and even less actively use e-mail tocommunicate with clients. Using the Net to list their service or advertisewould be perceived as too radical for words. Recently, I had themisfortune to exchange correspondence with a solicitor over some relatively minorlegal matter. The shock on his face when I asked for his e-mail addresssaid it all. It was clear he would rather write in blood or use smokesignals. Since e-mail could be considered a legal document (providingit has the time and origin stamp on it), it is somewhat irritating thatlawyers, who waste countless trees on their paper exchanges, should be sonegative about going digital.

A few days after my initial exchange withthe solicitor, I actually got his answer biked on a floppy disk(approximate cost, £20). I had to admit that that wasprogress, of a sort. I guess somewhere at the bottom of the legalprofession's fears is the fact that going digital means acute loss ofpower. It could eventually even lead to artificial intelligence solutions inlegal expert systems. A very high percentage of legal queries could beanswered by a good retrieval system for past legal cases which might be relevantto your problem.

Imagine if that was available online to anybody. Itwould spell the end of legal chambers as we know it. Law is a very analogueconcept and one that is likely to change most in the next century, thanks todigital indexing and keyword search retrievals. Doing away with the lawyerscould be the greatest contribution the Internet will make to the quality of lifein the 21st century.

I can't want to see the legal professionre-engineered. All start-ups targeting that area are welcome toe-mail me because I am sure we can find some funding from all the people whohave suffered at the hands of the analogue lawyers.