I am no reactionary technophobe. On the contrary, I’m the essence of Modern Man, fully accessorised with beliefs about progress, science and style.
But I do think we have surrendered too much to the digital-virtual world. Privacy, a precious invention of the Romantic era, became the first victim of the internet age.
Every desire is now mediated through a heartless plasma screen and monitored by strangers in California. Unless you are very careful, life becomes reduced to the management of the voluminous and pernicious idiocies of bullying social media.
I have become convinced that analogue experiences are far superior to virtual ones. And this became a recurrent conversational topic with friends over lunch (one thing that is never going to go online).
Why not take time to read a poem? Don’t Tweet, send a hand-written letter. Why not take delight in the meditative pleasure of simple daily rituals? Sweeping the floor with precision and devotion is not a chore; given the right attitude, it can have the calming effect of religious devotion.
I decided to write a book about these preoccupations. And then along came Covid, which made my secular sermon specially relevant when the world was paused.
During The Great Isolation, every assumption about behaviour was in a head-on collision with a wall. But walls can be doors. And we’ve been forced to ponder that simple but most demanding question: ‘How most profitably to spend time?’
A part of the answer is giving yourself the freedom to do less. Nowadays, any fool can be busy stuck in traffic or fussing at airports. Learn to do very little but do it masterfully.
When asked why he spent the second half of his life playing chess and not monetising the artistic revolution he had fomented, Marcel Duchamp, explained: ‘My capital is time, not money’.
That’s a very valuable lesson and, in essence, the subject of my new book.
Value: What Money Can’t Buy: A Handbook for Practical Hedonism by Stephen Bayley is out now (£18.99, Hachette)