How modern life has ruined our perception of what is 'truly valuable'

The best things in life really ARE free: From tech entrepreneurs to the fashion industry, author reveals how modern life has ruined our perception of what is ‘truly valuable’

  • Stephen Bayley urges readers to search for what is truly valuable in a new book
  • He has a hatred for the fashion industry, tech entrepreneurs and modern media 
  • Author explains his belief that ‘the highest forms of enjoyment are free’ 



by Stephen Bayley (Constable £18.99, 272 pp)

We all hope to emerge soon from what the writer, critic and design ‘guru’ Stephen Bayley calls ‘The Great Isolation’. What will we then want from our renewed lives? Bayley’s latest book puts forward some answers.

Partly, Value is a fiercely witty polemic directed at all those elements of the modern world he dislikes. There’s quite a long list of them.

He hates the fashion industry: ‘When death threatens to stalk the catwalk alongside leggy zonked-out models, a new Gucci handbag does not, perhaps, seem quite so important as it once did.’

Stephen Bayley has penned a new book urging readers to search for what is truly valuable. Pictured: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

He can’t stand Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (‘a high-functioning dork’) and he’s not very keen on other tech entrepreneurs whom he describes as ‘a mob of charmless… money-grubbing predatory sociopaths’.

He has little time for ‘brainless travel’. As he puts it, ‘Post-viral, flying to Prague for £9.99 for a p***-up with the boys on Friday night becomes very clearly the obscenity it always was.’

Business travel is, if anything, worse. ‘Rheumy and dyspeptic lost souls assembling for a jet to Frankfurt at five in the morning with only a muffin for comfort,’ he remarks, ‘are not an edifying sight.’

It’s hard not to cheer at times as Bayley enthusiastically lays into everything from modern media (which ‘dignify irrelevance and trivialise the important’) to the iPhone (‘as sleek a conduit as you would ever want to traffic internet sewage’).

It’s tempting to call him a Luddite, but he swiftly pre-empts any potential critics and is happy to embrace the title.

VALUE: WHAT MONEY CAN’T BUY by Stephen Bayley (Constable £18.99, 272 pp)

The original Ned Ludd was a semi-mythical figure who smashed the machinery that threatened his livelihood during the Industrial Revolution. If he were around today, he’d be claiming that ‘conversations are better than Twitter’ and ‘books are better than e-readers’. He’d be proclaiming ‘vinyl is better than Spotify’, and ‘cinema is better than streaming’. And Bayley would doubtless be in full agreement.

However, his book is not all, or even mostly, entertaining invective. It’s also a plea to readers to search out what is truly valuable. As Bayley writes, ‘the highest forms of enjoyment are free. Or, at least, not very expensive.’

We can all of us be on the lookout for beauty which can be found in the most unexpected places. We can rediscover the satisfactions of simplicity and engage ‘with the immediacy of the everyday’.

We can enjoy great art and also find value in ordinary things. If we are prepared to listen, ‘places, buildings and objects have stories to tell . . . and it is valuable to hear them’.

During the ‘Great Isolation’ we have grown used to people speculating about what we might expect when it comes to an end.

Amusing, erudite, insightful and (just occasionally) so infuriating in its snooty dismissal of the more harmless delights of modern media you want to hurl it at the nearest wall, Value is one man’s guide to what we should want to happen.

‘The conclusion here,’ Bayley decides, ‘is that there is not one. You just need to keep on asking questions. Cultivate the senses. And enjoy the mysterious glory of the everyday.’

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