Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley, Day One

The design guru returns with a new, characteristically acerbic account of his week

Stephen Bayley, Day One

Image: Brijesh Patel

April 07 2011
Stephen Bayley

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

As a part of the continuing self-deceptive fiction that I actually run a business, we have just had a meeting with a bicycle manufacturer. The subject was communications: theory and practice. Conventional advertising was dismissed as irrelevant, inefficient and expensive. But we agreed on the objective: sell more bikes! Then, with what I intended as an important stylish flourish, I whipped an old-fashioned pen out of my pocket and wagged it at the visiting MD. “If you want to sell five thousand more bikes,” I said portentously, “I suggest you elegantly compose and hand-write five thousand letters on decent paper.”

He diligently made a note of this on his smartphone, so may have missed my point, which was: nowadays, if you want to make an impression, ink is more impressive than digital. Any fool can reach 50 million people with an electronic message that is correspondingly easy to delete; it is more difficult to ignore a proper letter. Indeed, interesting handwriting on an envelope made of good paper commands attention of a neo-erotic intensity, sucking eyes out of sockets wherever it lies.

There is an important lesson: the value of a message is inverse in proportion to the effort made in its composition. Verily, the renaissance of ink is nigh. I confess that my conviction in this argument has been hardened by trying to write this on a touchscreen in a moving vehicle – an exercise in futility made more exasperating by an infuriating auto-correct function that, in a previous message, turned “Nelson” into “napalm” and I had hit “send” before this was noticed.

I am no Luddite, or I would not be appearing here, but I cannot be the only person wearying of “technology”. No English newspaper has picked up the FAA accident report that the recent crash of a UPS 747 freighter near Dubai was probably caused by a consignment of lithium batteries bursting into flame. How many lithium batteries are on your next flight? The only hazard with fountain pens is ink-stained fingers: you are never going to hear “Keep the cap on your pen until the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign.”

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