Let's suppose that I once had my nose broken in a practice boxing match with my trainer, and to this day I refuse to wear gloves and mistrust the entire glove industry. Anyone who does wear gloves I regard as suspect; any activity which requires gloves is absolutely out of bounds.
Not only is my life going to be somewhat circumscribed, but I'm also committing a pretty obvious error in where I put the blame. The glove, after all, is not really what hit me. The trainer who threw a punch I couldn't dodge and who did not pull the impact is probably mostly to blame, along with me for not paying attention. In fact the glove may be the reason why I didn't lose teeth.
You'd have to acknowledge to yourself, however much you might like me, that I was a bit odd. But this is very like the way we talk about technology at the moment - or I should say it's similar to the way in which some people talk about it. For example: a mobile phone rings in the middle of a conversation, and there's a cry of "it's the bloody phone". Resentment is directed at slab of plastic and rare earths three inches by two by less than half. Seriously: the phone is not responsible. It's a piece of technology with an off-switch. The person calling is responsible, as is the person who chose not to silence or switch off the phone. But both of them are in the grip of a late liberal democratic capitalist system which has come to assume constant professional availability. That assumption clashes with an older and arguably more important cultural touchstone: the hearth.
The hearth is the place where we do our real living. The things for which we work, save, and strive are inside a psychological boundary of personal life which is also very often a physical space: the hearth is the centre of the home and also of us. If you've watched an old vampire movie recently, you've seen Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi stand on the doorstep of the heroine's home, hands raised in negation, unable to cross the threshold uninvited. If only employers and sales reps were similarly restrained. But the hearth is no longer purely inside the home - or even inside us. We've extended it out into the world with digital technology, reaching out to touch neighbours we never knew we had. At the same time, we made that vampire-proof border porous to those within certain aspects of the system in which we live.
The point is not to throw away your phone, to go pre-digital, to live on a farm (consuming more resources than a city dweller and relying on modern vaccines to live out a fantasy of pre-modern self-sufficiency). The point is to come to understand how we reached this point, and how to accept and thrive on the technologies we created to bring our fragmented society back together.
Nick Harkaway is the author of The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World, published by John Murray on 10 May.
Nick will be leading our event 'Why Tech Is Making Us More Human' on 17 May. For more information and to book click here.