COMP6037 Foundations of web science                                               5 October 2009


Exercise: Why Tim Berners-Lee didn’t ‘invent’ the web


Facilitators: Catherine Pope & Leslie Carr




Tim Berners-Lee “inventor” of the web


McKenzie D and Wajcman J.  (1999). Introductory essay: the social shaping of technology. In McKenzie D and Wajcman J. The Social Shaping of Technology (2nd ed) Berkshire: Open University Press



Why Tim Berners-Lee didn’t ‘invent’ the web


We’d like you to think about different ideas about the relationship between technology (e.g. the web) and society.


One (quite dominant) way of understanding the relationship between everyday lives and technologies is ‘technological determinism’ - this views the web as the product or outcome of scientific advances and encourages us to see technology (e.g. the web) as ‘a thing’ (a process of reification) with effects on society.


Contrasting ideas about social shaping suggest that the relationship between science and technology is far more messy, contingent and complex. From this perspective technologies do not have ‘an essence’ (they are not ‘a thing’, they are not fixed) and our relationship with technologies is reciprocal (we shape the web and the web shapes us). 


Task: Working in small groups of 3-4 create a map or picture showing the groups, events and interactions that are implicated in the development of the World Wide Web. It is up to you to decide how you structure/present this – flip chart paper and coloured pens are provided along with an envelope containing ‘prompt cards’.  You can use as many of the prompt cards as you wish and please add in other ideas from your own knowledge (or Google or any of the books we bring along…).



“The view that technology just changes, either following science or of its own accord, promotes a passive attitude to technological change. It focuses our minds on how to adapt to technological change, not how to shape it. It removes a vital aspect of how we live from the sphere of public discussion, choice, and politics. Precisely because technological determinism is partly right as a theory of society (technology matters not just physically and biologically, but also in our human relations to each other) its deficiency as a theory of technology impoverishes the political life of our societies.” (Mackenzie D and Wacjman J. 1999:5)