Computers & Society


Lecturer: Dr. Brendan Tangney

Assignment No.: 1 2001/2002

Name:Patrick Brown

Student No.:01709763

Title: "We shape our buildings and afterwards they shape us". Winston Churchill.

Word Count: 1257

(1)"We shape our buildings and afterwards they shape usWinston Churchill.

In his essay (2)"The Electronic Hive: Embrace it." Kevin Kelly compares the Internet to a beehive, in its operations and shared intelligence. I on the other hand wish to compare the Internet to a man-made building, a Skyscraper.

Shaping the building

A skyscraper begins as an idea, which progresses onto an architect's drawing board as a blueprint. This maps out the dimensions for the construction company to follow to create the building. Finally, upon construction, the building's layout and location aids the decision for businesses to open up outlets in the building. In essence "We shape our buildings and afterwards they shape us."

In comparison the idea for the Internet came from (3.)" President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Advanced Research Projects Agency(ARPA), which was established in 1958 in response to the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik Satellite. In 1962 they handed over the reigns, so to speak, to Universities who took the next step in creating the Arpanet", which went on to become the Internet. Little did these people realise that their 'building' would thereafter help to shape the minds of millions of people worldwide. (4) Picture1, Logical map of the ARPANET






















Looking at the logical map of the "Arpanet", the predecessor of the Internet, we see it bears remarkable similarities to a blueprint for a building. This map shows all the Universities interconnected that shaped the network. 

(5)Internet timeline taken form

They could almost be described as the Internet's foundation stones. (6) The "Arpanet" progressed a long way until it was decommissioned in 1990.”

On these foundations the 'construction workers' or Web Designers began to create their ‘building’. Their software was the bricks, mortar and steel girders of the ‘building’. Their Personal Computers were their tools and equipment. The websites they created are its rooms and offices and search engines were to become its receptionists. Just as the skyscraper can always be built taller, the Internet appears to have no limits to its size and is expanding every second.

When an ordinary skyscraper is completed the businesses and other occupants take up residence, the Internet also became a home to businesses and other occupants. Someone, somewhere along the line realised the Internet's great potential as a marketplace, a medium through which an enormous number of people could be reached, in the comfort of their homes. The ‘building’ now shapes us.

How the building shapes us?

Nowadays the Internet touches every aspect of life on earth. It has aided the human race by making information easily available and accessible to everyone and by making distance an almost obsolete factor in communicating. I can go to almost anywhere in the world and log on to see real time pictures of what is happening in my home town at that very moment. I can sit at home in front of my computer and buy groceries from a local shop or diamonds from South Africa through an Internet auction. I can download almost any music I could ever want or even watch a live concert without having to buy tickets. On a lighter note I'm sure the Internet has made the life of an agoraphobic more enjoyable.

Due to all these capabilities, marketing strategies must be re-shaped to reach target audiences. If I don't have to drive to an office because I can work from home, what use is a roadside billboard? The advertising people must appeal to a different sort of traffic, the Internet type traffic that visits websites. This is how the new employment sector of web design was born. Popular sites are sponsored then emblazoned with striking advertisements and links to products.It is also the reason countless numbers of ‘spam’ emails appear in inboxes daily. Even the Internet couldn't escape junk mail.

Similarly to the Internet, television networks distribute information at this high pace.

(7)"Would the September 11th disaster have made such an impact had it not been broadcast live on CNN? Dr. Brendan Tangney, lecture#1 1ba6.

Try hard to imagine the event had it not been broadcast live. Imagine hearing about it days or even weeks after it happened with no prior knowledge. I believe we would not have the same emotional attachment that we all gained by becoming eye-witnesses to the suicide of many people jumping from the flaming building or seeing the towers collapsing on the emergency service people. Now try to imagine having this technology in 1912 when the Titanic sank. It is well known how much this disaster shook the world at the time. If people could have sat and watched as the ship hit the ice-berg or the lingering sinking of the ship that (8)"killed over 1500 passengers and crew", wouldn't this have caused a greater impact on the general public? Wouldn't it have damaged the shipping industry as drastically as the aviation industry has been damaged today?

We can also be shaped by the fact that the Internet has opened up a highly effective 'oratorical soap-box' for anyone wishing to air their views. There is an unlimited freedom of expression on the Internet. (9)"IF I was to join an Internet discussion group for people interested in, say, African music, I would make contact with people from all over the world who happened to share that interest. This truly is the spirit of one world thinking: our friendships are based not on race, creed or country, but on mutual interests" Visions of Heaven & Hell, Channel Four Television. Once again, try to imagine this technology in the hands of the revolutionary, rebellious, religious leader Martin Luther. Although (10)unbelievably successful with the printing press to publish his 95 theses”, wouldn't he have reached a wider audience faster through the Internet? It has been widely speculated in numerous newspapers that Osama Bin Laden avails of the Internet to issue instructions to his followers. Perhaps he also uses this medium to recruit believers. By simply typing in the word Islam into the search engine (11) AltaVista, you receive links to around 872,588 sites. Is that not at least 872,588 like minded individuals with which he could offer his views? And if he is able to convince just 1 person with his opinions, has he not been successful?

(12)"On the night of May 10, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than forty years in the late Chamber, and having derived very great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, should like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity." -WSC, 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords).

In conclusion I would like to add the full quote from which the question title arises. Whereas Churchill In his speech was referring to the rebuilding of a place (i.e. the house of commons) that had a profound influence on his life, in relation to information technology nothing is ever rebuilt to be the same as it was before. If that were the case progress would never be made. Maybe if this quote were to be re-written with reference to information technology it should be “We shape our buildings and afterwards they shape us, so we reshape the buildings” Brown 2001



  1. Quote from Winston Churchill-WSC, 28 October 1943 to the House of Commons (meeting in the House of Lords).
  2. Paraphrase of “The Electronic Hive: Embrace it” essay by Kevin Kelly, source 1ba6 notes.
  3. Paraphrase from “Information Milestones” taken from “History of the Internet and WWW: The roads and Crossroads of Internet History” by Gregory R. Gromov, source
  4. Picture 1-Logical Map of the ARPANET, April 1971, taken from “History of the Internet and WWW: The roads and Crossroads of Internet History” by Gregory R. Gromov, source
  5. Picture 2-taken from
  6.  Quote from “A Brief History of the Internet; Introduction” by Barry M. Leiner,
  7. Quote by Dr. Brendan Tangney, from Lecture #1,1ba6.
  8. Source of information-“1912, The Illustrated London News, Great Events of the 20th Century”.
  9. Quote form “Visions of Heaven & Hell”, Channel Four Television, source 1ba6 notes.
  10. Paraphrase from Book L, The World Books Encyclopedia.
  11. Search Results after typing in the word ‘Islam’ into the search engine ‘Altavista’ at 
  12. Quote from Winston Churchill, source
  13. Quote from Patrick Brown.


  1. “The Electronic Hive: Embrace it” by Kevin Kelly
  2. “History of the Internet and WWW: The roads and Crossroads of Internet History” by Gregory R. Gromov, source
  4. The Illustrated London News, Great Events of the 20th Century
  5. Visions of Heaven & Hell”, Channel Four Television, source 1ba6 notes
  6. Book ‘L’, The World Books Encyclopedia.