Harold Innis's communications theories - Wikipedia
Harold Innis. In the Canadian tradition, time and space, especially but not only in the writings of Harold Innis, can carry a heavy .. ), who believed that everything that occurs is caught in a vast web of minute cause-effect relations. To any. Is Harold Innis's concept of space and time biased media redundant? The Internet would seem to be a time- and space-biased medium. .. It's not only shaping relationships and elections, it's shaping the course of entire. In this paper, I will revisit Innis's approach to the relation of media to space and time and his intellectual transition from 10 economic geographer to media theorist.
For example, encryption and security schemes limit access to information while networking standards, such as Ethernet and TCP-IP, open up channels of connection. Software opens up communication to a diversity of dynamic environ- ments such as gaming engines, e-commerce and social software, establish- ing and framing spatial and transactional spaces for cultural practices. These tools and standards, and the rituals associated with them, condition what will be remembered and how.
Each device, mode of connection and software application has its own signature temporalities and spatialities. There clearly are cultural consequences for this unprecedented diversity of media platforms.
Media and civilisations Innis argued that the predominant media of a civilisation both cause, and so provide evidence of, the distinctive character of that society. Each me- dium is selected and developed because it suits particular interests within that society.
These choices of media reinforce, and sometimes transform, that society. Some civilisations become tied to one medium, while others are subject to constant change.
Changes in materials and techniques of communication contribute to, if not bring on, crises that produce wider transformations in cultures. When new trade routes or inventions bring new techniques for communicating, social changes invariably follow.
These empires gained power from their use of paper, print and, later, the telegraph, and radio. These media afforded centralisation of national authority, with printed documents helping to establish uniform laws, education, and administrative infrastructures. At the same time, port- able and durable communication allowed the administration to decentralise and accelerate throughout the nation. Market and time pressures that tended to favour the most recent content largely drove the output of this printing industry.
Constant depreciation — new books drive out old books — publishers concerned with de- preciation in publishing new books but also concerned with monopolies in building up their lines.
How far printing essentially based on controversy perhaps centring around price system and philosophical books became by-product of excess capacity in quiet periods — Descartes in Holland centre of printing industry for Holland? Printing meant mechanical reproduction of images — consequent deterioration in value and closer ad- justment to goods — advertising.
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An In- nis biographer observes that his collections of writing on index cards antici- pate computer databases in their non-linear structure Watson, They also establish and sustain monopolies of knowledge by regulating access to it, imposing selective delays on its re- lease, and developing arcane technical systems that control it. The trend towards present-mindedness, centralisation, and proliferation of media technologies accelerated in the twentieth century.
Innis directly experienced it as a signalman in the First World War, as a witness to the in- dustrialisation of war in the Second World War and in the gathering clouds of the Cold War Watson, He saw that the west privileged only im- mediate goals at the expense of past and future. The book trade, newspaper journalism, and radio were conditioned by the material properties of pulp, paper, and the radio spectrum.
Consequently, they supported cultural forms that increasingly prioritised the present. In the early years of computing, these systems operated exclusively to sustain and enhance highly centralised mo- nopolies of knowledge.
More recently, though, the cultural impacts of com- puters became more ambivalent and contradictory. PCs, networks, and other digital devices became broadly accessible and the contexts in which they operate have become increasingly diverse. Today computers operate according to a multiplicity of temporalities usu- ally slanted towards the present.
Just as radio news bulletins or newspapers leads with a top story, news websites typically list the top story in the prime position at the top of a web page, privileging newsworthy stories. A further alternative to this ordering is a search-driven or customised news listing where another system of value op- erates and only the stories that are most relevant for that search, or that user, appear.
Internet web pages tend to have a limited lifetime and site redesigns, closures, corruptions, broken links and crashes can degrade the contents of the web over time. Other websites and internet applications privilege the present in their own ways.
They archive these entries, forming a kind of narrative record of past presents. Users conduct conversations in text or as an audio or video bitstreamand automatically generate transcripts. The longer form of the weblog, or blog, orders all posts reverse chronologically, so that the most recent post is at the top.
In each case, while there is present-mind- edness, there is also a time-binding record of the present being created. Perhaps even more important than archiving features are the changes to cultural practices associated with adopting particular computer applications. Some of the earliest evidence of this trend was with word processors running on personal computers.
Writers began to change their everyday habits, as the electronic environment changed their capacities to compose and organ- ise their texts Heim, This has contributed to a general growth in the texts and versions of texts being produced and distributed. Computers and computer networks are comprised of complex interconnected material components. Alongside improving hardware and software designs, the trajectory towards mass customisation allowed digital technolo- gies to access wider and different communities and increasingly diverse ap- plication domains.
Cultural practices such as calculation, writing, photogra- phy, play, and moving image were gradually appropriated by digital media. The digitisation of many cultural records has made many archives ubiq- uitously accessible. All these translations, however, are subject to the limits and thresholds of digitisation: They are all subject to the threat of deterioration, peculiar to dig- ital media, which make artefacts readable only through machine.
While the approach to media history, taken by Innis, becomes much more complicated with computer media, many of his argument are still valid. The monopolies of communication maintained by search engines, software standards, and silos of copyrighted content, are dif- ferent from those created in other media but have generated their own sites of struggle. In many ways, the invention of computers has been a response to concerns about the neglect of time, as expressed by Innis and others, and the outcome has been a heterogenising of temporalities with a diverse range of digital media including many different bitstreams, databases and software environ- ments.
Conversely, digitisation has increased the risk of data loss. The proliferation of computers has been sustained by the globalisation of production and the mass consumption of microelectronic components and programming. The diversity of cultural forms associated with digitisation draws on this pattern of trade as much as the material and informational complexity of the devices themselves.
Harold Adams Innis: The Bias of Communications & Monopolies of Power
Old computers lose history record [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 16 July from http: Escaping the Digital Dark Age. Library Journal, v n2 p Feb 1 A history of modern computing.
Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3- 7. Univer- sity of Chicago Press. Communications, time and power: Canadian Journal of Political Science, 23 2— The First Mass-Produced Computer.
Unisys History Newsletter, 5 1. Belknap Press, Har- vard University Press. The metaphysics of virtual reality. Oxford Uni- versity Press. New Media Society, 8 6 Fur trade in Canada: Univ of Toronto Press. University of Toronto Press. The bias of communication.
University of To- ronto Press. Changing concepts of time. Staples, markets, and cultural change: Stan- ford University Press. Literature, media, information systems: A Digital Dark Ages? Challenges in the preservation of electronic information.
Retrieved July 21, from http: Libraries and Archives Canada. Old messengers, new media. The legacy of Innis and McLuhan. The language of new media.
Lon- don; New York: Ensuring the longevity of digital docu- ments. On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem. Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, Series 2, 42, How open is open enough?: Melding proprietary and open source platform strategies.
The Byzantine empire emerged from a fusion of a bias incidental to papyrus in relation to political organization and of parchment in relation to ecclesiastical organization. Plato conveyed his ideas by recording the conversations of Socrates. His philosophy thus preserved "the power of the spoken word on the written page.
The torch of empire then passed from Greece to Rome. As Paul Heyer explains: The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza. Innis wrote that the monarchs who built the pyramids had to relinquish their absolute power when papyrus replaced stone as the dominant medium of communication. In the beginning, which for Innis means Mesopotamia, there was clay, the reed stylus used to write on it, and the wedge-shaped cuneiform script. Thus did civilization arise, along with an elite group of scribe priests who eventually codified laws.
Egypt followed suit, using papyrus, the brush, and hieroglyphic writing. Writing was a difficult and specialized art requiring long apprenticeship, and reading implied a long period of instruction. The god of writing was closely related to the leading deities and reflected the power of the scribe over religion.
The scribe had the full qualifications of a special profession and was included in the upper classes of kings, priests, nobles and generals, in contrast with peasants, fishermen, artisans and labourers. Complexity favoured increasing control under a monopoly of priests and the confinement of knowledge to special classes.
Communication Theory: Time biased or space biased?
He pointed for example, to the monasteries that spread throughout Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Their monopoly of knowledge depended on their control over the production of the time-binding medium of parchment useful for preserving hand-copied manuscripts written in Latin. Power was vested therefore, in a scribal and literate, religious elite. The largely illiterate laity depended on priests to interpret the scriptures and on image-driven media such as paintings and statues that depicted the central figures in Biblical stories.
Innis pointed out that Chaucer wrote in vernacular English instead of Latin or Norman French hastening the growth of English nationalism. Portrait of Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve. But the space-binding medium of paper imported from China, Innis wrote, facilitated challenges from Islam and later from a rising commercial class. Innis wrote that the Catholic Church fought to preserve its time-oriented monopoly of knowledge with the Inquisitionbut eventually paper achieved even greater power with the invention of the printing press around the middle of the 15th century.
Now, the balance shifted decisively in favour of space over time. The Protestant Reformation followed, along with European exploration and empire, the rise of science and the evolution of the nation-state.
Characteristically, Innis summarizes the far-reaching implications of the new medium of paper in a single paragraph that starts with the Middle Ages and ends with the modern United States: The dominance of parchment in the West gave a bias toward ecclesiastical organization, which led to the introduction of paper, with its bias toward political organization. With printing, paper facilitated an effective development of the vernaculars and gave expression to their vitality in the growth of nationalism.
The adaptability of the alphabet to large-scale machine industry became the basis of literacy, advertising and trade. The book as a specialized product of printing and, in turn, the newspaper strengthened the position of language as a basis of nationalism.
In the United States, the dominance of the newspaper led to large-scale development of monopolies of communication in terms of space and implied a neglect of problems of time. The development of "mechanized" communications media such as mass-circulation newspapers had shifted the balance decisively in favour of space and power, over time, continuity and knowledge.
Industrial societies cut time into precise fragments suitable to engineers and accountants  and Western civilization suffered from an "obsession with present-mindedness" that eliminated concerns about past or future.
Their entrenched positions involve a continuous, systematic, ruthless destruction of elements of permanence essential to cultural activity. The emphasis on change is the only permanent characteristic. Innis believed that advanced U. The crisis facing the West was worsened, Innis argued, because communications monopolies that ran the media were largely immune from outside challenge.
They literally spoke the language of the masses, effectively penetrating popular consciousness and shaping public opinion. Not only were Americans exhorted to buy the newest "improved" products, they were also exposed to a barrage of propaganda from political elites.
Theodore Roosevelt mastered the newspaper as a communications device, just as his fifth cousin, Franklin D. The advent of the Cold War led to such an emphasis on military preparedness that the U. As Canadian scholar Arthur Kroker writes, "Innis's political lesson was clear: A," Innis concluded that the United States depended on a foreign policy shaped by military power.