Use Innis’s Concepts of “Time-Biased” and “Space-Biased” Media and His Ideas on Oral and Written Media to Analyse the Internet

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  • Topic: Harold Innis, Monopolies of knowledge, Empire and Communications
  • Pages : 6 (2083 words )
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  • Published : November 11, 2009
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The 20th century has witnessed dramatic developments in the history of media communications as well as human society. During the first half of the last century, electronic media such as the telegraph, radio and television to name a few were invented and became prevalent. Afterwards, the internet came into being and developed at an unprecedented rate to the point where it is now widely accepted that human history has entered into an information age. As claimed by a number of scholars, the appearance of new types of media can bring about dramatic influences on living conditions. Among them, Harold Innis, pioneer in this area of communication studies, is influential, firstly by employing two dimensions to media, namely time and space, and further, exploring how media shapes the formation of the essence and development of a civilisation. This essay will apply Innis’s communication theories on the biases of communication, oral and written media and monopoly of knowledge in order to analyse the Internet.

In the first place, according to Innis, media can be divided into two types, which are time-biased and space-biased media, determined by its physical characteristics (Innis, 1991). Time-based media tends to be heavy and not portable so it is relatively stable, such as stone and clay whereas space-biased media are light and easy to transport, such as papyrus and paper (ibid.). As a consequence of this, Time-biased media has the ability to store information for a relatively long duration of time in a certain area, which encourages the formation of communities and social hierarchies (ibid.). Moreover, civilisations which are dominated by time-biased media think highly of traditions, community and morals (ibid.). A good illustration of this is Egypt. The pyramids left thousands of years ago can be seen as a symbol of their history and hierarchy at that time (Innis, 1950). Comparatively, space-biased media allows for expansion of space but is not able to hold this information over long periods of time (Innis, 1991). In other words, space-biased media is oriented towards only the present and future as compared to time-biased which is oriented to the past as well as the present and future (ibid.). Accordingly, space-biased civilisations value large extension of territory instead of centralisation (ibid.). The invention of space-biased media notably paper has enabled the spread of messages and knowledge, greatly facilitating the administration of far-away places (ibid.).

Today, technology facilitates modern media. Based on Innis’s criteria concerning its great speed, the Internet’s ability to free its users from spatial limitations allows it to be fully space-biased. In fact, traditional forms of electronic media such as radio and television have already achieved the capability to compete with the internet in terms of the speed in which they can transfer information. However, due to the diverse amount of standard analog signals set by different states which are not compatible with each other, neither radio nor television can always send or receive signals across different administrative regions (Norwood, n.d). Take television for example, in Europe the PAL format was adopted whereas U.S. and Canada adopted NTSC formats (ibid.). Thus, although these forms of media can achieve full space-biased on the basis of their physical characteristics, limitations are set by humans to serve their own interests. This is unlike the Internet, which has benefited from a unique point-to-point communications model allowing its users to have access to it easily and gain information instantly without spatial boundaries (Grove and Coddington, 2005). It is said that geographical space has disappeared with the introduction of the Internet, allowing people to communicate freely. Next, as Innis has stated, every kind of media is actually a combination of both space-biased and time-biased media, which is just a matter of bias (Innis, 1990). Although the...
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