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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  2 strikingly relevant to many of the ‘sexiest’ topics on the media and cultural studies agenda (not to mention sociology): globalization and localization, the mediation of historical and collective memory, the distribution of power and knowledge, the social construction of space and time in modern and postmodern cultures, and of course – the impact of new technologies. 3 My intention, then, is to point out some important congruities – as well as productive differences – between Innis’ thought and some of these other approaches. This sketch will be achieved indirectly, however, through the creative misuse of Innis’ work. I say ‘misuse’ because I shall not be devoting all that much attention to the historical developments about which Innis wrote, nor will I explore his thought in relation to his own intellectual and social milieu. Instead, I hope to think through Innis’ key distinction between spatial and temporal biases, first by attempting to delineate it more thoroughly as it appears in a small number of key texts (mainly ‘The Bias of Communication’ and ‘The Problem of Space’) 4 , second by situating it in relation to another central space-time conceptualization in media and cultural theory - the image/text distinction, and finally by making it part of a broad hypothesis about contemporary cultural and social trends in ‘the information society’. Along the way I hope not only to explore Innis’ continuing relevance, but to contribute to the debate about the significance of media to social organization and cultural experience. Bias: Portability, Durability, Coding, Representation To begin with, it is worth looking once again at the notion of ‘bias’. What does Innis mean by the ‘bias’ of a communication technology? The elliptical nature of Innis’ writing makes answering this a difficult task. Perhaps the clearest and best known definition is given in the essay ‘The Bias of Communication’, originally published in the book of the same name in 1951. On the first page bias is immediately connected to the question of knowledge dissemination: temporal bias results from the use of a heavy, durable medium generally not

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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2
strikingly relevant to many of the ‘sexiest’ topics on the media and cultural studies agenda
(not to mention sociology): globalization and localization, the mediation of historical and
collective memory, the distribution of power and knowledge, the social construction of space
and time in modern and postmodern cultures, and of course – the impact of new
technologies.
3
My intention, then, is to point out some important congruities – as well as productive
differences – between Innis’ thought and some of these other approaches. This sketch will be
achieved indirectly, however, through the creative misuse of Innis’ work. I say ‘misuse’
because I shall not be devoting all that much attention to the historical developments about
which Innis wrote, nor will I explore his thought in relation to his own intellectual and social
milieu. Instead, I hope to think through Innis’ key distinction between spatial and temporal
biases, first by attempting to delineate it more thoroughly as it appears in a small number of
key texts (mainly ‘The Bias of Communication’ and ‘The Problem of Space’)
4
, second by
situating it in relation to another central space-time conceptualization in media and cultural
theory - the image/text distinction, and finally by making it part of a broad hypothesis about
contemporary cultural and social trends in ‘the information society’. Along the way I hope not
only to explore Innis’ continuing relevance, but to contribute to the debate about the
significance of media to social organization and cultural experience.
Bias: Portability, Durability, Coding, Representation
To begin with, it is worth looking once again at the notion of ‘bias’. What does Innis
mean by the ‘bias’ of a communication technology? The elliptical nature of Innis’ writing
makes answering this a difficult task. Perhaps the clearest and best known definition is given
in the essay ‘The Bias of Communication’, originally published in the book of the same name
in 1951. On the first page bias is immediately connected to the question of knowledge
dissemination: temporal bias results from the use of a heavy, durable medium generally not


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