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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  24 property law over recent years, what James Boyle (2002) calls ‘the enclosure of the intangible commons of the mind’. This appropriately spatial metaphor refers not only to the application of copyright and patent law to fence off and appropriate realms of ideas or phenomena previously not considered anyone’s property – or indeed property at all - but also to the extension of copyright periods: the use of time boundaries to secure the stability of cultural forms in the age of timeless time. Fixity is reintroduced at the most abstract levels by prior monopolies of knowledge - state legislatures and legal systems, acting on behalf of corporations - as a counter-weight to the demonopolizing biases of digital technologies: the fixity of space and fixity of time become an absolute imperative of power in an age of global communication flows. Concluding Remarks I began this essay by arguing for the reanimation of Innis’ thought in contemporary media studies, proceeded through an exploration of his main idea – the principle of communication bias and its relation to the image-text opposition, and then turned to an all too brief sketch of the spatio-temporal landscape of the ‘information society’. This latter section has taken me away from a detailed engagement with Innis’ work. It also leads me to an important qualification regarding the way in which his understanding of media development interacts with detailed explorations of the temporal and spatial tendencies of particular cultures and eras, including our own. For when applied locally, as it were, Innis’ space-time dialectic is highly suggestive but, of itself, an insufficient critical tool. It becomes most fruitful to thought when set against other terms, employed by a variety of social and cultural theorists (Foucault, Giddens, Virillio and Castells spring to mind), that specify modes of temporal and spatial relationship: fixity and flow, stability and mobility, stasis and velocity, continuity and discontinuity, disembedding and abstraction. At the same time Innis’ work provides a broadly productive framework for comprehending our epoch’s communication ecology, and its

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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property law over recent years, what James Boyle (2002) calls ‘the enclosure of the intangible
commons of the mind’. This appropriately spatial metaphor refers not only to the application
of copyright and patent law to fence off and appropriate realms of ideas or phenomena
previously not considered anyone’s property – or indeed property at all - but also to the
extension of copyright periods: the use of time boundaries to secure the stability of cultural
forms in the age of timeless time. Fixity is reintroduced at the most abstract levels by prior
monopolies of knowledge - state legislatures and legal systems, acting on behalf of
corporations - as a counter-weight to the demonopolizing biases of digital technologies: the
fixity of space and fixity of time become an absolute imperative of power in an age of global
communication flows.
Concluding Remarks
I began this essay by arguing for the reanimation of Innis’ thought in contemporary media
studies, proceeded through an exploration of his main idea – the principle of communication
bias and its relation to the image-text opposition, and then turned to an all too brief sketch of
the spatio-temporal landscape of the ‘information society’. This latter section has taken me
away from a detailed engagement with Innis’ work. It also leads me to an important
qualification regarding the way in which his understanding of media development interacts
with detailed explorations of the temporal and spatial tendencies of particular cultures and
eras, including our own. For when applied locally, as it were, Innis’ space-time dialectic is
highly suggestive but, of itself, an insufficient critical tool. It becomes most fruitful to thought
when set against other terms, employed by a variety of social and cultural theorists (Foucault,
Giddens, Virillio and Castells spring to mind), that specify modes of temporal and spatial
relationship: fixity and flow, stability and mobility, stasis and velocity, continuity and
discontinuity, disembedding and abstraction. At the same time Innis’ work provides a broadly
productive framework for comprehending our epoch’s communication ecology, and its


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