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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  3 suited to transportation. Knowledge is thereby perpetuated across generations. Spatial bias results from the use of light, easily transportable but also highly perishable media, which disseminates knowledge across territory. This is perhaps the best known definition of what Innis means by ‘bias’. Connecting the physical properties of materials used in communication technologies – size, weight, longevity – to the distribution of knowledge, it is effectively a political notion. This is because such material properties allow for the distinctively different dominance of powerful social groups based on the unequal dissemination of information, or in Innis’ terms: monopolies of knowledge (for time-binding media, religious hierarchies are the most popular example, while space-binding media favour the secular administrative elites of empires). Hence what we can call ‘distribution bias’ foregrounds the ways in which technologies allocate knowledge and power among groups by structuring spatial and temporal relations within a social organization. Innis’ insight here seems to be that communication media are what Giddens (1990) calls ‘disembedding’ mechanisms: systems that enable the ‘lifting out’ of social relations from their particular context and their coordination across large stretches of space and time. 5 And the key interest in space and time as fundamental parameters of communication technologies is also motivated by political concerns: the need for societies simultaneously to maintain their control over a given territory and to reproduce themselves temporally. This is why, for Innis, the bias of a technology is not merely a matter of potentiality, of enabling territorial expansion or cross-generational reproduction. It is also fundamentally a political problem: the bias of a dominant communication technology has to be counterbalanced somehow, by alternative media technologies or by other non- technological means, if a civilization is to protect itself from either the threat of spatial disintegration or of temporal exhaustion. Hence, in one of Innis’ examples, the spatial expansion (after around 1580 B.C.E.) of ancient Egyptian political government over peoples of other cultures and religions – which

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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suited to transportation. Knowledge is thereby perpetuated across generations. Spatial bias
results from the use of light, easily transportable but also highly perishable media, which
disseminates knowledge across territory.
This is perhaps the best known definition of what Innis means by ‘bias’. Connecting the
physical properties of materials used in communication technologies – size, weight, longevity
– to the distribution of knowledge, it is effectively a political notion. This is because such
material properties allow for the distinctively different dominance of powerful social groups
based on the unequal dissemination of information, or in Innis’ terms: monopolies of
knowledge (for time-binding media, religious hierarchies are the most popular example, while
space-binding media favour the secular administrative elites of empires). Hence what we can
call ‘distribution bias’ foregrounds the ways in which technologies allocate knowledge and
power among groups by structuring spatial and temporal relations within a social
organization. Innis’ insight here seems to be that communication media are what Giddens
(1990) calls ‘disembedding’ mechanisms: systems that enable the ‘lifting out’ of social
relations from their particular context and their coordination across large stretches of space
and time.
5
And the key interest in space and time as fundamental parameters of
communication technologies is also motivated by political concerns: the need for societies
simultaneously to maintain their control over a given territory and to reproduce themselves
temporally. This is why, for Innis, the bias of a technology is not merely a matter of
potentiality, of enabling territorial expansion or cross-generational reproduction. It is also
fundamentally a political problem: the bias of a dominant communication technology has to
be counterbalanced somehow, by alternative media technologies or by other non-
technological means, if a civilization is to protect itself from either the threat of spatial
disintegration or of temporal exhaustion.
Hence, in one of Innis’ examples, the spatial expansion (after around 1580 B.C.E.) of
ancient Egyptian political government over peoples of other cultures and religions – which


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