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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  5 complexity can be said to be time-biased in that it both favours and depends upon the selective transmission of communication skills across caste or class generations rather than their rapid extension across territories and populations. And such a ‘coding bias’ is available as a political weapon: hence, according to Innis, pictorial writing was deliberately maintained despite the widespread availability of (space-biased) papyrus while the administratively more efficient use of consonantal signs was strictly limited. Thus there is nothing inevitable, in Innis’ account, about the emergence or dominance of a communications medium. Technology is not an independent force, miraculously acting upon society and individuals from the ‘outside’. The development and succession of media technologies is a political and social question connected to the power of the monopolies of knowledge which they themselves support. Readers of Joshua Meyrovitz (1985) on electronic media and print will no doubt recognize Innis as an influence here. More intriguing, perhaps, are the connections we can discern between this notion of coding bias, particularly in its temporal form, and Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of ‘cultural capital’ as a source for the reproduction of social hierarchies (1986, 1993). Bourdieu employs ‘cultural capital’ to refer to those socially generated practical competences, transmitted across generations by the family and the educational system (and hence closely correlated to social class), by which individuals acquire the disposition and ability to decipher cultural products: in particular, how them come to decipher certain objects, under specific conditions, stylistically and formally rather than functionally; that is, to perceive them as artworks. Reading Innis through Bourdieu in this way allows us to extend the notion of ‘coding’ bias to the monopolistic diffusion of acquired cultural dispositions and competences, and to uncouple it from a purely technical framework. Coding bias is not simply about, say, the number or complexity of characters in a writing system. Rather, it is fundamentally a social phenomenon, concerned with the conditions of perception, readability and intelligibility and

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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complexity can be said to be time-biased in that it both favours and depends upon the
selective transmission of communication skills across caste or class generations rather than
their rapid extension across territories and populations. And such a ‘coding bias’ is available
as a political weapon: hence, according to Innis, pictorial writing was deliberately maintained
despite the widespread availability of (space-biased) papyrus while the administratively more
efficient use of consonantal signs was strictly limited. Thus there is nothing inevitable, in
Innis’ account, about the emergence or dominance of a communications medium. Technology
is not an independent force, miraculously acting upon society and individuals from the
‘outside’. The development and succession of media technologies is a political and social
question connected to the power of the monopolies of knowledge which they themselves
support.
Readers of Joshua Meyrovitz (1985) on electronic media and print will no doubt
recognize Innis as an influence here. More intriguing, perhaps, are the connections we can
discern between this notion of coding bias, particularly in its temporal form, and Pierre
Bourdieu’s analysis of ‘cultural capital’ as a source for the reproduction of social hierarchies
(1986, 1993). Bourdieu employs ‘cultural capital’ to refer to those socially generated practical
competences, transmitted across generations by the family and the educational system (and
hence closely correlated to social class), by which individuals acquire the disposition and
ability to decipher cultural products: in particular, how them come to decipher certain objects,
under specific conditions, stylistically and formally rather than functionally; that is, to
perceive them as artworks.
Reading Innis through Bourdieu in this way allows us to extend the notion of ‘coding’
bias to the monopolistic diffusion of acquired cultural dispositions and competences, and to
uncouple it from a purely technical framework. Coding bias is not simply about, say, the
number or complexity of characters in a writing system. Rather, it is fundamentally a social
phenomenon, concerned with the conditions of perception, readability and intelligibility and


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