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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  7 with globally space-binding communication technologies and administrative structures, is perhaps the classic case in point. With this notion of ideological bias, and to a lesser extent coding bias, Innis’ thought moves from questions of a medium’s physical properties to those of its message and form, to its representational characteristics. This move is bulwarked by frequent and often unelaborated comments that imply a perceptual predisposition, whereby, for example, a monopoly of communication ‘based on the eye’ in modern print cultures is associated with a spatial bias. 6 It is these less developed assertions of perceptual monopoly and distinction that, according to James Carey (1992), constitute the limited zone of influence between Innis and McLuhan – and, in Stamps’ analysis, link Innis, McLuhan, Adorno and Benjamin in a critique of the spatial-visual and an affirmation of the temporal-oral. But the key point of this move from the material properties of technology to those of representation is that it signals an expansion of Innis’ concerns from the realm of social organization to that of culture. It is difficult and risky (as Carey acknowledges) to generalize about Innis’ notion of bias, since much of its lasting relevance is due not to its systematic coherence but to its dialectical sensitivity when applied in specific historical contexts. Nevertheless, I think that it is fair to say that what remains relatively unsystematized in Innis’ thought is the way in which the space-time biases of media technologies do in fact work culturally. How, as symbolic and expressive resources structured along a space-time axis, do they encourage particular forms of subjective experience, modes of feeling, thought and action among individuals, as well as types of social relationship between them? and how might these be sufficiently patterned within a society and period so as to constitute a characteristically ‘biased’ culture? Such questions are of interest not only because their answer feeds back into ideology and hence into agency and social structure, but also because they intersect in powerfully suggestive ways with another interlinked tradition of thought: that different media tend to produce types of

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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7
with globally space-binding communication technologies and administrative structures, is
perhaps the classic case in point.
With this notion of ideological bias, and to a lesser extent coding bias, Innis’ thought
moves from questions of a medium’s physical properties to those of its message and form, to
its representational characteristics. This move is bulwarked by frequent and often
unelaborated comments that imply a perceptual predisposition, whereby, for example, a
monopoly of communication ‘based on the eye’ in modern print cultures is associated with a
spatial bias.
6
It is these less developed assertions of perceptual monopoly and distinction that,
according to James Carey (1992), constitute the limited zone of influence between Innis and
McLuhan – and, in Stamps’ analysis, link Innis, McLuhan, Adorno and Benjamin in a critique
of the spatial-visual and an affirmation of the temporal-oral. But the key point of this move
from the material properties of technology to those of representation is that it signals an
expansion of Innis’ concerns from the realm of social organization to that of culture.
It is difficult and risky (as Carey acknowledges) to generalize about Innis’ notion of
bias, since much of its lasting relevance is due not to its systematic coherence but to its
dialectical sensitivity when applied in specific historical contexts. Nevertheless, I think that it
is fair to say that what remains relatively unsystematized in Innis’ thought is the way in which
the space-time biases of media technologies do in fact work culturally. How, as symbolic and
expressive resources structured along a space-time axis, do they encourage particular forms of
subjective experience, modes of feeling, thought and action among individuals, as well as
types of social relationship between them? and how might these be sufficiently patterned
within a society and period so as to constitute a characteristically ‘biased’ culture? Such
questions are of interest not only because their answer feeds back into ideology and hence
into agency and social structure, but also because they intersect in powerfully suggestive ways
with another interlinked tradition of thought: that different media tend to produce types of


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