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Lecture 2: The Toronto School

Harold Innis & Marshall McLuhan
by

Stuart Soroka

on 11 September 2011

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Transcript of Lecture 2: The Toronto School

Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication
Time vs Space
Harold A. Innis. 1951. “Introduction,” and “The Bias of Communication” in The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press): 33-60.
Conclusion
Different
Approaches
“According to [a method of communications’] characteristics it may be better suited to the dissemination of knowledge over space than over time, particularly if the medium is light and easily transported. The relative emphasis on time or space will imply a bias of significance to the culture in which it is embedded.”
time-binding media such as manuscripts and oral communication are have limited distribution potential, and favor relatively close communities, metaphysical speculation, and traditional authority

space-binding media such as print and electronic media have wider distribution potential, and thus are concerned with expansion and control, and favor the establishment of commercialism, empire and eventually technocracy
The Toronto School
cunieform script (Sumerians, 3000BC-Assyrian, 1000BC)
Phoenician alphabet, ~1000BC
more flexible, consonantal alphabet
Carolingian miniscule, Europe, ~1000AD
applied standards such as capital letters, spaces between words, clear legible letters, across the Carolingian Empire (Charlemagne, 8th century)
stone
papyrus
parchment
So biases are driven by some combination of the medium itself, the means by which it is created, and the forms of communication it facilitates.
Mediums & Civilizations
time-binding media such as manuscripts and oral communication are have limited distribution potential, and favor relatively close communities, metaphysical speculation, and traditional authority

space-binding media such as print and electronic media have wider distribution potential, and thus are concerned with expansion and control, and favor the establishment of commercialism, empire and eventually technocracy
Innis & the Internet
Innis is concerned with the relationship between forms of communication and the potential for “monopolies of knowledge” and overarching political authority.
What would Innis say about the Internet?
The new technologies of communication are inherently spatial (13, 37, 38). By this, we mean not only that they change the relational distances between places and, in so doing, help construct new economic and social geographies and new forms of spatial division and integration. We mean further that geography is a constitutive element of communications networks, which are spatial systems in their own right (1, 24, 34). New communications technologies do not just impact upon places; places and the social processes and social relation- ships they embody also affect how such technological systems are designed, implemented, and used....

...Advanced communications networks are being developed and introduced within an existing economic and social context that displays stark geographical inequalities: between, for example, rich and poor nations, central and peripheral regions, cities and rural areas. We contend that the “distance-shrinking” characteristics of the new communications technologies, far from overcoming and rendering insignificant the geographical expressions of centralized economic and political power, in fact constitute new and enhanced forms of inequality and uneven development...

...Contrary to popular predictions of their decentralizing impact, digital communications contribute to new and more complex forms of corporate integration, reinforcing center-periphery problems on a global scale...
Marshall McLuhan
Mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth.
Unit of analysis is the individual rather than society (unlike Innis, individualist rather than holistic)

But the gist of the statement the medium is the message is not unlike Innis:

“…the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”
“the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into the human affairs.”
Understanding Media
For McLuhan, new media are essentially extensions of our senses, or technological extensions of the body.

All media are extensions of some human faculty - psychic or physical 
"the wheel
is an extension of the foot
the book
is an extension of the eye
clothing, an extension of the skin,
electric circuitry,
an extension of the
central
nervous
system"
The Medium is The Massage
print media = fragmentation of society
"Printing, a ditto device, confirmed and extended the new visual stress. It created the portable book, which men could read in privacy and in isolation from others" (McLuhan, 1967, p. 50).


electronic media = return to collective ways of perceiving the world
Electronic media can crate a ‘global village’, by unifying the human race
Media govern how far information travels, how long information lasts, and likely also the information itself.
Media thus play a central role in defining what information we have in ‘common’; they have been central to the distribution of power within a society, indeed, even to the rise and fall of cultures and civilizations.
Similar
Themes
For Innis, effects are at the level of society; for McLuhan, the individual.
For Innis, (space-binding) electronic media facilitate the development of empire, and monopolies of knowledge. For McLuhan, electronic media create a ‘global village’.
The Importance of Media I
Annie Hall (Woody Allen 1977)
Marshall McLuhan, CBC, 1960
McLuhan's Wake
Today Show, 1976
What would Innis and McLuhan say about the move from the chalkboard, to Powerpoint, to Prezi?
Political Science 424: Media and Politics
Stuart Soroka, McGill University
from Leonard M. Dudley (1995), "Space, Time, Number: Harold A. Innis as Evolutionary Theorist," Canadian Journal of Economics 28(4a): 754-69.
The evolution of a more flexible alphabet expanded what we could communicate in writing...
Changes in the medium on which words were written affected how durable and/or portable written communication could be.
Marshall McLuhan. 1964. “The Media is the Message” in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: Signet):23-35.
Full transcript