Binding Time Harold Innis And The Balance Of New Media
Improvements in communication...make for increased difficulties
—Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication
Examines the extent to which Innis’s concepts
about media still apply today.
November 5, 1894 – November 8, 1952
University of Toronto
Canadian economist and communications theorist
And the author of seminal works on Canadian economic
history and on media and communication theory
Innis's communications writings explore the role of media
in shaping the culture and development of civilizations.
Approach to understanding the social significance of all
kinds of media
How different media relate to space and time
Space-binding media Time-binding media
Extend influence of Influence cultural
meanings over distances, patterns in duration
helping to build empires, Examples: saga, poems
and develop cohesion published, books,
across space archives, university…
the telegraph, radio…
Time-binding media Space-binding media
include clay or stone tablets, are more ephemeral. They
hand-copied manuscripts on include modern media such
parchment or vellum and oral as radio, television, and mass
sources such as Homer's epic circulation newspapers which
convey information that is
poems. These are intended to meant to reach as many as
carry stories and messages possible over long distances,
that last for many but will not last long in time.
generations, but tend to Space-binding media
reach limited audiences. facilitate rapid change,
While time-binding media materialism, secularism and
favour stability, community, empire.
tradition and religion,
To what extent is historical knowledge not merely
preserved, but shaped by the archive and its
means of selecting, storing and presenting
Properties of media substrates: media materiality
Encoding conventions: language and genre
Social and political arrangements using media for
Different substances have distinctive properties that
support different styles of communicating and, most
importantly, each tends to have a bias towards either
space or time.
Media which emphasize time are those which are
durable in character such as parchment, clay and
stone. The heavy materials are suited to the
development of architecture and sculpture.
Media which emphasize space are apt to be less
durable and light in character such as papyrus and
Innis examines a second
level in the patterning of
media in the languages,
scripts, and genres of
Innis argued that the predominant media of a
civilization both cause and so provide evidence of, the
distinctive character of that society. Each medium is
selected and developed because it suits particular
interests within that society. These choices of media
reinforce, and sometimes transform that society.
Civilisation can be measured by their balance between
managing time and controlling space.
Digital Media on the Digital media on the
experience of Space experience of Time
Accelerating Structuring our
globalization relationships with both
Shifting boundaries the future and the past
between work and home
Digitized artifacts can seem to be largely virtualized
Materiality of media
The relation of digital media to space and time
Interconnected components comprised of many
different material—metals, paper cards, magnetic
surfaces, semiconductors, radio, and optical
The physical storage media deteriorate quite quickly
making data unreadable within only a few years.
1) Floppy disks are unreliable after 5 years
2) Hard disk after twenty or thirty years
3) Optical media such as CD-rs and data DVDs not
much longer than that
Wikis and collaborative writing
Make distance events and historical texts
present in everyday life
In each case, while there is present-
mindedness, there is also a time-
binding record of the present being
1. the dominant time-binding media of our ‘civilisation’
operates paradoxically to both diversify and
homogenise cultural patterns over time.
2. cultural practices such as calculation, writing,
photography, play, and moving image were gradually
appropriated by digital media.
3. the digitisation of many cultural records has made
many archives ubiquitously accessible.
4.the invention of computers has been a response to
concerns about the neglect of time