Friday, December 24, 2004

Innis Mode and the Internet

Harold Innis was an economist and pre-McLuhan philosopher of communications—in fact, he taught Marshall McLuhan, who has acknowledged his influence in the introduction to Understanding Media*. In two books (Empire and Communications, and The Bias of Communication) published before his death in the early 50s, Innis introduced two wide-ranging concepts: time- and space-dependent media, and the hyperlink.

That's right—the blue underscored links to nuggets of information stored somewhere else are an outgrowth of the theories and thoughts of a Canadian economist who was dead a scant five years after the communication age began with the invention of the transistor.

According to Innis, space-dependent communications (as with paper or web pages), because they are arranged spacially and easily transported from one location to another, foster civilization- and empire-building, and the growth of empire, bureaucracy and the military. Speech and oral communications (as with TV, radio, MPEG and .wav) are time-dependent, and foster close communities, tradition and the organization of knowledge chronologically.

The bias of which Innis wrote is the way the predominant communication mode tends to reshape the civilization it informs. So the world of the mid-1900s in which Innis and McLuhan codified these concepts—a world of radio and newspaper, of TIME magazine and the newly-born TV—cannot possibly resemble the world of 2004 in which newspapers and news-magazines have been supplanted by the Internet, and the chronological spoon-fed presentation of TV and radio has been replaced by the on-demand, at-will Google search.

*It is in McLuhan's Understanding Media that we first see the enigmatic contention "the medium is the message".

Two writers who use "Innis mode" extensively to break the chronological chains of written fiction are John Brunner (who noted in the opening pages of his seminal Stand On Zanzibar that he had used Innis mode) and Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver).


Blogger Florisv said...

Could it be that here is something in common between the 1900's and now ?
Even between every previous century and now ?

The level of information flow is at its highest peak if one looks back at the last 50 centuries or so and might still rise.

Could it be that what you refer to as the innis mode, has always been around and open for exploration, to those who wanted to explore it ? But that it is somekind of mime ?

I'm well aware that my knowledge and thoughts on mimes are scant and controversial. But still I consider the possibillity that mimes could be clasified by the way they behave.
That part of there behaviour is how viruses behave.

If that would turn out to be correct, it might then explain, why an idea from around 1950's is still so valid, and even a foundation of the internet as we know it now. If this sounds like gibberish, could be.

If I'm not clear let me know, and I'll try to explain it more clearly.
Although finding the right words for my thoughts is not my strong point. But then I'm not the only xxy, with that problem. Och well, its part of being xxy, and finding solutions for it, as well.

3/22/2005 11:36 AM  
Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Ian Bertram said...

I know this is an old post, but I've just started rereading 'Stand on Zanzibar' and googled Innis Mode.

Innis didn't really invent the mode though - it was used at least as early as the 1930s by John Dos Passos in his USA trilogy. One of the strands in that trilogy is even called 'The Camera Eye' - cf Brunner and 'Tracking with Closeups'

5/25/2013 4:05 AM  

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