For Innis, a key to social change (What forms of power do they encourage, What
assumptions do they take from and contribute to society?) is found in the
development of communication media.
He claims that each medium embodies a bias in terms of the organization and
control of information.
Any empire or society is generally concerned with duration over time and
extension in space.
Time-biased media, such as stone and clay, are durable and heavy. Since they
are difficult to move, they do not encourage territorial expansion; however,
since they have a long life, they do encourage the extension of empire over
time. Innis associated these media with the customary, the sacred, and the
moral. Time-biased media facilitate the development of social hierarchies, as
archetypally exemplified by ancient Egypt. For Innis, speech is a time-biased
Space-biased media are light and portable; they can be transported over large
distances. They are associated with secular and territorial societies; they
facilitate the expansion of empire over space. Paper is such a medium; it is
readily transported, but has a relatively short lifespan.
Ultimately, Innis would consider the internet to fall under the category of
space-based media. It is virtually weightless and extremely portable. It can
transport information and data across the globe in a matter of mere seconds.
Innis would acknowledge however that this space-based medium has a certain
characteristic of which is somewhat time-based in nature. The aforementioned
characteristic regards the lifespan of the medium. Space-based media have
relatively short lifespans. For instance, paper (which is space-based), is light
and portable, however it is oftentimes unable to endure a lengthy period of
time. The internet, on the other hand, could very well have a long lifespan,
although it is impossible to be absolutely certain because it is a relatively new
medium. The development of the internet dates back to the late 1960’s. It is
necessary for a brief history to be provided.
The Internet itself began in the 1960's as a Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency development intended to allow universities and research
facilities to communicate and share data. Email, newsgroups, and file
transfers were it's primary uses.(On Friday October 29, 1969 at 10:30 p.m.,
the first Internet message was sent from computer science Professor
Leonard KleinRock's laboratory at UCLA, after the second piece of network
equipment was installed at SLI. This connection not only enabled the first transmission to be made, but is also considered to be the first Internet
The first message to be distributed was "LO", which was an attempt at
"LOGIN" by Charley S. Kline to log into the SLI computer from UCLA.
However, the message was unable to be completed because the SLI
system crashed. Shortly after the crash, the issue was resolved and he
was able to log into the computer.
In 1990, hypertext was developed for use on the Internet, as well as the first
browser, with the first web page being published in December of that year.
So that would technically mark the beginning of the WWW, but at that time
use of the Internet was still restricted to the US government, universities,
and other research facilities. In April of 1993, the Internet was released for
As a result of this mediums relatively short existence, it is impossible to
say with certainity whether it will have a longer lifespan than other forms of
space-based media (like paper or), although due to the fact that
information stored on the internet is not , it is highly likely.
David Godfrey summarizes Innis’ distinction as follows:
For Innis, the organization of empires seems to follow two major models. The
first model is militaristic and concerned with the conquest of space. The
second model is religious and concerned with the conquest of time.
Comparatively, the media that have supported the military conquering of space
have been lighter, so that the constraints of long distances could be lessened.
Those media that supported theocratic empires had relative durability as a
major characteristic so that they