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Time and Space Theory

Page history last edited by Andrew P. Miller 11 years, 6 months ago


Time Biased= Stone



Space Biased= Papyrus


Time-Biased Media


The definition of time in terms of Media Ecology is quite different from that which is found in Webster's dictionary definition.  When speaking of time in a physical sense, one may think of a linear advancement of an event, or the means of keeping tabs on when an event occurred.  Time-biased media pertains to certain forms/objects of communication that are durable, yet too heavy or hard to move past its basic function in that particular set time. Therefore, according to major media ecologists, these forms of communication are reserved for more traditional, sacred, and/or moral civilizations. Because their selected forms of media cannot exceed its given space, such as stone or clay, expansion of that particular civilization moves at a slower pace.  Items that are set in stone, so to speak, are only observable and measurable from individuals that are in the same time, and place that this form of media occupies.  Time represents a set entity in which information solely present in the environment is rendered as important.  Harold Innis, Canadian Scholar, believes that humankind moved away from this form of media to a more space-based approach, and ensuing democracy instead of an absolute monarchy.  

Space-Biased Media


As the definition of ‘time’ is different form the Webster’s dictionary definition, so is that of the term ‘space.’  In a physical sense, space may represent on open area with room for one to fill with a given material or substance, or one may link the meaning of space to the universe that surrounds us. Space-biased media pertains to certain forms or objects of communication that are light, portable, and possess the ability to be transported over vast distances, rendering possibilities as limitless. Therefore, according to media ecologists, these light and portable forms of media can express their command without being concerned with slow implementation over time.  Harold Innis stated that space-biased civilizations can preserve their power and take over less advanced civilizations. He also attributed the implementation of imperialism to forms of space-biased media.  Time may be viewed as obsolete in contrast to its successor, but it provided the frame work for future progression.  By essentially conquering space, humans have created a more accessible world in many aspects of everyday life, and allowing for the quick and easy transfer of endless data by the click of a button.   



Harold Innis, the man responsible for these two terms, believed that time-biased cultures were at an extreme disadvantage because their forms of communication were not evolving fast enough and cultures evolving rapidly would eventually take over the disadvantaged.  As human progression continued its inevitable path towards the pinnacle of conquering space, the focus on importance of time-bias became more and more irrelevant and viewed as obsolete.  Innis also believed that orality was a time-biased form of media. In earlier cultures, there was one person who was selected to go from town to town in order to collect news of deaths, births, and casualties.  James Carey stated that created a separation in transportation and communication [3] which allowed for a progression towards a more efficient means of transferring data from place to place, or time to time.  With the beginning steps in this sequence, was birthed the opportunity to provide data from a different time to a different place.  If these culture’s forms of communication did not advance with the evolution of literacy, then they would miss out on opportunities for the advancement of the mind.  The medium in which communication is conveyed, influence knowledge distribution over in a fashion of space over time.  Innis explains this type of communication as lightweight, and easily transported [2].


 As time put forth the pathway for space obliteration and conquer, much did literacy for the beginning stages to communication in the form of papyrus.  This allowed for the advancement toward the luxury and ease of media we enjoy today in our economic endeavors.  Innis described paper as light and can be transported anywhere. It can also be formed into a collected work of thoughts that foster revolution, outrage, apathy, sympathy, and entertainment. It also led to the invention of the newspaper, which offered a solution to concerns about getting information in an acceptable amount of time. This advanced form of media allowed new ways of thinking; people could now write letters to others who were miles away. As stated earlier, the technical definition of space may be interpreted as an open area with room for one to fill with a given material or substance.  The advent of paper, and eventual usage of the telegraph, allowed for the physical sense of space to become obsolete in terms of communication, data transfer, and information sharing.  Where there was once a linkage between how information was sent and the physical aspect of sending and receiving, became a new system that allowed information sharing from a distance.  James Carey states that the telegraph allowed for the advent of a social nervous system that allowed for signaling (transmission, action, and sound) to be separated from musculature [3][4].  The early theory of time-bias communication represented a social nervous system of signaling completely dependent on the system's 'musculature.'  The new progression of separation from the two allowed for this long distance communication made possible through the telegraph.  Innis points out that the disadvantage of the use of paper is that it is easily destroyed, whereas stone has the ability to still exist even when the civilization that created it is obsolete (and destruction possesses a higher level of difficulty).


The Importance of Time and Space-Biased Communication for Dummies


The purpose of media ecology is to evaluate the forms of communication, or the ways in which civilizations communicate (basically the way we send information). Harold Innis believed that the longevity of a civilization is directly correlated to the forms of communication, and according to Innis, there were only two forms of communication that could determine the lifespan…time and space-biased communication. Well, right now you are sitting at your computer reading the words and images that have been posted; this is a prime example of space-biased communication (papyrus is also an example used by Innis) [2]; you are in your own time and place, but the words on this screen have been transported from Microsoft Word to this wiki site. I chose this form to send the message, and the form allowed the message to travel great distances; many years from now (unless this form becomes obsolete) other people will be able to read my construction of Innis’s theory…so in a way, I become immortalized. However, the main drawback Innis had concerning space-biased communication, was the fact that it could be easily destroyed (you could click delete at any moment and my words would cease to exist) [2].


If an individual carved a beautiful sculpture from a tree in their front yard, it may be labeled as a fascinating piece of art work to other inhabitants of the neighborhood.  In this example, we are able to examine the appearance of the tree as a symbolic representation of what Innis labeled as time-biased, because the only individuals that could enjoy this media are those that are in the same time as this piece of art.  Time-biased forms of media cannot be transported; they are merely stationary and only significant to the place in which they permanently reside.  A classic example used by Innis regarding time-biased media was the use of hieroglyphics by the Egyptians [2].  All of these aspects presented portray the illusion that the time-biased system was compiled of flawed traits, and had to be replaced.  Harold Innis presents time-biased forms of media with kudos by stating that time-biased forms are not easily destroyed [2][5], and that they are more often present even after rendered obsolete.  This is why archeologists are able to discover civilizations that no longer exist (Inca/Mayan), and recreate a representation of what these past times were like.  These still represent time-biased media, however, and these individuals must travel to the places in which these artifacts lie in order to reproduce images of them in the attempt to turn time-biased media into space-biased media for all to see.


Implications of Time and Space in Today's Society


Time and Space Theory thus far may seem as a historical representation of the progression of ancient times, and you may be asking yourself, "why do I need to be so concerned with this seeming ancient history?"  There are great implications in today's economy that have developed and have roots grounded in the theories set forth by Innis and Carey.  As communication and information processing and transferring became more space-biased, the economic market became a completely new game, one with a seemingly more level playing field.  The advent of the telegraph, as discussed earlier was a pivotal component to the progression of today's economy which all began with the Western Union's attempt to get the telegraphic ball rolling for other industries [6].  Carey discuss the importance of the telegraph's ability to severe the umbilical cord between communication and transportation which allowed not only the development of personal communication, but also communication with implications for economy and industry.  Historically, markets could produce materials and sell them as buyers would come and view these materials after personally making a connection with the buyer.  Carey describes a phenomenon called 'arbitrage' in which one could essentially buy materials from one place, at the seller's price, and move it to another market, inflate the price to the higher cost market, and flip a profit fairly effortlessly [3].  As the telegraph came into play, this process of buying and selling for higher prices decreased in effectiveness.  The telegraph had abolished the physical sense of space, and separated communication from transportation, allowing prices to remain consistent between different places.  Now the playing field for the markets was essentially leveled, so to speak.


The telegraph began the progression we have witnessed in market arbitrage to equality in pricing, as well as the shift of colonialism to imperialism [6].  Once the ball began to roll, the progression of economic and industrial takeover was inevitable.  There was a drastic shift in how companies, and factories, were ran and the goals that they held.  Mass production became the mode of replicating the same idea over and over again to produce as much product that was physically possible, which was identical each time. This led to an increase in profit at the expense of a loss of uniqueness for each product, and the impersonalization of business standards [3].  Each company today relies on whatever products they can produce in an attempt to turn a large profit from their product.  A company from one country could now sell larger volume to other companies separated by thousands of miles thanks to the progression began by the annihilation of space from the telegraph.  Buying, selling, and trading are not just nationally integrated components of each country in the world, but instead there is an international or global linkage in the market system of the present.  This allows for the outsourcing of jobs and products tell the company that will produce results for the cheapest cost, in order for the company to make the most profit.


One of the most important aspects in the corporate world today is the brand, or label, that appears on the product.  We see children wanting their mothers and fathers to buy them the newest iPhone based on the 'Apple' logo on the back of the device, or a new pair of shoes that tote the highly praised symbolic swish on the side.  John Ermatinger states in his piece "The Discarded Factory that as machinery dies or wears out, the brand can live on [8].  There is so much power found lying behind the brand of a product, and may be envisioned as the soul of the company itself.  This phenomenon is another angel to the idea of outsourcing companies and production.  The brand may be produced anywhere, it does not necessarily need to be in a certain location in order for the product to be created.  This is yet another example of space-biased theory.  Ermatinger stated that products are made in factories, but ideas were made in the mind [8].  The products are made in specific locations and the production may be looked at as time-biased because the product is constructed in the same place each time.  However, the brand itself represents a space-biased view in that the idea or concept of the brand can be thought up anywhere, moved to any location,and duplicated to reproduce another 'time-biased' location of manufacturing.  Once a factory is duplicated to produce yet another center for manufacturing elsewhere from the origin of creation, the space-biased theory rears its head for congratulations once again.  



Where to Now?


There have been many aspects of today's world that have been touched directly and indirectly stemming from the destruction of space, and the enhancement of the world's encephalated social nervous system.  Everything is controlled by distant entities, but where is the ultimate control center located?  The answer is simply nowhere.  There is no one location that is labeled as the "control center" of the world as the brain is labeled the "control center" of the body.  Outsourcing continues to play a large role in commercialism today, making products cheaper to purchase, while at the same time destroying classic ideas of manufacturers being responsible for their workforce [8].  Companies are ran from offices that are thousands of miles away from the location of actual production of products being overseen by individuals that may have never physically been in the same 'time' as the production. 


 Humans are set apart from other creatures in the sense that we make decisions, learn form them, and pass them onto the next generation with  goal of bettering what we had.  Pictographical communication, and other forms of media represented through visual entities, were further enhanced by Phonecians with there rendition of the alphabet and accompanying sounds.  This allowed for the focus to be taken off of the eye and put onto the ear [7].  In much of the same manner lies the idea behind the time and space theory.  Time was the major focus of media at one point, and the space theory allowed for its expansion, and progression of human media. The possibilities for the future are endless, but what path do we take from here? Progression will continue to be made because humans always look to master a craft, put it down, and move onto the next.  Humans are constantly scaffolding on prior forms of communication, but one day our way of civilization will be seen as obsolete, and what if we can no longer compete with the rapid rate of change in forms of media?  At this point we will rely on the creation of the "new-age telegraph" to fuel our attempts for further progression of conquering the next galaxy.  After all, space is already conquered. 


Important Theorist/Theory Links


 Harold A. Innis - Founder of Time-biased and Space-biased media


James Carey- Media Ecologist whose findings extended the works of Harold Innis and Time-biased and Space-biased media.


General Semantics- A study based on key concepts associated with Time-biased and Space-biased media.

Marshall Mcluhan - Media Ecologist who shared similar ideologies as Harold Innis concerning Time-biased and Space-biased media and orality.




[1] Korzybski, A. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General

     SemanticsChicago: The Science  Press Printing Company, 1941

[2] Innis, H. The Bias of Communication http://iwcenglish1.typepad.com/iwc_media_ecology/Documents/The_Bias_of_Communication.doc

[3] Carey, J.W. (2011). Time, Space, and the Telegraph. Retrieved from: Communication in History, 125-131

[4] Webster's dictionary definition for signaling.

[5] Innis, H. (2011). Media in Ancient Empires. Retrieved from: Communication in History, 14-20.

[6] Carey, L.W. (1988). Communication as a Culture.  Technology and ideology: the case of the telegraph (ch 8).

[7] Innis, H (1951). Industrialism and cultural values. American Economic Review, 41 (2), 201-209

[8] Klein, N (2000). No Logo. The Discarded Factory (ch 9), 195-229





Original Author: Kim Fitten

Additional Writing and Editting: Kate M. Fisher

Comments (4)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:25 pm on Sep 11, 2008


We do not have any of James Carey's books in our library. You will definitely want to look at Communication as Culture (from which our text's excerpt comes). If you can not get it conveniently via interlibrary loan, let me know and I will lend you my personal copy. -- JM
-- AdmiN (2008-03-19 12:17:30)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:25 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Check out page 160-1 in that book I gave you Kim.
-- ChadChumley (2008-04-02 13:01:32)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:26 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Kim, first, I think you have some typos in your first two paragraphs, I think you mean they are "quite" different from the Webster's dictionary, not "quiet" different. I was confused at first. Second, I think it would be great if you linked how the printing press radically changed the time it took for paper to be dispursed and tie that into how Martin Luther was able to get his message across to millions because that change in time and space.
-- LAB-CW-16 (2008-04-16 22:01:31)

Jeff Martinek said

at 3:26 pm on Sep 11, 2008

lab cw 16 is Priscilla Marlar by the way :)
-- LAB-CW-16 (2008-04-16 22:02:03)

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