Today's Question: The Bias of Communication is known as a "classic" in the study of communication technology, but it is also described as "difficult," "nonlineal," "puzzling," and "a struggle" -- probably chiefly because the book does not build to a sustained or coherent argument. Choose one of the three essays assigned for today and read them in the manner suggested by the introduction -- as an "idea file." Identify some important concept, theory, or insight in the essay you chose and describe its importance. Please describe the idea critically as appropriate -- list drawbacks as well as praise. It may be helpful to reference earlier class readings as a point of comparison to show what is different about Innis' ideas or his disciplinary approach (economic history).
Knowing that this work has been scrutinized for its lack of linear thought, I decided to read the essays in the order in which they appealed to me. Doing this gave me a sense of deja vouz as I read “The Bias of Communication” after “A Plea for Time.” These two essays seem to be speaking to each other, but then again, they seem to be tackling two completely different ideas. One reason I felt deja voux relates to the unifying notion of a “monopoly of knowledge” that is ever present across these two essays. I felt this basic idea that was presented in “The Bias of Communication” could help to explain a lot of the ideas presented in “A Plea for Time.” The monopoly of knowledge began in religious institutions as non-secular establishments controlled the flow of knowledge. This monopoly eventually was taken over by copyists guilds which were responsible for and controlled the flow of books. This monopoly of knowledge existed as a monopoly over the written word.
“A Plea for Time” establishes a very depressing view of the written word. “Communication based on the eye in terms of printing and photography had developed a monopoly which threatened to destroy Western civilization first in war and then in peace. This monopoly emphasized individualism and in turn stability and created illusions in catchwords such as democracy, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech” (pg. 80-81). This coupled with the notion that “as modern developments in communication have made for greater realism they have made for greater possibilities of delusion” (pg. 82) establishes the written word as a faulty mechanism which serves to dupe the masses into believing in a governmental infrastructure which seemingly fails to exist as a function of its labeling. This leads me to ask Innis, “What does exist? Wherein lays the truth?” I understand the inherent value in being cautious of the written word, and that in fact it can cause a delusion of sorts. However, in today’s information-obsessed culture, what else do we have? The greatest institutions of higher learning rely solely on the written word as points of reference and truth. Has our definition of truth truly led contemporary academics into a “sham independence of democracy?” (pg. 90) Is there a freedom to be found in the difference between education and information?
As a final sidebar thought (I truly used these chapters as idea/question files), how does the Internet play into this difference between education and information? I wonder if Innis would be appalled by the vast amount of written information/garbage that can be found on the Internet. Or rather, would he applaud the movement of pod casts, streaming video and other information that is transferred to the audience via the mechanism of the ear?