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Harold Innes

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Harold Innis (1894-1952)

Harold Innis received his Ph.D. degree in economics at the University of Chicago at a time when Robert E. Park and George Herbert Mead were teaching communication. From there he moved to the University of Toronto, where he later met his colleague Marshall McLuhan. Only in the last ten years of his life did he turn to the study of communication, in which he published two books; Empire and Communications (1950), and The Bias of Communication (1951).

The ideas Harold Adams Innis were the seed bed of McLuhan''s early ideas on media.

Both Innis and McLuhan treat communication media as the essence of civilisation, and both see history as directed by the predominant media of each age.

Innis sees communication media as extensions of the human mind and believes that the primary interest of any historical period is a kind of bias resulting from the predominant media in use. In other words, what happens, and what seems significant in a historical period are determined by the media.

Heavy media such as parchment, clay, or stone are lasting and therefore time-binding. Because they facilitate communication from one generation to another, these media favored relatively close communities, metaphysical speculation, and traditional authority.

In contrast, space-binding media such as paper are light and easy to transport, so they facilitate communication from one location to another, fostering empire building, large bureaucracy, commercialism, and the military.

Speech as a medium, because it is produced one sound at a time, encourages people to organise their experience chronologically. Speech also requires knowledge and tradition and therefore supports community and relationship. Written media, which are spatially arranged, produce a different kind of culture. The space-binding effect of writing produces interests in polotical authority and the growth of empires across the land.

Innis grew increasingly pessimistic later in life. Changes in communication technology were seen as a revaluation of community and a of loss culture and freedom. What Innis saw most clearly was that the main meaning of electronics was not in the provision of entertainment and information through radio and television. he recognized that the speed and distance of electronic communication enlarged the possible scale of social organization and greatly enhanced the possibilities of centralization and imperialism in matters of culture and politics.

(Mainly taken verbatim from Littlejohn, p 326, with the very occasional annotation).



Introducing Innis/McLuhan concluding: The Innis in McLuhan's "System"' by Roman Onufrijchuk is a full article which looks as the relationship of the similar ideas Innis and McLuhan had.

Orality in the twilight of humanism: a critique of the communication theory of Harold Innis' by Ian Angus. As well as the critique part way through the document there is an explanation of Innis' theory.

A Harold Innis Web site has been established for the discussion of Innis' theory. The initial part of the front page is an introduction to the Innis discussion. Down the page some what is a huge range of Innis Links.

Daniel Chandler has a section devoted to the media influence of Innis.