Binding Time: Harold Innis and the balance of new media

Chris Chesher


The emergence of blogs, web video, social software, wikipedia and other new media has seen shifting relationships to time. These new web genres continue to rely on the computer's traditional command roles: transmitting messages, calculating and performing decisions. However, they also make enhanced use of operations of memory: recording images and texts, hosting conversations, making connections and holding archives. For Harold Innis the ways the dominant media of an era relate to time and space help define a civilisation. Spacebinding media (such as papyrus, or electronic communication) facilitate command and control over territory, supporting empire-building. Time-binding media (such as stone, and spoken communication), on the other hand, operate to maintain cultural continuity, and tend towards more stately priestly structures. The computer has become the dominant medium of the current era. From its original diagram, it put command and memory onto the same circuit. However, as Innis feared, the implementation was always out of balance. Command functions were always cheaper and more effective than memory or storage. More recently, though, it could be argued that more sophisticated time-binding features are better supporting uses of sound, image and text drawn from archives and cultural networks. This paper explores the value and limitations of Innis for understanding of the current generation of Internet media.


20th century philosophy; media philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; archive; database; digital dark age; media; memory; Innis Harold; space binding; territory; time binding

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.