According to Innis, the atmosphere of hostility between time-biased and space-biased media, wherein one tradition marginalizes the other, leads to the creation of monopolies of knowledge. For Innis, the term knowledge "is used broadly, to cover what we would normally classify as knowledge per se, literacy and science, for example, and what is more generally assumed to be information, such as economic records, and census data." 5 Those who control knowledge through the dominant media of a given society (be they scholarly, governmental, religious or professional elites) also control reality, in the sense that they are in a position to define what knowledge is legitimate. In this way, monopolies of knowledge encourage centralization of power.
Innis was critical of the ethical consequences of political and cultural centralization. He believed that technological change in the 20th century, aided by sophisticated weapons and space-conquering communication technologies, had made greater and greater concentrations of power possible. In both Empire and Communications (1950) and The Bias of Communication (1951), Innis develops his critique of the spatial centralization of communication in empires (military, theocratic or economic). In such empires, communication flows are one-way, from the centre to the margins. Their centralization and unidirectional flow built and maintained, for example, the powerful Roman and British empires. These strong central powers extended their monopolies to marginal communities, including colonies like early Canada. The monopolization of communication is thus strongly connected to concentrations of political control and economic power.
Mechanization has emphasized complexity and confusion; it has been responsible for monopolies in the field of knowledge; and it has become extremely important to any civilization, if it is not to succumb to the influence of this monopoly of knowledge, to make some critical survey and report. The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them, Western civilization. 6
Innis's vision of a balance between communications media, with their implicit biases, is related to his interest in the social and political movements of those at the margins of empires. Having recognized how monopolies of power are constructed and maintained through the dissemination or restriction of knowledge, he concluded that the impact of monopolies of knowledge was imbalance in society. Innis went further, saying that an imbalance of power works against the development of a balanced and healthy society by not allowing for competition of ideas, traditions and institutions.
Communications historian James Carey (1934-2006) discusses Innis's idea of the monopoly of knowledge, which, in 1976, anticipated the development of the Internet. Lecture on Innis at the University of Toronto, 1976.
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Office of the Yukon Sun, the northernmost British newspaper in the British Empire, Dawson, Yukon, early 20th century
5. Heyer, Harold Innis, p. 5
6. Innis, The Bias of Communication, p. 6.