London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
‘The pervasive use of a medium of communication in a civilisation renders life and flexibility increasingly difficult to maintain.’ Arising in the late communications work of Harold A. Innis, this suggestion from the mid-twentieth century seems to ring true in the digital present where the hegemony of social media shows few signs of weakening. Consider the second episode of the latest instalment of the Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’. Distracted by a notification from the ubiquitous social media platform ‘Smithereens’, the bored protagonist driving his sleeping fiancée home in an instant accedes to a car collision that would end her life and their shared future. This basic premise pushing the protagonist to speak to the tech company’s CEO (and confess his guilt to the new media ‘god’ as it were) thus lends itself to be read as an allegory for the inhospitality of our digitally mediated world. Which historical records led Innis to make the suggestion, and how might a return to his works on space, time and communications help throw light on life in the digital present? How does Innis’s observation about the intimate connection of the character of a communicative medium to that of the knowledge it circulates compare to Marshall McLuhan’s popular take on the medial configurations of perception? How might their respective views on the agency of media assist in our critical appraisal of the here and now? These are some of the questions that my paper attempts to address.
Benjamin is a PhD student at LSE Law. His research interests are in media theory and law and literature.