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Monopolies of knowledge

According to communication theorist Harold Innis, monopolies of knowledge are created in the atmosphere of hostility between time-biased and space-biased media, wherein one tradition marginalizes the other. In this context, the term "knowledge" refers to all information and data in addition to the products of literacy and science.

Paul Levinson suggests that "literacy probably constitutes the most significant monopoly of knowledge in human history." (Levinson, 1997: p12) In times when only a select number of people could read or write, the knowledge conveyed in written texts remained among the literate. It was these literate people who could decide the nature of the information that they passed on to the rest of the community.

Those who control knowledge through the dominant media of a given society also control reality, in that they are in a position to define what knowledge is legitimate. Thus, monopolies of knowledge encourage centralization of power.

In modern societies, language is still used to create monopolies of knowledge. Levinson uses the example of medical or legal jargon. Only those who work in these professions are aware of what is being communicated.

Innis concluded that monopolies of knowledge lead to an imbalance of power in society, which inhibits development by stifling competition among ideas, traditions and institutions.

We can look at the Internet as being a factor in creating knowledge monopolies. Those who have the skills to use the technology have the power to choose what information is communicated. The significance of the Internet in the creation of these monopolies, in more recent years, has been somewhat diminished due to increased knowledge and awareness of how to use the technology. At the same time, the ever-increasing complexity of digital technologies strengthens monopolies of knowledge as the New York Times points out in a series which began on April 27, 2009 called The Digital Arms Race:

[T]he Pentagon has commissioned military contractors to develop a highly classified replica of the Internet of the future. The goal is to simulate what it would take for adversaries to shut down the country’s power stations, telecommunications and aviation systems, or freeze the financial markets — in an effort to build better defenses against such attacks, as well as a new generation of online weapons. 

Wherever new media arise, so too do monopolies of knowledge concerning how to use the technologies to reinforce the power and control of elite groups.