A concise introduction to content and the content industry, from the early internet to the Instagram egg.
From the time we roll out of bed to check overnight updates to our last posts, likes, and views of the previous day, we're consuming and producing content. But what does the term “content” even mean? When did it become ubiquitous? And at what cost? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Kate Eichhorn offers a concise introduction to content and the content industry, examining the far-reaching effects content has on culture, politics, and labor in a digital age.
Eichhorn traces the evolution of our current understanding of content from the early internet to the current social mediaverse. The quintessential example of content, she says, is the Instagram egg—an image that imparted no information or knowledge and circulated simply for the sake of circulation. Eichhorn explores what differentiates user-generated content from content produced by compensated (although often undercompensated) workers; examines how fields from art and literature to journalism and politics have weathered the rise of the content industry; and investigates the increasing importance of artists’ “content capital”—the ability of artists, writers, and performers to produce content not about their work but about their status as artists.
About the author
Kate Eichhorn is the author of Fond (2008), a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award. She is also co-editor of Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (2009) and Belladonna Elders Series, Vol. 6 (2009). Her poetry, prose and criticism are part of a serial investigation of historiography, ethnography and poetics. She teaches writing and cultural theory at The New School in New York City.
"Eichhorn keeps things tight and accessible as she spotlights the dark and damaging aspects of content: even given all the negative effects and the rise of 'content resisters' who favor old mediums, she writes, the industry will only continue to thrive. This is a fine introduction for readers curious about how much of what’s online came to be there."
"For Kate Eichhorn, a media historian and a professor at the New School, the Instagram egg is representative of what we call 'content,' a ubiquitous yet difficult-to-define word. Content is digital material that 'may circulate solely for the purpose of circulating,' Eichhorn writes in her new book, Content, which is part of M.I.T. Press’s 'Essential Knowledge' series of pithy monographs… Evoking the overwhelming flood of text, audio, and video that fills our feeds, Eichhorn writes, 'Content is part of a single and indistinguishable flow.'"
—Kyle Chayka, The New Yorker
"Few words have made their way into modern everyday discourse with less of a clear definition than content. Eichhorn (media studies, New School) provides a strong, accessible explanation of not only what content means—thanks in part to a handy glossary—but also how everything has become content. Positioning the rise of content within the context of earlier, more Utopian eras of the internet and user-generated culture, the book demonstrates how the flattening of art, media, and information into bytes of data prioritizes circulation and visibility above all else. As Eichhorn analyzes examples from journalism, art, and literature, she underlines the significant impact the shift to content has had on labor conditions and artistic identity. In this regard, although cases such as “Instapoets” show how social platforms can facilitate content-based stardom for individual creators, the neoliberal market forces undergirding the digital sphere are even more likely to incentivize people to become content farmers, toiling away with Google AdSense and dreaming of viral recognition. By parsing, contextualizing, and analyzing the vague concept of content until it gains firmer meaning, Eichhorn's book offers an important starting point for young media students."