Container-less Content? Not in This Digital Age.
My term for content containers is frame. Frames are as much about presenting content as containing it. Frames in my language are distribution mechanisms, channels, and media. They are contexts, modes of understanding as much as duplicative technologies. Frames are not just delivery systems or packages for content but content's experiential mode. They aren't dumb pipes. The book-as-container is a useful but flawed metaphor because it cannot encompass all forms of bibliographic, let alone cultural, experience. It fails to recognize containers are digital as well as physical.
We never find pure, unmediated content as it's always framed in some way. There is always a system for distribution. Moreover we never come to content without certain preconceptions and expectations coloring our consumption. In other words we don't encounter content immanently -- we encounter frame-content pairs. Typically the frame for long-form written content was the book. That is, a combination of paper, printing technology, ink, text, artwork, economic value, and social status which collectively provide a frame for long-form writing. But it needn't always be the book, which is now merely one frame among many. Looked at this way, the significance for publishing starts to become clear. Publishers are not just producers of books but constructors of frames.
(To be clear, the language of frames and framing isn't new. The sociologist Erving Goffman speaks of frames; the MIT artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky likewise developed a theory of frames, as have cognitive linguists, book historians, cultural theorists, and media analysts.)
First, how do frames encompass the transition to digital? It's easy to imagine that ideas of containers are irrelevant in digital technology. However, digital technology itself comprises a delivery mechanism for content still subject to certain constraints -- that is, forms of delivery -- that comprise a large portion of its frame. Think of the screen. Digital content cannot be accessed 'directly', but is displayed on a screen. Whether E Ink, touchscreens, a projection on a wall, or simply a PC monitor, just as books typically have pages so digital technology has the screen as the primary unit of delivery and display. Screens frame content.