- Media consumption -

I hear this phrase all over the place as a medium-independent synonym for "reading books, watching movies, looking at stuff online, ...". The variant "content consumption" has also become popular lately among content-marketing types.

Unfortunately, it's dumb.

My beloved Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary (1966) lists the following definitions for "consume".
  1. to destroy, as by burning
  2. to eat, drink, or use up
  3. to squander, as money or time

Content (text, video, audio) is information.  Information is intangible, therefore indestructible, therefore inconsumable.  The phrase "content consumption" is self-contradictory.

A creative work gains influence every time it is referenced.  Widely discussed works (e.g. Shakespeare) become effectively immortal, their themes preserved in the minds of countless readers and their ideas carried forward by derivative and influenced works.  It is not unusual for an idea to outlive the person who first wrote it down.

> Only wimps use tape backup: real men
> just upload their important stuff on
> ftp, and let the rest of the world
> mirror it ;) -- Torvalds, Linus
> (1996-07-20)

If anything, our brains are the petri dishes being "consumed" via ideas, not the other way around.

This is something that's hard to get used to if you're used to selling consumer goods.  Most consumer goods are, tautologically, "consumables", which lose efficacy as they are consumed.  Eventually the mojo runs out and you have to buy some more.  Intangibles, on the other hand, flourish when they are "consumed".  It is very strange to hear a word rooted in the physical world used to describe intangibles, especially in a way that sets up a false equivalence between material goods and intangible goods.

Back in ye olde days, this used to be roughly true, because intangible goods could only be experienced through limited material wrappers.  If you bought music on a record or tape, it'd eventually wear out and need to be replaced.  If you lent a book to someone, you couldn't read that book until they gave it back to you.  And so forth.

But digital media doesn't have this limitation.  If you watch movies online, the only thing you're consuming is electricity.

So why do we still apply the word "consume" to media?  Well, probably because we have been conditioned (over hundreds of years) to think of media as a material good rather than an intangible good.  And because creative types, understandably, tend to like the idea of selling their works in order to make money :-)  It's much easier to sell a cd than an idea.

This is also how you wind up with single-serve digital media such as on-demand movie and ebook rentals.  It's not like the rental "wears out" after you've seen it once;  rather, your computer automatically deletes it.  From a technical standpoint, this kind of DRM is super hard to get right.  But for the types of people who think about media as a "consumable", self-destructing rentals seem natural and inevitable.  Classic doublespeak.  Neat eh?

Even so, humans are shaped by millions of years of evolution to be copy-machines, so there will always be a strong incentive to defeat DRM, no matter how good its PR is.


- If you actually want to sound like a marketing drone, try out the phrase "engaging with content" rather than "consuming content".  It is still a very weird fluffy hand-wavy woo-woo phrase, but at least it makes a bare semblance of logical sense.

- Conspiracy theories are fun.

- Information wants to be free!
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