I do not consume podcasts

Could we just say what we mean? Do we mean ‘consume’ or ‘listen’?

by Rebekah Smith

Question of the Day When I had a college radio show the station manager would scold us for using insider lingo on the air. “Say ‘Public Service Announcement’ and not ‘cart'”, he would insist. Carts were these boxy looking tapes where the PSAs and other promos lived. You could easily jam them into a player, sort of like an 8-track tape, which made them ideal for these short bits. Today as more and more jargon infiltrates the language, I wish there were a staff meeting where someone would stand up and say, “Stop doing that! You sound like an idiot!”

Language evolves. Okay. But office is not a verb and I’m never going to say convo instead of conversation1. It’s bad enough that we can’t form a complete sentence without truncating any word with more than two syllables (note that “promotion” doesn’t merit the same consideration – see “promo” above). As for your “ask”, until you can make a simple request forget it. I’d also like to preserve the idea that I listen to podcasts as opposed to “consume” them. If we can’t do that, then what the hell can we do?

To consume (verb):

  1. to destroy or expend by use; use up.
  2. to eat or drink up; devour.
  3. to destroy, as by decomposition or burning:
  4. to spend (money, time, etc.) wastefully.
  5. to absorb; engross:
  6. to undergo destruction; waste away.
  7. to use or use up consumer goods.

In other words, while I am not likely to consume your podcast, if it’s any good I might be consumed by it.

Or by “consume” do you suggest that people are ingesting your show, like a blueberry pie? What if I consumed the whole pie? Who else could enjoy it? The Re-burger comes to mind. But literally eating shit is not the image you had hoped to conjure, I’m guessing.

As a consumer I might subscribe to satellite radio.

Consumer (noun):

  1. a person or thing that consumes.
  2. Economics. a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.
  3. Ecology. an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.

But even then why not call me a subscriber? As the consumer, I do not listen to anything.

I have no favorite shows.

I just write the checks.

Consumers consume. They use things up, things like gasoline and toilet paper. Okay. I love my toilet paper. So I’ll concede that being referred to as a consumer isn’t necessarily dehumanizing, but it’s not appropriate for every situation, especially if it supplants a more descriptive (and human) term (e.g., listener, audience, fan) for a crass economic one.

Do we consume art?

Movies?

Do children consume education?

I saw Maria Bamford at the Women’s Club in Minneapolis. Did I consume her comedy?

We don’t even use “consume” when it’s legit…legitimate. Did you have a sandwich for lunch or did you consume it? Do you like to eat pizza or do you prefer to consume it? Eat! Unless you gulp down the whole pie, who besides a statistician would ever say that you consumed it?

So why are we (primarily podcasters) good with the notion of “consuming” podcasts? What is the function of “consuming” over the accuracy of “listening to” or even “downloading” podcasts? This puzzled me at first. I imagined industry insiders trying to claim some expertise on the new frontier by defining the landscape with their own words. Then I noticed that “consume” was everywhere for no purpose that I could see. Take this example from an article in The Atlantic:

“Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption [emphasis added] of thousands or millions of listeners.” (Goudeau, 2017)

Entertainment consumption? Why not just entertainment? For the entertainment of…

Or here’s this from a Facebook group:

“…Here’s a snippet of our latest [podcast] for your consumption.”

Why not say “for your enjoyment”?

And this, also on Facebook:

“Podcasts are…easy to consume on car rides…”

Having access to a podcast from the car is really what is interesting here, not the fact that we – ahem – consume them there. So as “consume” generically stands in for more and more words, we obscure the point. It would be like missing how amazing it is to have overnight access to strawberries in the middle of a desert while noting that the people there devour them.

“Consuming podcasts” brings binging on them to mind (binge-listening and not binge-consuming, mind you). Both reference food. So we notice that people like binging on television shows even though there appears to be a correlation between doing this and feeling depressed (Karmakar and Sloan Kruger, 2016). What do we do? Point out that you can binge on podcasts too. When you consider the tragic outcomes associated with compulsive behavior (binge eating, drinking, gambling, etc.), the encouragement to binge seems like a pretty sadistic marketing campaign. It’s like coming up with a faster way to drink beer and selling it to alcoholics.

“Consume” reduces listeners to the single function of consumerism. That’s counter to the idea that podcasts have the potential to be uniquely personal. Be authentic!” we’re told. “Be yourself and connect to your audience!” How does this jive with imagining a guy “consuming” your podcast while he does the dishes? Could you ever say “Thank you for taking the time to consume my show?” without tripping the bullshit alarm? I can just see the look on my mother’s face. She’d cure me of that in a hurry.

In the meantime, I am no longer considered to be a customer at a department store. Instead, I am a guest.

Could we just say what we mean?

Do we mean consume or listen?

Do we tell stories to consumers or listeners?

Do we have fans or consumers who “convert”, buy the “merch” and use our promo codes?

At the same time I am sympathetic to the artist that exists in a system where people can make a living with a telemarketing scam or managing phantom money while there is little room for crafting beautiful things: podcasts, jewelry, a Harley carved out of an old piece of wood. How do you make a go of it? Sponsorships? Patrons? Grants? An underlying business that is served by the podcast? But even if the answer ultimately rests directly or indirectly in a consumer culture, why parrot marketing hacks? What is served by letting that language dominate how we talk about things like our favorite podcast? Or how we talk about the people who listen to our podcast?

Here’s more from Facebook:

“…there are so many great new shows and I want to consume them all!”

“Since I am a Swede I consume some Swedish podcasts.”

Perhaps the idea of “consuming podcasts” is rooted elsewhere. As I poked around, trying to figure out where this comes from, I noticed references to RSS readers “consuming feeds” (“Feeds”! How perfect!), which predates the notion of people consuming them, as far as I could tell. I also saw articles about writing code that consumes RSS feeds, applications that consume them, tools, etc. At some point there is a shift where it’s the people and not the machines that do the consuming. I suspect this is a coincidence, but I’m not sure.

Or could it be that we have inferred that if we can digest a podcast it makes sense that we would have consumed it first, like that blueberry pie. That’s cute but I doubt it.

It might have sufficed to say that I don’t know when or why we swapped listening for consuming. I just know that I bristle to hear it and so have the scientifically insignificant sample of non-podcasters I’ve asked about it. However it goes, please stop.

I do not consume your show.

I listen to it.

I am a person.

You sound like an idiot.

Notes:

1 Merriam-Webster mercifully does not currently recognize “convo”. However, I found this horrifying example of the word at Dictionary.com: “My work is mostly convoing with customers.” Holy shit.

Goudeau, Jessica (April 9, 2017). “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?. The Atlantic. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/04/was-the-art-of-s-town-worth-the-pain/522366/

Karmakar, Monita and Sloan Kruger, Jessica (March 4, 2016). “Is binge-watching bad for your mental health?”. The Guardian. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/04/binge-watching-mental-health-effects-research

Apologize When You’ve Done Something Wrong

On Facebook a friend shared the following post about apologies from the Instagram account of FeministVoice (December 21, 2016).

“lately i’ve been replacing my ‘i’m sorry’s with ‘thank you’s’ like instead of ‘sorry i’m late’ i’ll say ‘thanks for waiting for me’, or instead of ‘sorry for being such a mess’ i’ll say ‘thank you for loving me and caring about me unconditionally’ and it’s not only shifted the way i think and feel about myself but also improved my relationships with others who now get to receive my gratitude instead of my negativity.”

As of this writing, 58 people have liked the post and 54 have shared it.

Why?

“How do you know when you’ve heard a sincere apology?” is a question I’ve been asking for a future episode of my podcast, QuOTeD. So the suggestion to substitute our sorries with our gratitude struck me a little funny. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a load of crap.

The impulse to rein in unnecessary apologies is understandable. But broadly replacing them with gratitude feels false. It discounts why we apologize.

What tells the truth? What connects? What heals? According to the handful of random people who responded to my question so far, this is exactly the purpose of an apology. It

Tells the truth.
Connects.
Heals.

Apologies move us through conflict. They are not the cause of our low self-esteem or the reason for negativity in our lives. Whereas these things might be exacerbated when we hide from our imperfections instead of embracing them, which an apology can help us do.

Sincere apologies tell the truth, connect and heal.

Unlike an apology, gratitude does not necessarily acknowledge the reality of the harmed party (i.e., the truth). In the case of the above post, gratitude is primarily concerned with the comfort of the offender who wants to avoid conflict. So, instead of facing how our actions may have negatively affected another, it’s easier to conflate apologies with self-hatred or attach them to our critics who demand perfection. Or we might have personal issues that make apologies difficult. Now “self-care” gets to mean that we should be overly concerned about how much we apologize. Be careful with your pruning. It turns out that the words “I’m sorry” do matter. When wronged, people want to hear those words and they notice when they don’t. In some cases, they remember these instances forever.

Not to overblow the issue of tardiness, thanking me for waiting for you does nothing to acknowledge my reality, except to say that I did wait some undetermined amount of time – which you have deemed trivial. This fact is divorced from whatever might have been going on for me logistically, emotionally or whatever (i.e, my reality). Maybe I was irritated. In this case, a pre-emptive “thank you” becomes a means to manage and control my response. That hardly sounds like genuine gratitude to me. Just like corporate speak, it aims to redefine my reality without consulting me. It’s creepy. It also glosses over what is being communicated. Situations vary, but you’re being 15 minutes late tells me that I do not matter. Someone is a few minutes late and now I don’t matter? To clarify, I know that I do matter. And it’s why I can recognize it when I’m being treated as if I don’t.

It might be more helpful to ask “What does it mean to honor someone?” At minimum wouldn’t we show up on time and be fully present once there? The habitually late who want to see themselves as free spirits as opposed to as passive aggressive control freaks who can’t think of a better way to claim their power will cringe to hear that honoring your word by being on time matters. Your calendar might try to prove helplessness. It is crammed with soccer games, good causes, appointments, even double-bookings. My first impulse is to make reassurances. We’ve all been late. Nobody is perfect. But this is off the topic. Instead, I refer you to this unapologetic article about tardiness in which self-respect requires directly and gently confronting those who keep us waiting.

People who talked to me for QuOTeD also tended to want apologies to be coupled with change. Does being grateful accomplish this? No. But it does suggest what I can expect from you in the future. The lack of an apology indicates that no change is needed. Moreover, what you don’t say is up for interpretation. When you change the subject (i.e., say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”) I might conclude that under (your) terms of this relationship it is not acceptable to voice my dissatisfaction. I am to be silent about feeling annoyed and disrespected. This is the definition of dysfunction.

What you do say is also up for interpretation because you are not being straight, which has been the problem all along. Thanking me for something I didn’t willingly give you is another way to tell me that you’re in charge and that I can expect more of the same. You’ll continue to be some kind of lovable pocket-picking airhead that is incapable of anticipating traffic and I’ll play the supporting actor who serves to absolve you of your guilt by “accepting you as you are” at the expense of my own dignity.

To put it in the harshest terms, your self-love is buttressed by my self-hatred.

Apologies such as “sorry I’m late” sound hollow because they’re commonly offered without pausing enough to mean what we say. They’re filled with clichés about (self-imposed) emergencies, (predictable) traffic jams and (supposedly) lofty priorities. But instead of dropping the shallow apology, what about deepening it? What about just being sincere? What about intentionally honoring people? For me, it’s not that I’m incapable of getting my mother’s birthday card in the mail on time, which (it pains me to say) I don’t always do. It’s that I have never thought about it in these terms: Honoring her. What if I did? Might that change my behavior without perfection becoming the unreachable goal that constantly nags me? In any case, if you’re always late and don’t intend to make any adjustments, no apology is necessary. At some point it’s on me to decide whether I want to continue to make plans with someone who is unreliable or fill-in-the-blank, but that’s another story and again one that is addressed in this article.

But what about the apologies that really are driven by insecurities and self-hatred? For example, I don’t need to apologize to the plumber because my house is a mess. However, nor do I need to thank him or her for excusing it. And as mentioned before, these aren’t really apologies anyway as they aren’t intended to empathize with another person by diving into their reality. They’re just words intended to ease our own discomfort. They’re social niceties. Is that the end of the world? Regardless, no one will care if we ditch them.

Mrs. Roosevelt apologizes to students for the disarray of the White House rooms which are being prepared for air raids.[Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer Washington, D.C. 1942 Feb. Library of Congress. Under the auspices of the Bureau of University Travel and the National Capital School Visitors' Council, over 200 high school students chosen for their intellectual alertness visited Washington for a week. Mrs. Roosevelt apologizes to students for the disarray of the White House rooms which are being prepared for air raids.]

On the other hand, what if you ruin my favorite sweater? Are you going to apologize and try to make it right? Or are you going to thank me for not being materialistic and accepting that you’re no Martha Stewart in the laundry room? I’d hate to think of what a person like this would say should I find them screwing my husband! These are extreme examples and probably not the point of the post. But it’s helpful to see where the logic takes us. It breaks down with a capful of Clorox.

Keep it real, people. Say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong.