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 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

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