“Consuming Content”

There is a common phrase that, though it makes sense as to its usage, doesn’t seem like the best option. The phrase is “consuming content”.

We say “consuming content” as a way to sum up the act of reading, listening, viewing, and other ways of taking in various forms of media and entertainment. We keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what we think it means.

Consume (verb): eat, drink, or ingest (food or drink); buy; use up.

Content (noun): everything that is included in a collection and that is held or included in something.

To say that I am “creating content” for this website is a fancy way of saying that I’m writing. The phrase creating content could be boiled down to simply creating. Or, when we talk about creating content, why not be more specific? Writing, drawing, designing, building, working.

If you were to say that you are “consuming the content” on this website, it would be a fancy way of saying you are reading. But consuming has far more relation to food than it does to words. It would be awkward for me to say that this website doesn’t have readers, it has consumers.

On the other hand, it would not be as awkward for someone to say they are “consuming a novel”. Though there are better ways to say it. In context the meaning of the phrase is meant to imply that the novel is fantastic and the reader is reading it quickly and eagerly. Therefore, in place of the word “consume”, perhaps “devour” would be better — “I am devouring this novel.” Or, if you simply must use consume, how about: “This novel has consumed me.”

Where these phrases have especially begun to irk me is in sentences like this: “The iPad is for consuming, not creating.” For one, it’s not true — you can create things using the iPad. And secondly, what does it even mean to say that the iPad is for consuming and not for creating?

Using the current lingo, I would be perfectly in line to say that I use my MacBook Air to create content and my iPad to consume it. However, what I actually mean by that sentence is that I do most of my writing, developing, and designing on my laptop, and I do most of my reading on my iPad.

When people say that the iPad is for consuming and not creating I think what they mean is that it’s better as a reading device than as a writing device; it’s better for watching videos than filming and editing them; it is better for surfing the Web than for building a website.

And I think that is fair. I know in my real-life usage I “consume” on the iPad far more than I “create” on it. But I long for a better way to describe that. A description that is more in line with what it actually means. The term “consuming” brings with it the idea of haste and need, something I don’t wish to imply when what I’m actually doing is enjoying a well-written article while drinking a fresh cup of coffee.

Content is something in a collection. Such as the contents of a magazine, the contents of a library, or the contents of my Instapaper queue. A magazine may be full of content that I read, but when would I ever say that I am “consuming content” when what I’m actually doing is “reading a magazine”? Moreover, when we use a blanket statement like “consuming content” to say what the iPad is for, then it brings in other actives and media types such as reading books and watching movies.

Would I say that Last of the Mohicans is “content”? Of course not. It’s a movie; it’s art. I’m not “consuming content” when I go to the movies — I am “watching a movie”.

On my computer I do create things — sometimes it is content for my website, but sometimes it is something else. On my iPad I don’t “consume content”. I read, I watch, I share, I learn.

“Consuming Content”