I have difficulty with the word “consume.” It’s pretty simple, actually.
The primary dictionary definition of consume is “to do away with completely; to destroy” (as in consumed by fire) and “to spend wastefully; to squander or use up” (as in playing tennis consumed his time).
[Sidenote: I realize that spending one's time playing tennis is not necessarily wasteful, and I will happily squander my time in nature, however I would use a different verb for either activity regardless.]
I struggle with the term when its other definitions — such as “to eat or drink especially in great quantity” and “to utilize as a customer” — are mapped onto this traditional definition. I’m reminded more of situations in which (as Jerry Michalski has said for many years) being a “consumer” is little more than a gullet with eyeballs and a wallet. When I enjoy an ice cream cone or wear a new shirt, I am definitely more than that!
Jerry is actually the inspiration for many of these thoughts. His video on “That Troubling Word, ‘Consumer‘” is one of my favorites. He also knows a lot more about the topic than I do. But still…
In my opinion, “consumption” leaves true meaning on the table. It falls fall short of what it’s intended to convey, and it trivializes the human being who’s “consuming.”
This shortfall extends also to notions of “collaborative consumption.” I am a huge advocate and evangelist of sharing-based business models and other “new economy” ventures that, broadly speaking, are termed to be part of the collaborative consumption movement. (More on my interest in the Share Economy in an earlier post.) However, even if collaborative, it still feels vulgar to call it consumption.
My goal is this: to improve upon the word ‘consume’ in a way that can also improve collaborative consumption. Similar to how the term ‘consumer’ today often has been replaced by customer, client or guest, can’t we develop a better overall lexicon for other parts of speech too?
I welcome all ideas and suggestions along these lines and would be delighted to lead a broader conversation on this topic. Yet another form of Sharing…