“Consume” refers to what we do with food: we ingest it, after which the food as such no longer exists. By analogy, we employ the same word for other products whose use uses them up. Applying it to durable goods, such as clothing or appliances, is a stretch. Applying it to published works (programs, recordings on a disk or in a file, books on paper or in a file), whose nature is to last indefinitely and which can be run, played or read any number of times, is stretching the word so far that it snaps. Playing a recording, or running a program, does not consume it.
Those who use “consume” in this context will say they don't mean it literally. What, then, does it mean? It means to regard copies of software and other works from a narrow economistic point of view. “Consume” is associated with the economics of material commodities, such as the fuel or electricity that a car uses up. Gasoline is a commodity, and so is electricity. Commodities are fungible: there is nothing special about a drop of gasoline that your car burns today versus another drop that it burned last week.
What does it mean to think of works of authorship as a commodity, with the assumption that there is nothing special about any one story, article, program, or song? That is the twisted viewpoint of the owner or the accountant of a publishing company. It is no surprise that proprietary software would like you to think of the use of software as a commodity. Their twisted viewpoint comes through clearly in this article, which also refers to publications as “content.”
The narrow thinking associated with the idea that we “consume content” paves the way for laws such as the DMCA that forbid users to break the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) facilities in digital devices. If users think what they do with these devices is “consume,” they may see such restrictions as natural.
It also encourages the acceptance of “streaming” services, which use DRM to perversely limit listening to music, or watching video, to squeeze those activities into the assumptions of the word “consume.”
Why is this perverse usage spreading? Some may feel that the term sounds sophisticated, but rejecting it with cogent reasons can appear even more sophisticated. Some want to generalize about all kinds of media, but the usual English verbs (“Post too long. Click here to view the full text.