New York Times contributing writer Molly Worthen shares about Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss, and Lewis Howes and why she believes the podcast bros want to you to optimize your life.
The New York Times – Molly Worthen
Ladies and gentlemen, on today’s show, we discuss Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss and Lewis House, and why today’s guest, Molly Worthen believes that the podcast Bros want you to optimize your life. You might be saying, well, who’s Molly Worthen? Well, Molly Worthen is a New York Times contributing writer and she wrote an article called why the podcast Bros want you to optimize your life. If you’re a fan of podcasts, I think you’re going to enjoy today’s interview. As Molly Worthen explains the phenomenon of podcasts and why they are turning. More and more listeners off of broadcasts and onto podcasts as we deep dive and discuss the podcast pros that she calls the podcast rose. Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, it is our pleasure to introduce to you Molly worth
On today’s show we have an incredible guest. Molly Worthen, welcome to the thrive time show. How are you?
I’m well, thanks for having me.
Well, Molly Worthen, you are an interesting person and I would like for you to share with the listeners out there who are interested, can you share with the listeners what you do for a living?
My full time job is teaching history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I teach mainly the history of ideas, especially religion in the United States and Canada and the broader Western world. But I’m also a journalist. I started out as a freelance writer. That was my interest before I got into the academic study of history. And so I continued to do some writing mainly for the New York Times on the side about the role of religion in public life, about higher Ed, about the role of ideas in pop culture more generally.
Why did you decide to become a journalist? Does this be something you’ve always been very interested in as like a young child or when did you first get that, that desire to, to dive deep into subjects and, and to write about them?
I guess it began when I was an undergraduate. Other people are really interesting and I think you know this as well as anyone. If you can find an excuse that lets you just ask other people questions for hours on end and they will sit and put up with you. Well take that opportunity. I guess that for me has, has been the draw. And I started out working for my college paper and interning for city newspaper here and there in Dallas, Texas and Toledo, Ohio. And I guess I, I had a bit of a detour. I and I was able to turn an undergraduate project I was working on into my first book and then when it came time to have to face the music and figure out a job, I thought well I want to keep staying in school cause it’s so fun.
And if I can get to just read books for a living a little while longer, I’d like that. But I didn’t really see myself as a traditional academic. I thought I would be a religion writer, but I needed to actually have some knowledge to contribute to the vast sea of writing about religion that’s so full of a lot of mediocrity. I didn’t really want to just echo what other people were already doing and I simply didn’t know enough. So I thought I need to spend some years learning the history of religious communities, reading their scriptures. And I suppose I came to terms with my risk averse temperament and realized maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a full time freelance writer since while I was in graduate school. The, the bottom fell out from journalism as a, as a livelihood, even more than it did academia. And so now my, my regular job kind of subsidizes my journalistic work and they really dovetail well because I’m able to study American religion both from the perspective of what the archival documents tell us and what are, you know all the, all the dead people whisper in our ears through the writing stage left as well as what living breathing members of these communities say
What is the other piece, and it’s probably impossible to choose a specific piece, but what does maybe the piece of literature or what are some of the literature that you’ve written that you’re the most proud of, whether it be a book or articles or books and articles. I would just love to know from your perspective what are the ones that have maybe resonated with the most people are one’s Molly Worthen where you go. That was good.
That’s, that’s an interesting question. I suppose you know you’ve asked a couple of questions there and maybe sometimes the piece that resonates with the most people is the one you’re also the proudest of and sometimes, yeah, those two are not the same. I suppose. It’s been interesting to me that of all of the articles I’ve written, and I’ve written a lot over the 10 plus years I’ve, I’ve read the writing for newspapers and magazines a far, the one that has gained the most readers that has been tweeted, the most that I still hear the most about is a somewhat grumpy article. I wrote defending the old fashioned lecture as a, as a mode of teaching in university and pushing back against the active learning crowd that sees the lecturer as just this deadening boring vestige of the 19th century that doesn’t teach students anything.
And that is so contrary to my own experience, both as a student and as a professor that I felt the need to, to defend it and to talk about how actually it is a quite active, engaging process if a is done well on the art of note taking. And I was really pleasantly surprised because I, when I wrote it, I felt myself to be in the minority and I am. But I heard from so many fellow teachers across different disciplines and from so many readers just writing with their own memories about a really great lecture course they took in college, that really formed them. And that response made me feel, I guess a bit less alone in trying to hold my finger in the dyke against so many modernizing trends in higher education that I think sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water and don’t always recognize what’s really good about traditional things we’ve done. So I’m, I guess I’m proud of that piece and I, and I am pleased with the way that it, it resonated and it, it showed the breadth of opinion about, about these matters.
You know, I, I want to switch gears and dive into a specific piece that you wrote called the podcast. Pros want you to optimize your life, which know you’re a contributing opinion editor for the New York Times. And that’s where I first read this article and it was talking about Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss, Lewis Howes. And I just thought I would, I wanted to of dive into your deep knowledge of this subject here. In your article, you discussed how Joe Rogan is estimated to have, you know, nearly 30,000 or sorry, 30 million, 30 million, which is more than 1,030 million downloads per month. What, what is your prediction for the future of, of podcasting and for podcasts like Joe Rogan [inaudible]?
I think podcasting as a platform is just really at the center of, of energy, of media energy right now. And I’m exploding at an amazing pace. And I think what we’re rediscovering is that even though technology makes it possible to have a, a fully absorbing media experience not just visual, but even virtual reality. One that totally sucks you out of your life. In fact, humans need to be able to multitask. And so the power of a purely audio, a purely are all a platform. Like most podcasts are is really positioned to capitalize on our busy-ness, on the fact that we want to be entertained and informed as we’re going about our lives. So I think, you know, it’s no surprise that our book, audio books and podcasts are exploding. And what I found particularly encouraging about really long form podcasts like Joe Rogan, his episodes often go, you know, two or three hours is that it pushes back against this idea that human attention spans are eroding and people can only process and only want information in tiny snippets. I mean I think so of the appeal of Rogan in particular and a lot of these guys, cause a lot of these fellows I have nicknamed the podcast Bros opt for this quite long form interview format. Yeah. They, they, their success shows that people are hungry for a really immersive conversation that makes it feel as if they’re, you know, hanging out with their buddies and really able to follow complicated trains of thought and get deep into issues in a way that, you know, the 32nd sound bite just does not permit.
I am going to ask you a question that a I hate, I hate when people ask me three-part questions where it’s like, hard to keep track of what the question was because there’s so many questions. So I’ll try to not do that to you. But Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss and Lewis House, what makes the triumvirate of ultra podcast success? What makes those three guys successful? When you can break it down one by one or however you best want to do it. I just wanna know why do you believe that Joe Rogan, Tim Ferris and Lewis Hauser so loved as podcasters?
That’s interesting that you choose those three in, you know, in my, in my research I put together a really vast, well vast is maybe putting it too strongly, a pretty large network of at least a couple of dozen podcast bros who each have their own niche. And I would say that Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss, if we’re judging purely by number of downloads by, you know, in the case of Farris, millions of books sold, money generated they and especially rogue and really room above the other Lewis House’s interesting in that he rec he represents maybe with his school of greatness, a series of conferences and books. The particular kind of self help self-improvement. We’re, how to translate all of what you’re learning into becoming a better leader thread in this podcast world. I think Tim Ferriss and Rogan represent slightly different things. Tim Ferris, you know has called himself the human Guinea pig and made a name for himself by trying and sampling every health and wellness related trend he comes upon.
And so he’s combined this, I think, desire. His audience has to feel as if they are on kind of the cutting edge of scientific pursuit of holistic health and maximizing performance with a sincere curiosity as to how successful people have reached their success. So the other aspect of Ferris’s genius is to do these deep dive interviews with, you know, wide range of, of people from you know, famous politicians like Cory booker to, you know, inmates in San Quentin prison. To ask, you know, how have you survived? How have you done what done, you know, what have you learned in your life in a, in a fairly nonpartisan way. And I think Rogan is kind of, his themes are, maybe I’m slightly different in that. He has, I guess he has this kind of interests in, in health and wellness as he’s become famous.
And he’s, they’re all sort of all these guys that are a bit easy to mock for their Kale and garlic and ginger stuff, movies and their float tanks and they’re pretty easy diets, right? Certainly Rogan Rogan’s into that, you know, he’s very into [inaudible], you know liberalizing the rules and recreational drugs and so forth. But his long ranging conversations are maybe not quite so targeted as Tim Ferriss. He has a different approach, but he’s like Ferris, very interested in transcending the tribalism. And the polarization that characterizes a American political culture today. I mean, I’ve listened to a lot of his episodes trying to pin down his politics and you can find podcast episodes where he will say, I am on the left, but, and he’ll go on to criticize left wing identity policy. Yeah. Then in another episode he’ll criticize Donald Trump for really the same thing for tribalism.
And that’s a theme that I, as I listened to more and more of these podcast guys, as different as they are they all really seek to pull their listeners out of that morass of culture where politics and I think they’ve had such success because people are sick of that. The stories of victimization, they don’t want to be told they’re a victim. They don’t want to be told they’re, you know, simply at the mercy of an US versus them a political narrative. They want to feel as if you’ve given them the tools to be the heroes in their own story.
What I’ve discovered too is if you turn on like Fox News tonight, you turn on Fox News, you’re going to get basically this, this Justin, somebody on the left did something bad. The world’s gonna end soon. And by the way, by the way, Trump is amazing. And then you turn to CNN. It’s just in Trump is terrible. The Republicans hate everybody back to you. I mean, it’s just, it’s so polarizing. So it’s just ridiculous. I love that they get into practical, actionable things you can apply in your life. And I wanted, I have, we have time for two more, two more questions. And Josh, one of our show sponsors is here with us. He joins us inside the studio. Josh meet up. Molly Worthen, Josh, Molly, my, Josh. Hey Molly Worthen. Oh wait, sorry. I just muted. Oh, he muted me. I was passive aggressive. Aggressive.
Okay, let’s try that again. Josh. Molly, Molly, Josh. Hey Molly Worthen. Hey. So in your just a quick question for you. So in your preparation and the time that you spent researching and stuff, a lot of podcasts are very informational. Did you see kind of as societal and where we’re at as a lot of folks just taking the acquisition of knowledge? Or do you see a lot of actual applications? So our show, we talk about a lot of action and doing so do you see a lot of folks listening to these shows and an actually putting those things into action and application or just more as the acquisition of knowledge?
That’s a great question. And what I found so interesting about this network of podcasters is that their fans don’t just listen passively and even go beyond, you know, go going out to Barnes and noble to pick out their books and read them and then sit passively with that. They actually really put a lot of these practices and ideas of these pod-casters advocate into practice in their own lives. I mean, I’m a fundamentally a scholar of religion and I got really interested in these guys because the more I learned about them, the more I learned about the, the kind of smorgasbord of quats I spiritual practices, mindfulness stuff. Shamanisms you know, Iowasca, you know, IB Marcus and the Aubrey Marcus podcast. You, the buddy of Joe Rogan’s is super into use of psychedelics to evoke a higher state of consciousness. I combined that with like the fascination with fasting and changing your diet.
I came to see these podcasters as really leading almost a pseudo religious denomination. And I interviewed fans of their who have adopted fasting, who have, you know, changed their diets to, you know, align up with what Tim Ferriss suggests. I interviewed this one woman who she’s in the armed forces, she’s deployed off the coast of South Korea. She feels really lonely and isolated, but she listens to Aubrey Marcus’s podcast every day. And she has adopted his workout routine. She starts her morning with a four minute cold shower and drinks some, you know, water laced with a mineral falls, just like he advocates. And not only does it give her the sense of control over her own health, but she said, you know, it makes her feel connected with this community, not just of Marcus, but his other listeners all around the globe. So, absolutely these listeners take what they hear and they put them into practice in their lives. Really, I think to feel a kind of spiritual social void.
You know, Molly Worthen, I I would describe your writing as it’s writing laced with knowledge bombs. You go really deep on things and I think the listeners out there a few of them are, are going to want to learn more about you or want to know what projects you’re working on or how they could learn more about you. What’s the newest project you’re working on and where can people find more information about you?
Well, I always have, I’m always working on a new article for the New York Times. So just googling my name and the New York Times brings up a bunch of short articles on, on everything from the Christian rights to things that are wrong and sometimes right in higher ed today. And then I’m also working on an audio course for audible. Amazon’s a oral platform audio platform on charismatic leaders who be made America. This is gonna come out next year and it pairs each lecture. It’s a series of lectures, pears two leaders from every aspect of society ranging from famous presidents. You’ve heard of too obscure religious gurus you’ve probably never heard of and use as their stories as ways into this question of what makes a leader charismatic, what explains that ineffable connection between leaders and followers. And this kind of builds on my interest on religion. I, my last book was a kind of an history of the role of ideas in the Christian rights called apostles of reason, the crisis of authority in American evangelicalism. But I take that lens on, you know, the human as really a fundamentally religious creature. And I, I try to turn it in a broader way with articles like this one on the podcast Bros. Molly Worthen,
I I appreciate your time so much and, and I thank you for going deep and writing this great article, which led me to you in this Unicorn of it. And thank you for agreeing to do the interview.
Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.
Well and I and I hopefully, hopefully this podcast is going to get you several, dozens, millions, thousands. I’m not sure the number we want. We if you thrive nation, if you are interested in what you just heard today, check her out today. Google search. You’ve got to find her because we want to show some love to miss Molly Worthen here. Thank you ma’am and hope you have a great day.
Thank you very much
And now without any further ed two three boom. One quick tip that you won’t find on the Joe Rogan podcast or the Tim Ferriss podcast or the Lewis Howes podcast is a is a fitness tip given by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is actual audio of Arnold Schwarzenegger giving a tip to you. The listeners from the hit movie called pumping iron and I’m not making this up. This wasn’t adjusted, it wasn’t edited. This is an actual excerpt of honor. Arnold Schwarzenegger giving you the listeners fitness tips from the movie pumping iron. Look it up. This is a real scene from the movie pumping iron.
So I taught him how to scream, you know, first of all, I oiled him, obviously up his body and Oh, it’s really heavy oil. And every sings, it was standing there in the shower room and a tod didn’t do how the do it.