How Podcasts Changed The Nature of Influence


Recently, I was watching an interview with actor Ed Norton talking about climate change. Halfway through the interview, I found myself thinking, "wait, why should I give a shit what the guy from Fight Club thinks about sea-level rise?" Nothing against Ed Norton, but I don't think Hollywood actors hold the same influence they used to, at least not in my circle of friends.

Conversely, for the first time in history, academics like Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson can fill stadiums previously reserved for rockstars. Mostly young people in their twenties and thirties occupy these events and sit on the edge of their seats as they listen to experts debate subjects like the nature of morality.

I believe long-form podcasting is mostly responsible for this shift in perception. I am part of the first generation to witness celebrities attempt to hold a 2-hour plus conversations, unedited.

Like lambs to the slaughter, the interviews always go the same way: For the first 20-minutes, the celeb leans on catchy soundbites. This has worked great for them during TV interviews, so they try to do the same song and dance on the podcast. Their miscalculation is that TV interviews rarely run longer than 20-minutes, but this podcast train is just building steam. At around the 30-minute mark, they begin to launch into topics that they know nothing about, and everyone listening starts to get confused. By one-hour, the celeb has stumbled through so empty statements it becomes clear that they are just a self-absorbed narcissist who never bothered to learn about anything except themselves.

On the flip side, there are few spectacles more impressive than a podcast guest who has mastered a subject. These tend to be intellectuals who have spent a lifetime learning and teaching. It's even more impressive when the expert can humbly say, "I don't know."

Fame for the sake of fame no longer holds the value it once did. Credibility, authenticity, and intellectual curiosity are now the most valuable commodities on the street.