Follow Friday
Boomer memes, the power of naps, and hustle culture

Kevin Roose (The New York Times)

New York Times columnist Kevin Roose is best known for writing and podcasting about online extremism and disinformation. But his new book, Futureproof, is a practical guide that offers "9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation," making it a sort of self-help book for people who don't want to be replaced by robots.

"I was talking to someone yesterday and they said, did you write a self-help book?" Roose says on today's episode of Follow Friday. "And it's like, well, literally yes. I was trying to help myself."

He also talks with Eric Johnson about the risk of "becoming a monster" on Twitter, why a Facebook page for Christian moms makes him jealous, and the celebrity entrepreneur he's embarrassed to admit he follows. Plus: Why you should take a nap after this podcast is done.

Follow us:
- Kevin is @kevinroose on Twitter
- This show is @followfridaypod on Twitter and Instagram
- Eric is @heyheyesj on Twitter

Who Kevin follows:
- Astead W. Herndon
- The Horse Mafia
- The Nap Ministry
- Gary Vaynerchuk

Rate Follow Friday: LoveThePodcast.com/FollowFriday

Theme song written by Eric Johnson, and performed by Yona Marie. Show art by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music and Katherine Chang.
Full transcript of this episode
Click to expand
KEVIN: "Good morning! Sending you smiles and sunshine for your Friday. God bless you!" And it's a picture of a dog in a tea cup, with a clip art sun shining brightly in the background.

ERIC: This is the sort of thing that makes Kevin Roose from the New York Times jealous. And he's gonna explain why, today on Follow Friday.

[ad + theme song]

ERIC: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a show about the best people on the internet and why you should follow them. If you're new to the show, welcome! Every week, I talk to the internet creators I admire most about who they follow online. These include podcasters, writers, comedians, musicians, and more. They have amazing taste and will guide us to the people they find fascinating who we should be following, too.

Today on the show is Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for the New York Times and the host of the podcast Rabbit Hole. He's also the author of three books: The Unlikely Disciple, Young Money, and a brand-new book called Futureproof: Nine Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation. I've asked him to read an excerpt from the introduction to Futureproof here. So Kevin, take it away.

KEVIN: "Whether you think AI and automation will be great or terrible for humanity, it's important to remember that none of this is predetermined. Executives, not algorithms, decide whether to replace human workers. Regulators, not robots, decide what limits to place on emerging technologies like facial recognition and targeted digital advertising. The engineers building new forms of AI have a say in how those tools are designed, and users can decide whether these tools are morally acceptable or not. This is the truth about the AI revolution. There's no looming machine takeover, no army of malevolent robots, plotting to rise up and enslave us. It's just people deciding what kind of society we want."

ERIC: Well, clearly, Kevin has never seen my favorite documentary, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that's all right. You can find Futureproof wherever you buy books, or futureproofthebook.com. So Kevin, welcome to Follow Friday!

KEVIN: Thanks so much for having me!

ERIC: So given this show is all about pushing back on letting algorithms tell us who to follow, I am really excited about Futureproof, I'm happy to have you on the show today. Congrats on the new book.

KEVIN: Thanks so much. Yeah, it's been fun. This is a very early stop in my book tour. So you're getting the unvarnished, less practiced... You're getting the, the rough cut.

ERIC: I wouldn't ask for anything else. So, before you were a New York Times columnist or an author or a podcaster, I remember reading about you in a book called The Year of Living Biblically. In the book, you were a slave. Do you wanna explain what that was about?

KEVIN: [laughs] Yeah, so this was my first job. I was still in college and I wanted to intern for this author named A.J. Jacobs, whose books I loved. So, I wrote him a letter and I said, "I'm a college student. I want to be a writer someday. Can I come intern for you, for the summer? I'll pick up your dry cleaning. I'll do your grocery shopping, whatever you need.

And A.J., who has become a great friend and a mentor, wrote back, and he said, "I'd be happy to give you an internship, but under one condition: I'm writing a book or I try to follow all the rules in the Bible for an entire year, including the very obscure ones that no one follows. And part of the book that I've been struggling with is how to handle the parts of the Bible about slavery." So he says, "If I make you my intern, is it OK if I refer to you as my Biblical slave?" So I said, "Sure." And he put me in his book and that was the start of a long and fruitful friendship.

ERIC: Well, let's find out who Kevin Roose, the now-accomplished, now-successful author follows. If you want to follow along with us, everything we talk about today will be linked in the show notes and on our website, FollowFridayPodcast.com.

So Kevin, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories. Your first pick is in the category "someone who makes you laugh." And you said your colleague Astead W. Herndon, who's on Twitter @AsteadWesley. So tell us about Astead and what he does, why he makes you laugh.

KEVIN: So Astead is one of my colleagues. I like him a lot in person, but on Twitter, he's sort of pulled off this amazing balancing act. He would be mortified if he heard this and knew that I was talking about him in these terms.

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: He's a little bit younger than I am, he's on our politics team. He's an amazing reporter. His work is so, so good. He covers politics and was covering the 2020 campaign on the road.

And a thing that I have often felt in the course of doing this job at the New York Times over the last few years is that it's so hard to not become a cartoon version of yourself, and so hard not to get locked into this avatar personality that you hate.

ERIC: Yeah.

KEVIN: And Astead is really like good at ... he doesn't take himself too seriously, but he tweets about serious things, but he also tweets about, like, his favorite soccer team and has great meme game and also engages with serious conversations, without like ... I feel constantly jealous of people who are able to walk that line between being a serious person, but not acting like you think you're a serious person or something?

ERIC: It's sort of like taking like a total vitamin. He's giving you everything you need. If you only follow a couple of people on Twitter, he will give you news and memes and jokes and commentary. It's a lot of different things all at once.

KEVIN: Yeah. And it's like, he has managed to avoid, I don't know how he feels about his Twitter personality, but I often feel like my Twitter personality is like, not me. It's like this other version of me that I have created and that I often think is not as cool or not as funny or not as interesting as who I am, because Twitter sort of like flattens people into these two-dimensional modes of expression.

And I know this is like ... I love my job and I I have very few complaints about it. But one thing that is hard about being at the New York Times is that you become a sort of ambassador for the institution, in ways that are good, but also in ways that are bad. And like, you know that you have f**ked up on Twitter when people are just quoting your tweet and doing the down-pointing arrow and saying like "New York Times reporter."

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: [laughs] Or like, "I can't believe a New York Times reporter is saying this!" And it's like, yes, I am a New York Times reporter, and also, I am more than that, but on Twitter, people have strong feelings about the New York Times and those come into view. And so, in light of that, it is very tempting to just totally sanitize your Twitter presence of anything resembling a personality. There's less upside in being interesting and there's a lot of possible downside if you tweet something offensive, or people find something to take out of context.

So yeah, Astead is very funny, and a very good reporter, but mostly I admire the way that he has been able to tweet incessantly without becoming a monster. And I hope to one day undo some of my monstrosity and become more like the Twitter person that I want to be.

ERIC: Well, it is funny that you mentioned the idea of becoming a cartoon version of yourself. I also follow Astead, I think he's great. And it's funny you say "cartoon version" because his avatar is a screenshot from the Will Smith animated movie Spies in Disguise. Maybe he just tweets so much, I've seen it so much ... I feel like he can never change it. It's just an iconic part of his Twitter presence, I feel like. Have you ever considered what would be your, if you had to change your avatar to a picture of something that's not you, what would be your cartoon avatar? Or something similar?

KEVIN: Well, my Slack avatar is the 1990s video game character Commander Keen.

ERIC: OK!

KEVIN: [laughs] Because that was my favorite video game. And also like, I don't know, Slack is strange. It's like people you work with, and so HR wants people to use their real corporate headshots, but I kind of don't want to do that, for various reasons.

ERIC: Yeah.

KEVIN: But yeah, I feel like I crossed the Twitter monstrosity bridge a long time ago. Once you hit like a certain follower count or a certain... you think harder about what you're doing and sometimes that makes you less interesting. You can't just fire off the takes like you used to when you had 300 followers.

I would probably switch my cartoon character avatar to Twitter, too, but I'm promoting a book now.

ERIC: Yeah, you can't really do that yet.

KEVIN: We're Kevin Roose, Inc. right now.

ERIC: Well, after the book tour is done, you and Astead and Charmin Bear Mike Isaac and Blobfish Taylor Lorenz ... all of the New York Times Justice League of not-real pictures, I think you should all get together.

KEVIN: Yeah, well I'm just a sellout. So I admire those people 'cause I'm now in the land of the Twitter professionals, which is not a place I like being. I miss being stupid and weird on Twitter.

ERIC: That was Astead W. Herndon, who's on Twitter @AsteadWesley. Let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for "Someone you're jealous of." You said The Horse Mafia, which is a page on Facebook that has more than three and a half million likes. And Kevin, I've got to say, this is the weirdest s**t anyone has yet recommended on this show.

KEVIN: [laughs]

ERIC: I am not on Facebook personally and had never heard of this page until today, so I'm out of the loop. Why don't you explain it, to the best of your ability?

KEVIN: [laughs] Well, I think it'll make more sense if I start at the beginning of how I encountered The Horse Mafia. So, a couple of years ago I started a process, where every day I would wake up and I would go, and I would check on the most popular posts on Facebook or the posts that were getting the most engagement, just to kind of see, what's the leaderboard like over there? And I use this tool called CrowdTangle, it's a Facebook data tool, and it allows you to see, of the most popular things on Facebook yesterday that got the most engagement, what are the top 10 or 20 or 30?

And over and over again, I kept seeing ... it was sort of the usual suspects for most of it. You know, Donald Trump and George Takei and Breitbart and Kim Kardashian. And then there would be this page called The Horse Mafia.

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: Every day, The Horse Mafia was in the top 20 at least once.

ERIC: Oh my God.

KEVIN: They are amazingly dominant on Facebook, and their Facebook posts are clearly targeted at a very specific demographic, which I would characterize as Christian moms.

And so every day, they post these like very lo-fi Microsoft Paint-style clip art memes that say, you know ... Today's was, "Good morning! Sending you smiles and sunshine for your Friday. God bless you!" And it's a picture of a dog in a tea cup with a clip art sun shining brightly in the background and like sort of scripted ... I mean, it's basically Hallmark cards for Facebook.

And it's so consistent, and they're so popular. And like, every time I'm scrolling through the CrowdTangle lists, they just make me laugh because it's like, this is the happiest, purest person in the world. I have no idea who runs it. It could be a Russian operation for all I know, but it is so pleasant and unfailingly kind and decent that I've just like ... Thank you, Horse Mafia, for existing.

ERIC: OK. So this really speaks to the side of the internet I hang out on. My immediate assumption is "This is so bad, this must be a parody of boomer Facebook. This must be a parody of the sort of wholesome memes that people share on Facebook." But it sounds like your best guess is that no, this is sincere? This is ...

KEVIN: I don't think it's a bit! I think it's just really ...

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: I think it's earnest, and I love it for that. If it turned out to be a bit, I would be pretty devastated, to be frank. I want to think that there is someone out there who is just sharing Horse Mafia memes on Facebook and has never encountered all of the bad stuff.

ERIC: Because I'm sure you've seen, there's lots of Facebook groups where people role-play as something they're not. Sometimes it's millennials or Gen Z people pretending to be boomers. My favorite, though, is "A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony." There are almost 2 million people, and they're only allowed to post about moving bread, and serving the queen.

KEVIN: We all need this vaccine to come so bad. [laughs]

ERIC: Well said. So, you say you're jealous of the Horse Mafia. Like you're jealous of just how consistent they are? Unpack that a little bit more for me.

KEVIN: I'm jealous of the brain that produces The Horse Mafia.

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: Like, I would like to switch consciousnesses with the person who runs The Horse Mafia, because nothing bad ... there's never any reference to anything happening in the news. There's never any politics. There's never any fights with other Facebook pages. It is the purest, most unambiguously positive place on the internet. And I just want to switch lives with that person. That's that's what makes me inspired.

ERIC: All right. Well, here's hoping that we can all have pure and unambiguously positive lives in the future. Honestly, I'm supportive of that too, and I'm like you, I really hope it's not a bit. I just, you know, I think that would make me sad, as well.

KEVIN: It's going to end up being marketing for Axe Body Spray or something. I don't know, something, something horrible like that.

ERIC: I've been burned by this sort of thing before, but I will keep my hopes up, regardless.

KEVIN: Thank you, Horse Mafia. We love you.

ERIC: That was The Horse Mafia. Coming up: Kevin will talk about why we should both take a nap today, and the very famous person he's embarrassed to admit he follows. But first, we're going to take a quick break.

[ads]

ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Kevin Roose, I asked you for someone who inspires you, and you said The Nap Ministry, which is on Instagram @TheNapMinistry. That sounds like something that is advocating for the benefits of taking a nap, but after The Horse Mafia, you know, I don't know what to believe anymore. So tell us about The Nap Ministry.

KEVIN: Yeah. The Nap Ministry is something I found fairly recently and it's run by this woman, Tricia Hersey, who's a sort of poet and activist. She's a Black woman and she refers to herself as The Nap Bishop. And her whole thing is like, napping is really important. It's about rest and recovery as sort of a social justice issue, but it's all about the value of sleeping during the middle of the day as an act of resistance, almost. So one of them says, "Exhaustion will not create liberation"; "Normalize rest"; "Divest from capitalism"; "Lay yo ass down"; "You are not a machine, stop grinding."

I mean, it's really on point and I'm really supportive of this work, because I think it's re-framing napping from something that is "for lazy people" to something that is crucial to our functioning as human beings, which is something I am supportive of. And I really like this account.

ERIC: Yeah. Just to make it even more explicit: I found an older video of theirs where they do these live nap-in events, it seems, where they set up pillows and blankets and just invite people to just come and take a break, take a nap. And so this is an older video on their Instagram page, and it's just a video of a woman taking a nap. And over the top, the text overlaid on her says, "We rest together to resist the lie that our worth is tied to the grind of capitalism."

This is actually really interesting because in your book, you are talking about the grinding of capitalism and the way that automation is going to change so many jobs across the world. So how do you square the societal changes you're writing about in the book with your belief in this and reclaiming your time, this form of protest?

KEVIN: Well, one of the big things that I discovered while researching this book, which involved talking to AI experts and economists and historians — spending years looking into this issue of how we can protect ourselves from being replaced by robots — and one of the things that I've sort of figured out, with these experts' help, is that we've been training for this all wrong. Like, we have been telling people for years, "Go into a STEM field," "learn to code." You know, "Work as hard as you possibly can," "hustle," "grind it out." You know, "If you're only working 9 to 5, you're only doing half your job."

That kind of attitude is so omnipresent in the corporate world today. And actually, the AI scientists that I talked to said we should be doing exactly the opposite, because no one is ever going to outwork a machine. It's not possible. And so, we have to differentiate ourselves by being very human, by doing things that machines can't do.

And those are things like expressing creativity and collaboration and critical thinking and coming up with new ideas. These are things that AI doesn't do very well. And one of the preconditions for doing that stuff is that you have to be able to function on a sort of an executive level. You can't be working 18 hour days and expect yourself to be coming up with creative and human ideas.

And so, one of the things that I recommend in the book is that people take naps because it's ...

ERIC: Recharge!

KEVIN: Recharge, and that it's actually not by ... Working very, very hard for a very long period of time is not a very good way to deal with the onslaught of AI and automation. It's not going to help you when the robots come.

ERIC: Have you had a nap today yet?

KEVIN: I have not, but I really plan on one.

ERIC: [laughs] OK.

KEVIN: As soon as 5:00 hits, I am out.

ERIC: Well, that was my next question, which is if you are trying to make napping a part of your schedule, when do you take a nap? How long do you nap for?

KEVIN: I take 20-minute naps. I've found that that's my sweet spot. And I'll usually take one in the early afternoon; I have a home office and there's a couch next to my desk. And so I'll just ... if I have 20 minutes between Zooms or interviews or something, I'll just lay down for a little bit.

ERIC: Yeah, I think I need to reprogram myself if I'm going to start napping during the day, because I have at least one, usually two, cups of coffee every day, and I'm so highly caffeinated. I dunno, I'd need to like train myself to wind down for some part of the day, rather than just go, go, go until I fall asleep.

KEVIN: Yeah. It's definitely not something I do every day. And I'm aspiring to do better on that, but I think the Nap Ministry is ... whenever I come across it in my feed, I'm reminded that this is something that I need to do.

ERIC: That was The Nap Ministry, which is on Instagram @TheNapMinistry. We have time for one more follow today. Kevin, I asked you for "someone who you're embarrassed to admit you follow," and you said entrepreneur and motivational speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, also known as Gary Vee.

And I'd just like to say, BOOM, you are CRUSHING IT with this recommendation, Kevin! ... In all seriousness, I'm grateful that you're willing to share this with us. So explain who Gary Vee is and, and why you like him.

KEVIN: Gary Vee is ... if you've been on the internet in the last 10 years, you have definitely seen Gary Vee.

ERIC: Yeah.

KEVIN: He's on every platform, with millions of followers. He was sort of the original hustle influencer. He would post about how he never sleeps and always works and grinds and his books are called things like ... I think he has two books, and I think they're called Crush It and Crushing It.

ERIC: [laughs]

KEVIN: [laughs] I looked this up while I was writing my book and I just think that's like an amazing franchise he's developing there. I don't have anything against him, I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I hate the hustle culture that he has come to embody, that tells people that you should just work as hard as you possibly can, and if you take a weekend off or a night off, you're losing ground to some other hustlers hustling harder than you. It's become this almost competitive sport.

ERIC: Right.

KEVIN: And so like I associate Gary Vee with that kind of mindset, which is why I'm somewhat embarrassed to follow him. I would say like, I appreciate the fact that he has sort of moderated himself on this because he no longer tells people that you have to work 18 hours a day.

ERIC: Oh, really? I don't follow him. So I wasn't aware that he had modulated his message recently.

KEVIN: Yeah, I think the tide is turning on the hustle culture movement. I think people are realizing that it leads to burnout. It leads to exhaustion. It doesn't do anything great for people's mental or physical health. And so he's now more into telling people how to market themselves on social media or something. He's very engaging. I understand why he has lots of followers. I just happen to think it's one of the more obnoxious archetypes of a person on LinkedIn that you would run into, who would scold you for taking a weekend.

ERIC: Yeah, there's a lot of folks, especially on LinkedIn and on Twitter, who are like ... I guess "thought leaders" is the term people used to use, I don't know if they still say that, but where they're just posting sort of — not too dissimilar from The Horse Mafia, just a different audience — motivational memes, where it's just like quotes overlaid on a photo and it's supposed to inspire you to live a better life. When you come across a post like that in your LinkedIn or wherever, does that actually prompt some thinking or some action on your part in the same way that the Nap Ministry or something else would?

KEVIN: It does. It definitely makes me think about my own productivity, but I don't like that. Like I want to not think about that stuff because I actually think his advice was probably good for many, many years, that people could differentiate themselves through working themselves to the bone and hustling. And I think that's not how things are going. That's not how the economy is going to work when all the jobs that would take 18 hours a day to do are being done by machines, and the stuff that's left ...

ERIC: And they're being done in two hours.

KEVIN: And they're being done in milliseconds!

ERIC: Right.

KEVIN: And so for us, what's going to be left for humans to do is going to be the stuff that requires creativity and compassion and courage and all these things that robots don't have. And I think the goal of being more human, that I write about in this book, that we need to do, is at odds with the kind of grind culture, hustle culture that Gary Vee has purveyed.

ERIC: I guess more generally though, I'm thinking of self-help culture. I mean, this is such a huge thing, especially in America, and has been for centuries, right? This idea of trying to improve ourselves, trying to figure out ways to be ahead of the future. I mean, Futureproof certainly falls in that bucket in a lot of ways. It's a practical book written for people who are not necessarily technical themselves. So I guess, how do you generally feel about self-help and about self-help content online?

KEVIN: I guess it depends what you mean by self-help. I mean, I was talking to someone yesterday and they said, did you write a self-help book? And it's like, well, literally yes. I was trying to help myself.

ERIC: Yeah. [laughs]

KEVIN: This book is about ... In part, the reason I wrote it is because I was worried about losing my job to a robot, because journalism robots are being used at major news organizations now. And they're writing all kinds of stories and they're doing lots of things that reporters used to do. It's a self-help book in the sense that I was trying to help myself, but I don't know if I'm going to be leading any Tony Robbins-style seminars in stadiums or anything like that.

ERIC: Oh, hey, you know, keep the door open to that. You never know, maybe someday you, too, can be a cult leader, walking on hot coals.

KEVIN: Listen, I will give you a very special introductory rate on the first seminar.

ERIC: [laughs] That was Gary Vee, who is on basically every platform @garyvee and at GaryVaynerchuk.com. Kevin, thank you so much for sharing your follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure listeners know how to find you and Futureproof online. Where do you want them to follow you?

KEVIN: Yeah, you can follow me at @KevinRoose on Twitter. You can go to my website, KevinRoose.com. And there's a website where you can buy the book called FutureproofTheBook.com.

ERIC: Great. You can find me on Twitter @HeyHeyESJ and my email newsletter, Watch This!, where I write short spoiler-free reviews of movies and TV shows and other things I'm watching.

Follow the show on Twitter or Instagram @FollowFridayPod. You can find transcripts links, pictures, and more at FollowFridayPodcast.com. Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Purple Planet Music and Katherine Chang.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs, and when you do, say something nice. See you next Friday!

Recent episodes:

Made on
Tilda