Art | Culture | History | Writing

The Lindy Effect

A few years ago Nassim Nicholas Taleb described a phenomenon known as the Lindy Effect in his book Antifragile. Soon after you started hearing about it in other work, referenced in blog posts, magazine articles and even its own Wikipedia page. I tend to shy away from uber-trendy topics, but I’ve thought a lot about this Lindy Effect since reading about it in Taleb’s book.

“I follow the Lindy effect as a guide in selecting what to read: books that have been around for ten years will be around for ten more; books that have been around for two millennia should be around for quite a bit of time, and so forth.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

Lindy’s was a famous deli in New York where comedians and actors would gather and discuss such things as the durability of a Broadway show. The observation is that if something survives for a period of time longer than the norm, it implies that it will survive at least that long into the future. The Lindy Effect only applies to non-perishable items, so you and I and that orange on the counter don’t count. But that picture you take or that book you write or the product you release to the market do count. The implication is that you might build something that outlasts you by a long stretch.

Henry David Thoreau died just eight years after publishing Walden, but the book lives on to this day. When it was originally published it was hardly noticed. Yet today it’s been read by millions. When Ansel Adams took the photograph “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” in 1927 he was creating something that still captures the imagination of people around the world almost 100 years later. It was the picture that built his legacy and helped preserve Yosemite.

Ernest Hemingway published his first classic, The Sun Also Rises, in October of 1926, six months before Adams took that photograph. Hemingway had a burning desire to be a great writer, and to publish great and lasting work. Many people point to the last lines of the novel for the way it captures the relationship between the two central characters. You might also see the final line as a hopeful wish from Hemingway that this book might fly:

“Oh Jake,” Brett said, “We could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly, pressing Brett against me.
Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

I’ve noticed a small trend in this blog where 6-10 specific blog posts seem to get views all the time, while the other 1000+ have their moment in the spotlight and fade away over time. Millions of books and paintings and pictures similarly fade away over time, but some stand up forever as legendary. Making art may have a formula, but creating its stickiness remains a mystery to most of us.

Ironically, Lindy’s, the delicatessen that gave birth to the concept of building something that might last forever, closed forever in 2017. For businesses are perishable too. Yet its name lives on. Maybe, like Thoreau or Adams or Hemingway, that is as it should be.

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