Which of the following great books do you expect will still be in print and widely known in 100 years:
A. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (nearly 2,000 years old)
B. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (a bit over 200 years old)
C. Beloved by Toni Morrison (about 30 years old)
We can’t know for sure without a time machine, but The Lindy Effect would say that Meditations will win, hands down, because it is the oldest.
The Lindy Effect says that for nonperishable items (like ideas), life expectancy gets longer as items age. This is counter to perishable items such as humans, which have lower remaining life expectancy as they age. The Lindy Effect applies to ideas, political systems, religions, institutions and the like. The Lindy Effect is not a hard and fast law, but a rule of thumb, and applies on a probabilistic basis.
According to Nassim Taleb in his outstanding book Antifragile,
“For the perishable, every additional day in its life translates into a shorter additional life expectancy. For the nonperishable, every additional day may imply a longer life expectancy.”
The Lindy Effect gets its name from Lindy’s deli in NYC where actors and comedians who would hang out there noted that the length of the careers of actors, comedians and Broadway shows was proportional to how long they had lasted thus far.
Thus, Broadway shows which are the longest running typically have longer life expectancy than shorter running ones. (In Antifragile Taleb cites physicist Richard Gott “who made a list of Broadway shows on a given day, May 17, 1993, and predicted that the longest-running ones would last longest, and vice versa. He was proven right with 95 percent accuracy.”)
The Great Pyramids likely have a longer expected life than the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. The Great Wall of China will outlast any sort of “great wall built on the U.S. southern border.” Buddhism (2,600 years old) likely will outlast Mormonism (200 years old). Democracy should outlast Communism and both likely will be outlasted by Monarchy. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony should stand the test of future time better than Katy Perry’s most recent album or even Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. And so on.
If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not “aging” like persons, but “aging” in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of some robustness. The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!
Thus, the Lindy Effect implies that time is the best judge of quality, not current passing opinions or fads.
Why have one Lindy when you can have three? Here’s the Triple Lindy: