Lindy is all that which remains in the good graces of Mother and Father Time. As Nassim Taleb put it in An Expert Called Lindy:
“The idea of fragility helped put some rigor around the notion that the only effective judge of things is time –by things we mean ideas, people, intellectual productions, car models, scientific theories, books, etc. You can’t fool Lindy: books of the type written by the current hotshot Op-Ed writer at the New York Times may get some hype at publication time, manufactured or spontaneous, but their five year survival is generally inferior to that of pancreatic cancer.
And the operation of time is necessarily done through skin in the game. Without skin in the game, via contact with reality, the mechanism of fragility is disrupted: things may survive for no reason for a while, then ultimately collapse causing a lot of side harm.
A few more details –for those interested in the intricacies, the Lindy Effect has been covered at length in Antifragile. There are two ways things handle time. First, there is aging and perishability: things die because they may have a biological clock, what we call senescence. Second, there is hazard, the rate of accidents. What we witness in physical life is the combination of the two: when you are old and fragile, you don’t handle accidents very well. These accidents don’t have to be external, like falling from a ladder or being attacked by a bear; they can also be internal, from random malfunctioning of your organs or circulation. On the other hand, animals that don’t really age, say turtles and crocodiles, seem to have a life expectancy that remains constant for a long time.
Only the nonperishable can be Lindy-compatible. When it comes to ideas, books, technologies, procedures, institutions, political systems, there is no intrinsic aging and perishability. A physical copy of War and Peace can age (particularly when the publisher cuts corner to save 20 cents on paper for a $50 book); the book itself as an idea doesn’t.”
Some examples of things that are Lindy:
– The ideas of Plato.
– Olive oil and red wine.
– Buildings of wood and stone, in vernacular style, constructed via traditional methods.
– Postal systems.
– Our understanding of human nature.
I suspect you get the idea and, to some extent, are in agreement with it. I am too. However, I also have a very specific problem with it. And that problem also presents an opportunity. The problem—and the opportunity—is mostly confined to the domain of media, but it can also be applicable to the realm of technology.
THE OPPOSITE OF COURAGE
Nassim Taleb is, undoubtedly, a charismatic figure. I suspect it wasn’t his intention, but nevertheless, a cult of personality has developed around him. And one of the key tenets of said cult is the determination to consume and engage with only that which is Lindy. Even such a luminous person (meaning, “giver of light”) as Naval Ravikant has fallen prey to it. In a tweet, he compiled a list of “Asymmetric opportunities”, one of which was, “Read a Lindy book”. This is the key to the problem: the use of the word “asymmetric” in tandem with “Lindy”.
“Tragedy of the commons” is “a term used in social science to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.” Reading only “Lindy” books is a tragedy of the commons, an exploitation of other’s consumption labour. Deciding to read only Lindy books means relying on others to decide whether a book is Lindy or not. It is akin to picking fruit from the orchard without having contributed to its creation and supervision.
That which is Lindy is that which has survived the filtering of Time. But the agent of time is an army of people. For a book to survive, to become “Lindy”, it has to be read by people, be marked by individuals and institutions as “good”, generation after generation after generation. But if everyone were to read only Lindy books, what would happen? Would new books even be written? Would knowledge ever move forward again? No.
Nassim Taleb, in The Logic of Risk Taking, discusses the kinship of the concepts of courage and prudence, and comes to a profound conclusion:
“How can courage and prudence be both classical virtues? Virtue, as presented in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics includes: sophrosyne (σωφροσύνη), prudence, a form of sound judgment he called more broadly phronesis. Aren’t these inconsistent with courage?
In our framework, they are not at all. They are actually, as Fat Tony would say, the same ting. How?
I can exercise courage to save a collection of kids from drowning, and it would also correspond to some form of prudence. I am sacrificing a lower layer in Figure x for the sake of a higher one.
Courage, according to the Greek ideal that Aristotle inherited–say the Homeric and the ones conveyed through Solon, Pericles, and Thucydides, is never a selfish action:
Courage is when you sacrifice your own wellbeing for the sake of the survival of a layer higher than yours.”
Reading only Lindy books is the opposite of a courageous decisions; it is profiting, exclusively, from risks taken by others. But it is also the forfeiting of an opportunity.
Time is the greatest of filters. But it also takes a long while to come into effect. To read only Lindy means operating in a state of perpetual lag.
Further, everything that is Lindy had to be, at some point, non-Lindy—new. A book that has survived for one hundred years has to have been newly published. So too with every book that is published now. Most will flit into existence and exit out of cultural consciousness almost instantaneously. This blog post will be read by a handful of people then fade into obscurity. Most bestsellers of the previous decade will be all but forgotten over the course of the next year. But a few will survive. This is the opportunity.
The proliferation of information and the falling of barriers that previously prevented access to it mean that information itself no longer represents such a great advantage. Individuals and organisations gain a step on the competition not because of what they know, but because of how they deploy and combine what they know. In the novel Musashi I learnt how samurai schools used to pass on the secrets of their art: after long study and tutelage, the masters would hand the student a scroll which contained the highest form of their art. Thus, they would share their secrets. That doesn’t happen anymore. There’s no secret technique, only unique ways to plaster them together.
Informational gaps are diminishing, and modern life is now more of a sprint than a marathon—milliseconds, not minutes, make all the difference. Thus, reading the newest books, experimenting with the newest tech, communicating with “unknown” people, placing yourself on the bleeding edge of X, Y and Z can yield the slightest—and sometimes the most meaningful—of advantages.
The preference for engaging with Lindy is logical, sensible and safe. I can’t and won’t deny that. But to rely on it completely is immoral. Better to pursue a hybrid strategy, to take a “barbell” approach. Read the old and the new. Work with classic technology and interact with the newest tech. That way, you can get the definite benefit of Lindy and the possible benefit of the bleeding edge whilst not abandoning your moral obligation to be an agent of time.