Are Blogs Lindy?

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philosophy / reading

The lindy effect is one of the most important mental models from acting. It arises from Albert Goldman’s article in the New Republic:

“the life expectancy of a television comedian is [inversely] proportional to the total amount of his exposure on the medium. If, pathetically deluded by hubris, he undertakes a regular weekly or even monthly program, his chances of survival beyond the first season are slight; but if he adopts the conservation of resources policy favored by these senescent philosophers of “the Business”, and confines himself to “specials” and “guest shots”, he may last to the age of Ed Wynn [d. age 79 in 1966 while still acting in movies]”

But history as one can guess takes its reader on an unforeseen journey. In this case, esteemed mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in his famous way summarized Lindy’s law as such:

 “However long a person’s past collected works, it will on the average continue for an equal additional amount. When it eventually stops, it breaks off at precisely half of its promise.”

If something has remained in its durable form – let’s say books – for a certain period of time, the lindy effect would propose that it would last at least for at least that amount of time in the future. This doesn’t work for fields where the rate of innovation is consistent. Then, evolutionary forces have more sway. Computers, therefore, are not lindy. We’ll definitely see them take newer, unforeseen forms in the future.

Even though we know possess the means of reading online or on Ipads, books have largely contained in a similar form since Gutenberg. Books, however, aren’t necessarily for entertainment. Rather reading is the primary way humans learn theoretical concepts and is a necessary part of succeeding in a research environment. Reading faster + higher retention =  an exponentially smarter individual over time. It would lead to a difference like this:

Figure from UCSUSA

Clearly, exponential time skyrockets after meeting the linear growth model. But reading is mostly linear growth – we have to read at a constant rate over time (i.e. x words per minute).

Historically, publishers have had the most power: they were the gatekeepers in controlling the distribution of books. But now the internet lets even the feeblest and most ramshackle of authors taste the feeling of glory. They can find fans from all corners of the globe to covet their Medium article. This goes to show that from Stratechery to The Information, people, me included, are willing to pay for phenomenal content.

Books are exceptionally lindy as an information-storing mechanism, but does the internet actually change this? My prediction is that books will only recede in popularity if those who read adapt to reading in smaller chunks and online, essentially articles. This has been happening already: there are less people reading literature in America. Yet, I don’t think is a symbol of apocalyptic doom.  

The black swan of the internet changed the way we live in the West, kids nowadays grow up in a world of bits instead of atoms. Blogs and Twitter are the knowledge hubs of the 21st century. New fields like that of blockchain development almost entirely take place in heated Medium articles where the arguments are fought over Twitter comments and DM’s.

While books will still be around, the amount of people who read them will drastically drop. This will be especially true with primarily online education systems like Khan Academy and Lambda School. Blogs then might be the sorely needed software patch for books.

The Author

I write about tech, philosophy, and macroeconomics.

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