Of lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around this little known “effect” or “theorem” if you will which seems to have first originated back in the June 13th edition of “The New Republic” periodical in 1964. In short the article stated that “the future career expectations of a television comedian is proportional to the total amount of his past exposure on the medium”. This same “effect” was also once again referenced on March 3rd, 1968 in the “New York Times Magazine”. However it would have been lost to time if it were not for Benoit Mandelbrot the genius who brought us fractal mathematics as he first references it in his 1988 work “The fractal geometry of nature” and then again as part of his 1997 work “Fractals and scaling in finance“.
Through these works Mandelbrot shares some of his greater insights regarding the universal nature of the meaning behind this concept. As in its basic form, the concept he rationalizes in words are “nothing succeeds like success itself”, “advantage brings advantage”, or “The greater an active mans past success, the future success he may expect”. Mathematically he also shows us that “Lindy” fails to hold true in non-scaling situations which is an important fact when dealing with viral concepts.
Why my fascination with this potentially dust covered oldie? Part of it is this appears to be the first time the likes of VEL (Viral Expansion Loops) were starting to be described especially in a social context. Which means from an anthropological view, man is attempting to rationalize his sociological interconnectedness. The additional point worth mentioning at this juncture is it was during this time period where we first truly started to “bond” electronically. As when we look back we see the first commercial communications satellites come on line, as well as the wide spread “social integration” of the television along with the telephone. It was also during this very time (1964) where Marshall McLuhan published his ground breaking work “Understanding Media” which supported his famous aphorism of “The medium is the message”.
Again your asking, why is this important? Well its almost like an archeological dig in that hugely powerful social-mathematic constructs where understood almost a half a century ago. However they weren’t recognized for what they were and therefore lost to time. Think about what it would have meant to understand 50 years ago that social actions took place in a non-linear manner (i.e. they scale) and could be accelerated by focusing on the “medium” as opposed to the “message“. This would have leaped frog-ed us past 3 decades of building upon the “message”, only to find the medium is far more important in the grand scheme as those “connected” to the “medium” are part of a “tribe” and in today’s case a “digital tribe” with their own message.
This is one of the reasons we see the decline in what we once considered professional news organizations, as in today’s connected “pro-sumer” (producer – consumer) world the “medium” is affordable and effective. Thus many “Joe Averages” with the built in camera (both still and video) of their cell phones can deliver a “message” for quicker and cheaper (most of the time at no cost) whereas the overheads and silo-ing of the large news organizations means they are headed the way of the “dinosaurs”.
Ok, it should also be noted that the last analogy (i.e. Dinosaurs) was a purposeful selection as they didn’t all fully die off as will be the case with today’s commercial media/news organization. However if you recall the generally accepted theory today is that “birds” descended from these reptilian behemoths. In their new “descended” forms they became more agile and consumed far less food (in the case of a commercial news organization it would be money) which is a key aspect to survival.
Above is a small smattering of why the “Lindy Effect” is of such an interest as what other uncovered aspects are still hidden, or are going unnoticed today that when joined create a whole which is larger than their parts? Also its hard to do justice to a topic this broad in less than 1,000 words, so keep an eye out for future posts which will further tie Lindy into our world today.