The Lindy Effect is an interesting phenomenon in the sphere of the intangible that is technology. The longer an idea or technology survives through utility or other actions then it is highly probable that the remaining life expectancy is extended. This increased life expectancy may be due to economies of scale, resilience to change, competitiveness, usefulness and much more. As such, the concept describes the link between the age of some non-perishable items and its future life expectancy with the acknowledgement that it mathematically follows the Pareto 80/20 distribution.
We are witnessing this effect everywhere around us, especially, as technology and platforms take over our lives. Examples include your smart phone, protocols used by the software on your smart phone and the hardware chips that are within it. It’s highly unlikely you will stop using your smart phone in the near future, or that the software developers will stop using TCP/IP for intermachine network transmission or that Random Access Memory (RAM) chips will become obsolete as the memory vector. Even cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are proving Lindy’s point.
Let’s get creative beyond technological examples. Ancient books such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or Aristotle’s Ethics, have been transcribed over millennia and have undergone a “mass” filtration process by humans over thousands of years, and to this day these books are still useful and impart knowledge to us. You can expect those books to survive even longer.
However, what if you stop trusting Aristotle or Marcus Aurelius?
What if you stop trusting the software on your phone or your smart phone maker?
These are interesting questions to ponder. On the one hand, smart phones are efficient and critical for communication and other use cases such as entertainment, taking photos/videos, etc. On the other hand, if you’re aware that your communication is being spied on and the games on your phone are installing ransomware that blackmails you, would you continue using it?
I believe the answer is quite obvious. There are multiple variables at play here beyond age and lift expectancy. At the top-level we should revise the Lindy effect to include new parameters that are linked together: entropy and trust.
Entropy is essentially the measure of chaos or disorder and trust is the measure of belief, confidence and expectations that the technology utilized is reliable, secure and usable with satisfiable results. Key words here are belief and confidence because those are subjective and expectation of results being objective.
Entropy can be managed by the creator of the technology by fixing bugs and updating the technology. Perception of trust can be manipulated using branding, marketing and PR but it can only go so far since trust can be difficult to manage because of its subjective characteristics that can be deep and personal.
The relationship between entropy and trust is evident and it seems like they move in lockstep with each other. The more chaos there is in a technology, platform or system, we can posit that the trust will start to erode and deteriorate. Once it’s gone, it’s hard to regain it. Users of that technology will start to look for alternatives unless there is a monopoly which means there are no alternatives which can lead to the enablement of inferior products and technologies with the containment of dissatisfied users.
This is exactly the place where innovation can occur since lack of trust and high entropy is a huge opportunity for new entrants bringing a new chapter truly to the Innovator’s Dilemma. When a new solution presents itself when there is lack of trust and high entropy, people will flock to that solution and the cycle of Lindy’s effect is at play, once again.