Today my son referenced "that old movie about the orca" - racked his brain for a moment - and beamed it: "Free Willy" He was visibly proud he knew something so obscure.
You might expect my reaction to be "I'M OLD" (and I suppose I might be getting there as I approach 40), but that's not what hit me.
What hit me was that Free Willy was like canon for my generation. One of those movies that was culturally dominant among my peers in a way I'm not sure movies still can be. Maybe Frozen was like that.
And one generation later knowledge of its existence is trivia.
And, obviously, one generation later it's basically forgotten.
I'm blown away by how quickly cultural artifacts that once loomed large slip through our cultural fingers. I'm not bemoaning this with any nostalgia, it's just crazy to see it happen in front of me. And you know they'll never know about Hey Dude or wonder what's gonna happen with Cory and Topanga or know who's saying "did I do that?" in that distinctive nasal voice.
But a few things survive the cultural cull and transform or remain relevant.
The best things like Mister Rogers and Carl Sagan and Weird Al. Fewer remember Captain Kangaroo or Beakman's world or Eiffel 65. And we've already forgotten the rest.
But most things are forgotten. Even wonderful things are forgotten - they must be. (This also means there are countless treasured buried in archives and museums and libraries that we've just forgotten and put in storage)
But a few things survive every sort until they become cultural cannon. It's not like they're the only good things that had staying power. It's just that they had staying power and we got lucky.
This is why I mostly read books written more than 20 years ago. I make exceptions, of course, but I use the 20-year timeline as a pretty hard heuristic. If it's survived 20 years, there's probably something of real substantive value in it. If it's survived 200 years, then the signal is even stronger.
And since I'll never be able to read every great book that's ever been written, it makes sense to emphasize old ones. You might miss some real gold, but you'll minimize the amount of junk-lit, books-that-should-be-blog-posts, culture war bullshit, and grocery store checkout aisle books.
It's called the Lindy Effect and I'm a patreon member.
The Lindy Effect is a theorized phenomenon by which the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things, like a technology or an idea, is proportional to their current age.
Thus, the Lindy effect proposes the longer a period something has survived to exist or be used in the present, the longer its remaining life expectancy. Longevity implies a resistance to change, obsolescence or competition and greater odds of continued existence into the future.
But it's crazy to watch the cultural sorting happening in front of us, all the time.
And it makes me think about what new art is being made now that will survive the next 100 years. I know my favorite musician probably won't make it through the filter: he never got popular enough for long enough to register. My kids will remember him though, and they'll tell their kids about me through the songs.
That makes me sad, but also makes the music more beautiful knowing that, culturally, it's more like those sand paintings the monks make in order to erase.
Who today is making the art that will be around in 2123?
Is it Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar?
Will it be Neal and Neil (Stephenson and Gaiman)?
Tell me what you think. I want to know what you think will remain of us in the culture when we're gone, but I also want to hear about the things you love that you know will disappear as soon as we do. So maybe I can enjoy them too.
We'll be talking about these things on this thread over on twitter.