The Doppler effect is what makes a siren change tones as it whooshes by. Because of the physics of sound waves, it’s only in the moments a sound is right next to us that it maintains the tone we expect.

What if this is true of not just sound, but everything?

I’ve come to think there’s a Cultural Doppler Effect.What sounds right in the moment feels different and dated to a time and place later on. This is true of fashion, design, music, beliefs, literally everything.

The Cultural Doppler Effect is what makes “retro.” As past cultural waves wash over us, their context is not as they first appeared. They return as pastiche, a throwback, an out-of-context comment on the now.

And yet somehow some works are able to maintain their essence and mitigate the Cultural Doppler Effect. Some old movies still feel modern. Some songs feel as fresh as ever. Some writing that’s centuries old speaks clearly to what we feel today.

What is it that keeps those things current across time? Is it something about the influence of those works and how they shaped culture from that point forward? Is it something about us?

One thing many Doppler-resistant works share is aesthetic minimalism. They aren’t overloaded with bells, whistles, or excessive language from a specific moment. They’re often quite spare. In Doppler-resistant pieces, the work — not the vibe — tends to be the focus.

The more aesthetically adorned a work, the more vulnerable to the Cultural Doppler Effect. What lasts shares a utilitarian elegance that never stops resonating. Think: Macintosh Plus, Chanel, Craigslist, the Velvet Underground.

Some works speak not to a time but across time. The first Strokes record feels like it could have been made in any decade. It’s beyond a time and place. It’s in dialog with the greats of the past and perhaps the future.

Not all work wants to or needs to be resistant to the effects of time. Many of us want to influence the now, so now-language makes sense. Culture is made and experienced in the now. But in some works we want our intentions and voice to remain true across time.

By stripping away the adornments of the moment. By staying true to the core kernel of truth from which our work speaks. We can create output that resonates not just today, but in many future todays. It’s time that tells.