The expectation that the content we consume is final and unchanging has been undermined for some time now—it's not out of the ordinary to notice the album art for a song on Spotify has changed, or even that parts of the song itself have been modified. The succession of online distribution methods over physical media like discs and cartridges allows for disastrous game releases like that of Cyberpunk 2077, where the originally released product was so dysfunctional it required years of additional development. Entire series of television shows can be updated to replace an actor. In a world with AI, things like this will become even easier and more commonplace. Making changes to most things digitally is already trivial now, and deleting is pretty much just as trivial, although nothing is really deleted from the Internet as long as someone else has a copy of it. The ability to alter things post-release makes one question what it even means for something to be "done."
Any creator who has been posting for long enough knows how it feels to reencounter their old work—typically, not great. Ideally, your abilities to both perceive and to create are improving over time, so this unpleasant feeling is actually a manifestation of progress. It's not something that can or should be avoided. Your body of work is an avatar for your existence; it is evidence that time is passing and that you have existed in different times and different universal contexts. Everything you've published served some purpose at its time of release, to varying levels of success and with varying audience reach. There is no way of knowing how something will be received before publishing it. You can make guesses based on past experience, but that's all it is—a guess, and anything beyond that is superstition. In each moment there are an infinite number of variables which are forever in flux, creating a sense of order and logic through patterns emerging from what ultimately is chaos. The only variables you have control over are the content itself and when and how you choose to release it.
One of the few things in life that are for certain is that you will look back on things you have made and done and you will cringe. Knowing this, there are a few key takeaways:
- Good enough is good enough. Perfection is not real or definable, so there's no use obsessing over the minutiae of anything. You cannot accurately predict how others will respond to anything, and typically the faults others find in your work are not things you would have predicted or even considered at all beforehand. No matter how happy you were with your work at the time of release, you will look back and cringe, so what's most important is making sure whatever it is fulfills its requirements—largely, that it exists, that it functions, and that it gets out there.
- Everything exists in its own context. Humans are forgetful—it's impossible to retain a cohesive sense of reality and of oneself which encompasses all versions of reality and of oneself through all experienced time. It's helpful to operate with the understanding that everything you observe as your present self is being perceived through a lens in which it was not originally intended to be perceived. You should do what you can to ensure you only ever put out something you can at least live with into eternity, but you really have no idea how you or anyone else is going to feel about something a minute, or a month, or decades from now. Consider how much content from prior decades still holds up today—creatively, culturally, or otherwise.
A sensible way to approach the creative treadmill of modern content production is with a cartridge mindset. In a cartridge-mindset world, things must be good enough; there is no other option. They can be better than good enough, but they can’t be worse. In a cartridge-mindset world, things must be created to serve their purpose within their intended context, knowing that they likely will fail to do so within others. Modern technology has fooled us into thinking that the things we share are impermanent and malleable, while the existence of the Internet actually makes this impossible. Once something is out there, there is no taking it back. You can edit a tweet now, but it doesn’t matter—everyone saw the first version and the data isn’t removed from Twitter’s databases.
There is little to gain by revisiting or revising old work; not only is it futile, it's fundamentally regressive and destructive. To linger on old content is to bring it into a present context and to give its perceived flaws undue weight. You learn from the past, you move on, and you do better on the next thing. All work is old work. The things you've learned from past experiences will live on, subconsciously, in your future work.
Sometimes old work must be revised to fulfill a new role, like when I updated these Stardew Valley food sprites I made several years previously to better match the new sprites I made when creating Lux's Food Mod. Still, the old sprites live on, floating around the Internet, a vestige of a different time when they served a different purpose.
I do not delete tweets. Even if I don't like them anymore. Even if everyone else hated it at the time. Revising history does a disservice to all, and if you are unwilling to exist authentically and live with whatever that means for you, you prove that you are not to be trusted and in this way you are certainly doing a disservice to yourself.
Both as a person and as a working artist, it is imperative that your words carry weight and are reinforced by your actions. By acting with conviction and doing things with the understanding that they will not and cannot be changed after the fact, it becomes impossible to dwell on "what could have been" and forces one to focus on the only direction that matters: forward. Your words and your actions shape your own reality and the reality of others. Bringing anything into existence (whether that be art, words, or whatever) with the intention that it may be overwritten or erased at a later date shows that you are not aiming to represent reality, and that you do not actually stand behind things that are representations of your being—that prove that you exist. If you know that saying something will be done means it will be, your words carry much more power, and if you do things with a cartridge mindset, your creative decisions must also.