The internet has ushered in a new era of creative publishing. In just a few clicks, any internet user can upload their content online and gain exposure in a limitless creative marketplace.
But as liberating as the online world is for self-publishing, it’s also decidedly ephemeral. Because these creative works are accessed purely in a digital space without tangibility, authors can erase all traces of their shared content in a matter of seconds. And since most online content is streamed or accessed remotely, only a small minority of users who have voluntarily downloaded said content would continue to have access to it.
In many ways, the ability to delete your online content is the other power given to those who self-publish online. But it’s a power that’s frequently — and mistakenly — abused.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
I’ve had the privilege of discovering so many great creative works through the internet. From memorable short films to experimental albums and goofy videos, the online ecosystem has allowed me to explore creative perspectives and ideas that would’ve been otherwise inaccessible in a disconnected world. And I’ll admit it: I, too, enjoy my fair share of low-brow poopy animal videos.
So, as you can probably imagine, it’s disheartening to seek out one of these online creative works only to realize that it no longer exists. That zany album you loved? Gone. That student film that, while amateur, had heart? Dead. That promising debut rap album? Buried, but unable to be digitally exhumed.
Don’t get me wrong: as a creative “type,” I understand the temptation to delete work that no longer fits one’s standards of quality or merit. And I’m not forbidding other creators from deleting their work — that’s their respective prerogative.
But I do think that you should avoid deleting your online content at all costs, especially if you’re looking to monetize it or make a career out of it.
Sculpting an Online Creative Identity
It’s obvious that most online content deletion stems from a dissatisfaction with one’s work. Most people are deleting their rap albums because they don’t like them, not because said albums include incriminating death threats towards their mothers (although this probably does happen).
But to me, it also seems like voluntary content purges are fueled by a desire to continually “sculpt” and refine one’s online creative identity. It’s similar to how some Instagram users periodically remove select photos and videos from their profiles: generally, they’re keeping media that depicts them in a certain light while discarding what doesn’t, or is irrelevant.
To an extent, “sculpting” your online creative identity makes sense — within reason, it’s akin to good housekeeping. If your online content is actively stymieing your attempts to get a job or move your career in a particular direction, by all means, delete it!
But unquestionably, deleting your content also reduces your visibility as an online creator. Any time you delete something, you decrease the ability of others to discover and interact with your work. That includes fans, who might really dig your creative sensibilities and follow your work religiously. That group also includes those who might have compelling career-boosting propositions for you (a job, a deal, a whatever).
The sad truth is, sometimes, love or praise for content goes unsaid or unheard. I think the average creator would be surprised to discover how much their work means to others, and how heartbreaking it would be for that work to suddenly disappear from the internet. I know I’ve personally gotten in the habit of backing up online media I love, especially when its creator(s) voice their dissatisfaction with it.
Neil Gaiman once told a graduating class of young creatives to “Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” It’s an inspiring quote because it emphasizes that mistakes are an integral — and positive — part of the creative process. And while you may not see your mistakes as amazing, glorious, or fantastic, without them, the world is certainly less interesting.
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