Geek As Citizen: History, Posterity, and Our Terrible Past Creations

Previously I had focused on the value of publishing and republishing our past works (mostly focusing on the written word), and on helping others publish their works. I consider this an excellent example of geek citizenship as we organize information that others may find of use, review past work, and assist and empower others. If you’ve done any kind of writing over the years you know it’s power to reach people – to organize it’s access and help others do the same just lets more people benefit from someone’s creations.

However in my past work I was referring to things that would actually benefit people directly. Things we would be proud of and share gladly. Things that in short, we consider good works, even if they may be a bit rough around the edges.

The problem comes when dealing with things we’ve created that aren’t that good – or downright terrible.

Each one of us has, among notes and files, documents and posts, some things that we are, to say the least, less than proud of. It may be a snarky piece of commentary we pulled of a website and that now dwells in a text file. Perhaps you have that epic fanfic you wrote 15 years ago that still languishes on an obscure, but active site. It may be things you haven’t even had the courage to release to anyone because they’re that bad.

So what do we do with them? For us, people who write, post, blog nearly automatically, we’ve probably got a huge amount of things we’re not quite sure we want associated with us. Yet . . .

. . . these things can be of benefit. These works exist. These tales were read.  This art was scene These works may have reached people, though in ways we’d rather not admit. They are history, and people can if nothing else, learn from our past experiences and considerable mistakes.

Except . . . they’re humiliating, not good, embarrassing, plain bad, and if we’re lucky merely pathetically mediocre.

We are torn between history, accuracy, people’s time, and the potential of making clowns of ourselves if we re-release these work. Sure it might be nice to post your “historically relevant” fanfic, but do people really want to read it, and do you want to risk humiliation doing it? Does someone want to read your epically over-detailed statistical analysis of a given TV show’s military, or does it just waste time and make you look pathetically obsessed (as opposed to impressively obsessed)?

I’m not one to condemn a piece of work to oblivion. To do so is a tough call, involves personal opinions, and frankly sounds a bit self-righteous. At the same time I entirely understand that we look back in horror on some of our past written and artistic adventures and truly wonder what we were thinking. Geeks like us produce any number of works, so our potential pile of embarrassment is rather large as a cultural group.

Yet . . . wouldn’t it be nice to do something with these less than stellar creations?

Here’s several solutions for you to try, allowing us to balance the good citizenship of playing archivist with the fact some of what we archive is utter crap. You can, of course, combine these methods.  As for why I recommend them, let us say they come from personal experience and experiences others have shared with me.

Release And Run: One way to get your work out there is to look for an anonymous archive or archives that will take it, post it, and then do so. Maybe put in a few headers or historical notes for people to provide context. You can put it out then quietly ignore it, with only intermittent pangs knowing it’s on your hard drive, taunting you.

Defuse It With Laughter: Maybe you could have a “bad works” party ala Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax and share your worst works with close friends.  Everyone gets a good laugh, people learn, and fear is diffused.  It may even inspire you and others to greater works, and also give people the idea of what to do with their own problematic creations.

Commentary: If you feel said work isn’t overly destructive to your self-esteem, consider releasing it in a blog or other format with commentary from you – and perhaps others. That way the work is out there, the analysis provides additional insight, and you both make it available and avoid or largely mitigate any humiliation. You’ll also learn something.

Contests: Here’s a very wacky idea – but one that could be fun, and one that works well for art or short stories. Post the original work to a blog, site, or community and hold a contest to basically fix it. You get the work out, people get challenged, fun is had, and new work is produced – and possibly ideas are salvaged.

Rewrite: Rewrite the works in a new form and release them in their improved state. You salvage all your original and good ideas, improve and add to them, and get to help people out. It may even prove an interesting “meta-work” to comment on what you’ve learned since your original questionable creation came into being. Easy to combine with the Commentary method above.

Leave It To Others: If nothing else, be sure to leave your questionable works to others in your will or in similar manners. It’s a way to share memories with others, share yourself, and ensure the works may be salvaged at some point.

We all create pieces of writing and pieces of art worth sharing, but for various reasons, from learning to moments of bad decision making, we also create bad works.  There’s no reason for us to bury them away or delete them, and there may even be some benefit to their existence – but we need to consider what to do with them.

I’m also very curious as to how this will change in the future.  The posting of things on the internet, those endless backups we keep, old archives that won’t die, all ensure our creations are with us more and more.  Perhaps we should be considering how to decide where the fit in our lives because it may be an important strategy to develop as more and more information is easily posted and retained.  When you’re asking about the role of geek as citizen, maybe we should consider getting on top of this . . .

– Steven Savage