A recent article in The Atlantic discusses typos and errata in printed texts through history, contrasting the errata lists and emendations included in later editions of books with the way errors and changes to electronic texts simply disappear when corrected, invisible to the reader.
And while anything published electronically might be seen as fluid and ephemeral — even old-school books in digital form — text in any form will contain errors, at least in its first published form. And there's an argument to be made in favour of embracing errors and retaining the trail of revisions even though it's trivially easy to remove them. Says Adam Smyth, an academic specialising in inconsistencies of texts:
But we might think of error not as a bug to be killed off, but as an inevitable presence; and not, perhaps, even as something always regrettable, but as an aspect of writing, printing, and of life, that is always there.
The errors themselves, with their subsequent corrections, give a back story to the text as it evolves, sometimes even revealing changes in the author's views over time.
Perhaps this is why there is so much interest in artists' sketchbooks and writers' manuscripts, covered in messy hand-scrawled notes. These artifacts lift the veil of perfection from the work of art and remind us that this masterpiece was born of human hands, of the trial and error and grit and ambition that are common to all of us. When we understand how much human effort it takes to turn those rough notes into a finished thing, the imperfections that inevitably evade all the editing and refining become easier to forgive. Maybe they've earned the right to live on as a mark of human endeavour, even if only through a footnote telling us things weren't always this way.
(Hat-tip to Rian van der Merwe for linking the original article)