If you stopped by last week, I’m sure you noticed.  I mean, how could you not notice the SNAFU on my site.  There were no less than 300 duplicate posts on me staining our deck.  If you checked in on Twitter, you’d find the same.  It was a bad case of automation gone awry.  So here’s how that went down.In the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers advanced to such a degree that they controlled all aspects of life on the space station.  Hal 9000, a Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, managed all kinds of tasks complex tasks for Dr. Dave Bowman, the main character. Everything went along swimmingly until Dave became suspicious of Hal’s behavior.  In 1968, technology in the film was really ‘out there’ based on standards of the time, but here we are in 2018, and we have all manner of virtual assistants doing everything from telling us jokes to ordering our groceries.  Anyway, Hal didn’t like that Dr. Dave tried to shut him down, so Hal took matters into his own hands.

I won’t spoil the outcome for you, but let’s just say Hal made life difficult for the crew.  Also around this time, some of the first home calculators were introduced, and I just had to have one. My dad was convinced it would rot my mind and was ticked off when my mom got me one for Christmas.  He may have been right because my friends and I secretly used them for nefarious purposes such as typing in numbers and turning it upside down so it would look like ‘Oh hell.’

Also around that time, some of the first video games came out. Well…actually the first video game. Pong.

Ahhhh, Pong. We had a cheap K-mart version of the game and delighted in playing it for hours on end.  It even had options! You could speed it up, change the angle of the puck, and for even greater competitive fun, you could make the paddles smaller.  You could set up the game so it would play itself non-stop.  I can only rationalize the appeal of this by saying we had just three network television stations, and all of our TVs were black and white.  Kids programs were only shown on Saturdays. So yeah, we were bored.  We’d turn on the pong and let it play itself, probably because there was nothing else on but soap operas after school.  I can still hear the rhythmic Beep-buh-b-beep, Beep in my head, droning on until our parents came home and bopped us for wasting electricity.

But just like in 2001, automation works great…until it doesn’t.  I recently tried out IFTTT (If This, Then That) a company that offers independently developed apps that automate repetitive tasks. The premise is the apps save time by performing various functions on the web on your behalf.  Since most of us indie authors spend huge amounts of time promoting our own work online, the possibility of farming repetitive tasks out to a free app was really tempting to me.  After all, every minute saved is another minute I can use writing, or editing, or giving my cat attention as she stages a sit-in on my keyboard.

So, I signed up for IFTTT and chose a combination of apps that I thought would help me share blog posts on my Facebook page and on Twitter. I couldn’t find a single app to do everything I wanted, so I picked out a few, thinking they would all do their thing, making my life so much better.  I assumed each app would do its work on autopilot, kind of like Pong.

But like Hal 9000, my apps behaved a little differently than I expected.  For example, I had an app to copy Blogger posts to Facebook and another to send Facebook posts to Blogger.  Simple enough in theory.  What I didn’t bank on was that the apps don’t differentiate between posts that I make and posts that the apps make. So while I slept soundly, confident that my new-found app buddies were doing my work like little elves making shoes in the night, they were playing the virtual equivalent of auto-Pong with a twist.  They were communicating with each other, and the results were horrific. More than 300 duplicate blog posts had been shared on Facebook, my blog, and Twitter before I realized what was going on.

So now that I’m out of social media jail, I’ve cleaned up my act and have removed some posts.  I even found an app that would automatically do it for me. What could go wrong?  But then I thought about Hal and decided I should do it myself.  As I deleted the very last of the 300+ entries, I could have sworn I heard Hal’s voice saying, “Hello, Skyler. What are you doing, Skyler?”


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