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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Living with Robot Overlords: How to Survive in Our Cyborg World

by Anne R. Allen

Everybody tells us that to succeed as writers in the e-age, we need to be active in social media. And once we get the hang of it, most of us find it a lot of fun. Cyberspace can feel like a big old playground for writers. Look! I can type something on my little keyboard in the privacy of my own home and reach 100,000 people.

Yes, we had over 100,000 hits on the blog in the last month—and that doesn't count the several thousand who read the blog in their inboxes and rss feeds. Thanks guys, we love you!

You can also publish books and reach appreciative readers without groveling for decades to get your work read by some unpaid 20-something intern in NYC who thinks books with protagonists over thirty are, like, totally gross.

You can go on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. and meet people from all over the world. And make friends. Some of whom may even buy your books.

You can get paid—sometimes rather handsomely—for said books. Every. Single. Month. Without all the waiting. And pleading. And filing of lawsuits.

It's all so darn wonderful.

Until something goes wrong.

Which it does with fair regularity. Funny how nobody talks about that part. But here's the thing: out here in Cyberia, you're dealing with robots—technically, lines of code called algorithms—not actual people, and robots are dictatorial and merciless.

And in charge.

I got a little reminder recently when a blogfriend contacted me on Facebook to say she had some new craft items posted on Pinterest. I've always avoided Pinterest—I'm sure it's lovely—but it's one more time-suck that I can't fit into my overwhelmed life.

(Ruth Harris says she's afraid "overwhelmed" has become the new normal. I have to agree. And I think robots are partly to blame. They were supposed to make our lives easier. Instead they keep us on hold for hours, interrupt us with scammer phone calls at all hours of the day and night, and demand six passwords before we're allowed to sneeze.)

Anyway, there I was, hoping to take a look at my friend's craft items on Pinterest. Since I wanted a quick browse, I clicked on a handy button that said, "sign in with Facebook".


My computer went nuts. It was like it had been taken over by the Borg from Star Trek. A window came up that said something like:

"Welcome to Pinterest. Resistance is futile. You have been assimilated."

I clicked away, totally freaked.

Later I went to check my email and found over 50 emails from my FB friends, either saying they were now following my "pins" on Pinterest, or "I think Pinterest is a waste of time. Stop spamming me with these emails."

You guessed it. Clicking on that one "sign in with Facebook" button had automatically, without my knowledge or consent, signed me up for Pinterest and sent emails to all 744 of my Facebook friends, telling them I was now enslaved to Pinterest and wanted them to be too.


I know this kind of stuff happens every day, and younger people will say it's my own stupid fault. When anything goes wrong in Cyberia, it is always the fault of the user, because robots don't make mistakes. If you don't have the secret robot-whisperer decoder ring, you deserve whatever happens to you.

But I'm old. I grew up at a time when businesses didn't view seller-customer relationships as adversarial. Marketing meant enticing customers, not bullying them.

And there were actual humans in charge.

Sometimes I fear the CEOs of these big companies are like Mickey Mouse in the classic Sorcerer's Apprentice scene (based on the Goethe poem of the same name) from Disney's Fantasia. It's the one where junior-wizard Mickey conjures up 1000s of animated brooms with buckets to do his grunt work, but totally loses control of them. Here's the link to the Fantasia scene on You Tube. 

I often wonder if the people in charge are as clueless as Mickey about the powers they've unleashed.

I certainly can't single out Facebook and Pinterest for blame in hijacking me. Every big online site is built with the same semi-sociopathic mindset: any human who wanders by is prey. The job is to trick us into doing something we don't want to do by making us feel ignorant and powerless.

Which means we often feel as if we live in a world invented by Mad Men's Don Draper and run by Dr. Who's Cybermen.

And maybe we do.

I didn't know Google was reading my mail until the time I mentioned in a note to my neighbor that I saw she'd had a new refrigerator delivered. For weeks, everywhere I went online, I was hit with a barrage of ads for refrigerators.

I also learned the hard way that you should never tweak your LinkedIn profile, because if you change one word—say change "mystery" to "comic mystery"—messages will go out to every person you've connected with on LinkedIn—including your boss at your day job—ordering them to all congratulate you on your "new job".

And forever after, on that day, you will receive "congratulations on your work anniversary" emails from all your contacts who have been instructed by the robots to send them.

And like Facebook, LinkedIn does sneaky things to get you to share your email address book with them. Once they have it, they will save the cached list forever and use it try to get those people to join up. That means that whenever you visit, even 15 years later, you'll see pop-ups saying that your stalker ex-boyfriend, your deceased Aunt Marlene, and that awful hairdresser who made you like Dana Carvey's Church Lady—all want to connect with you on LinkedIn today.

The fact this stuff might get you fired or scare you into to calling the police to enforce that restraining order does not matter to them.

Because you're human, and they're not.

And then there's the way they always try to get you to "endorse" people from a menu of ridiculous options. The robots ask something like, "Do you endorse Anne R. Allen in hedge-fund management, raising alpacas, ghostwriting, or pole dancing?" So people choose ghostwriting, since it's the most likely option. It just happens to be wrong. This gets me lots of emails from people wanting a ghostwriter who end up disappointed.

So does anybody at these companies care that this stuff is creepy, time-wasting, misleading and invasive?


Because nobody is doing this stuff. It's all done by the bots. Like Mickey Mouse's relentless brooms.

Most of us are impacted by out-of-control robots these days. And it's not just the NSA bots reading your email and flying robots shooting up third world weddings. The dangers are everywhere.

Huge retailers and banks are getting hacked because nobody seems to be in control of the tech they're dependent upon. And even if they're not hacked, they're riddled with errors nobody seems to be able to fix. I spent two hours in my insurance agent's office last week while she was on the phone with six people who gave her six different answers because their robots were unable to communicate with each other. She says tech glitches on her company's website have tripled her workload in the last year.

And for writers, the impact can be devastating. I've spent most of the last two weeks on the phone on hold, trying to reach tech support humans after some robot has tried to mess up my life.

Robots vs. Authors

Authors who self-publish or publish with a smaller press without a tech department can have their careers destroyed by a simple glitch (or any malevolent troll who knows how to fool the robots.)

Here are some things that have happened to me or authors I know:

  • Something goes wrong with your blog and half your readers can't comment because of some robot feud/bullying going on between Blogger/Google and WordPress. (Sorry guys. I do not know how to fix this problem. If anybody knows, do tell me!) 
  • All your email from Amazon is suddenly thrown into spam and you lose super-important business communications. No matter how many times you report it as "not spam," it's still relegated to the spam folder, where it doesn't show up for days. (Apparently Google's robots are also feuding with Amazon's.)
  • Your book gets pirated and Amazon threatens to ban you for life because the pirates are underselling them—but you have no idea who or where the pirates are or how to force them to stop stealing your book.
  • You get reported for spam by a troll on FaceBook or Google Plus for a simple announcement on your own page and you're frozen out of your account.
  • Somebody reports you for a typo or "objectionable material" for using a correct but uncommon word and your bestselling book loses its "buy" button and you no longer have an income until you rewrite the book according to some illiterate's standards.
  • The bestseller you were counting on to pay the mortgage goes from 1000 sales a day to zero, even though you're doing all the same stuff to promote it and you have great reviews. 
  • Somebody leaves a review of your cozy mystery saying they hate it because the hero tortures little girls and uses foul language. Only there's no male protagonist, no little girls and the worst word anybody uses is "flibbertigibbet."
  • You publish a paper version of an ebook and try to link them so the reviews show up on both pages. All the reviews disappear for two weeks and your sales stop.

Some of these problems can be solved, and some can't.

Mostly we need to BE AWARE they can happen, so we can back up often and stay diversified. If one site's robots turn on you, at least you'll have books on other sites.

Complacency and naiveté are the enemies here.

 How to Survive the Giant Data-Squid

German journalists seem to be more aware of perils of technobot dictators than the rest of us. They've invented a wonderful word for the companies whose bots and algos have taken over our lives:


The word means something like "giant data-squid," and for me it conjures up an image of some devil-offspring of Dr. Who's Daleks and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans.

The Germans have noticed that while we've been frantically busy posting selfies to Facebook, taking sides in the Amazon/Hachette standoff, and Tweeting about Kim Kardashian's butt, somebody decreed—

"Release the Kraken. You will be exterminated."

The Cylons are winning, people! (I figured we needed a Battlestar Galactica reference as long as we're doing a SciFi mash-up here. You didn't know I was a secret SciFi nerd did you?)

So do we all give up on our careers and/or hitch a ride on a TARDIS to take us back to the 20th century?

Or maybe we should find an old mimeograph machine, copy our books in that weird-smelling purple ink, put the pages in three-ring binders and hawk them on street corners?

Probably not altogether practical solutions.

But we need to go into this with our eyes open. Don't think that because the Cyberworld is so easy to get into that you will have smooth sailing the whole way.

And one thing we can do is collect information on how to get past the robots and reach the humans.

It turns out that instead of having a panic attack/temper tantrum (usually my first instinct) we need to take a deep breath and go on a hunt for flesh-and-blood earthlings.

Solution #1 Search for a Human Being

For Amazon problems, I've had good luck reaching humans through Author Central "help." You hit "contact us" at Author Central "help" and choose a category. Then you will be allowed to choose another subcategory and perhaps a third. Then they will ask if you want to contact them by email or telephone. Since I'm a phonophobe, I usually choose email, and I generally have a response in a matter of hours and a solution from an actual human within a day or two.

Of course, sometimes the email people (still underlings, although mortal) can't solve something, so they turn you back over to the robots with a dead-end, canned message that says something like, "It is not our policy to remove reviews that refer to authors as 'tiny-brained pinheads'. Contact us again and your computer will explode, you tiny-brained pinhead."

Then it's time to get on the phone. Don't yell. They get yelled at all day. Shock them by being nice and asking how "we" can solve the problem. Amazing how well that can work. I've found that Amazon people are generally polite and helpful on the phone. Sometimes if they make a mistake, they'll even call you and apologize.

That happened this week. The robots sent me a rather startling email on Wednesday I knew wasn't meant for me, and yesterday a very nice young man phoned from Seattle to personally apologize for the robots' behavior.

So you can reach a human for Amazon help...unless you're trying to get them to remove negative reviews. The Zon will not remove a negative review unless it obviously breaks the Terms of Service, and they may remove good ones that break the ToS if you get pushy.

I've had some luck with Facebook by contacting them through Appeals@Facebook.com. They don't care if they've solved your problem and they don't respond, but sometimes when you write them with a request, the problem will magically disappear a few weeks later.

And Twitter, strangely enough, likes you to contact them via the good old U.S. Snail. I was able to deactivate an account by writing to Twitter, Inc. c/o: Trust & Safety/ 1355 Market St., Suite 900/ San Francisco, CA 94103

I haven't tried to contact LinkedIn, because they do such creepy stuff I fear further contact might make it worse—like making eye contact with that weird guy who sings off-key Abba songs every morning on the bus.

I have no idea how to reach anybody at Google. But I've thought of sneaking into their Mountain View offices posing as a vegan caterer or a massage therapist.

On the other hand, Google's robots tend to be very good at what they do. Somebody tried to hack this blog this week and the Google bots caught them before they did any damage and immediately alerted me to change my password.

Still, it would be nice to know how to find a mortal being when necessary.  Has anybody out there figured out how to get through to earthlings at the Big G? If so, please share.

Solution #2: Look for a Human Being Who Is Impacted By the Problem

If the regular channels don't work, go higher up. Don't demand to talk to a supervisor. Go to the website and find somebody whose job depends on the company's reputation. Preferably somebody close to the top of the food chain.

I learned this trick from my uncle, whose grandfather founded a major American manufacturing empire. My Uncle Don taught me that when you have trouble with a company, it's a waste of breath to get mad at the underlings.

You should call the sales department—the guys directly impacted by the company's reputation. And if that doesn't work, send a registered letter to the CEO.

This has worked for me a number of times. When I found some crazy stuff on my credit report and couldn't get help from the usual channels, I called a salesman for Experian. Five minutes later, all the bogus stuff was deleted.

And when I was sick and tired of ATT's useless robot voice-mail, I sent a nice note via registered mail to a head honcho at the central office. A few days later his secretary called me—she thought my letter was a hoot—and fixed everything.

And just last week, after being on hold for over an hour with my bank's tech department, I hung up and wrote a nice note to the manager of my local branch. He phoned the next day and connected me with the proper person and said he'd forward my letter to his boss.

Hooray for the U. S. Postal Service! Yes, it's often the fastest way to get results these days.

Solution #3: Escape to the Real World

Take some human time. That's what I'm going to do. I often spend five or more hours a day answering emails, Tweets, FB posts, Google Plus and reading and commenting on blogs.

Jessica Bell, who guested last week, said on FB last week that she has the same problem. Lots of people chimed in. We've all become slaves of the Datenkraken.

So as of this week, I'm going to declare Thursdays my offline days.

No social media. No email. I'm going to be:

1) Working on my WIP
2) Reading books
3) Hanging out with flesh-and-blood earthlings of various species.

I need to get my life back to human speed, or my doctor says I'm going to be a casualty in this war with the Cylons. I'll bet  you'll be healthier if you take a day off too.

Scriveners, if any of you have had luck reaching helpful humans in Cyberia, our readers would love to hear about it. If you have an e-address or phone number for them, do include it! If you've had nothing but encounters with Cybermen, Cylons and the Borg, tell us about that too. At least we can commiserate about living with robot overlords.

Contest Winners!

The answers to last week's chapter endings contest were 1) B, 2) E, 3) A 4) C 5) D

The winner of the first part of the contest is Romance author and book reviewer Suzie Quint. 

Suzie got every one right. She's also the only one who entered. Suzie, email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com for your prize.

I was kind of shocked that nobody else entered this part of the contest. I thought all writers would be aware of the styles of James Patterson and Dan Brown. And the New Yorker says "only 21 people in the country haven't read Gone, Girl." Plus Kate Atkinson and Catherine Ryan Hyde are two of the best writers working today as well as being mega-sellers. Reading one of their books is like taking a master class in writing. Try it!

Remember that to succeed in the business of selling novels, you need to know what novels are selling.

Writers who are in the query process absolutely need to do market research in the bestseller list, and indies will do better if they know the competition, too.

The winner of the best last sentence of your first chapter, chosen by Amazon #1 Bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde is Suzanne Purvis

Suzanne, contact me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com for your prize.



Here's an appropriately Halloweeny book. It's #1 in the Camilla Randall comedy-mysteries--a wild comic romp set at writers’ conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with a cross-dressing dominatrix to stop the killer--who may just be a ghost--from striking again.

Here's a great review from Sandy Nathan that got eaten by the robots, but now is BACK! 

Ghost Writers is set in a writers' conference in Santa Ynez Valley, where I've lived for twenty years. Nothing makes me angrier than reading a book set in my home Valley that gets everything wrong. Like where the roads are, how to get from here to there, what the Valley feels and lives like. One famous writer I know actually did this: bollixed up the whole place.

But not Anne R. Allen! This book is hysterically funny AND accurately depicts the Valley. Anne Allen gets it right, down to the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon. It was so fun to read as she called out one Valley landmark after another. Allen got the local denizens right, too, the crazy characters that roam our streets.

Speaking of which, Ms. Allen's literary characters are pretty crazy/zany by themselves. I love Camilla Randall, her ditzy, former debutante heroine, and all the rest. The action gets pretty frenetic when dead bodies start showing up. I heartily recommend this book. I can hardly wait to read the rest of the series.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in e-book for only $2.99 at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA iTunesKoboInktera, and at Barnes and Noble for NOOK.


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Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

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MUSEUM OF WORDS MICRO FICTION CONTESTNO ENTRY FEE. The competition is for very short fiction pieces of up to a maximum of 100 words. The winner will receive a prize of $20,000, with three runners-up each receiving $2,000. This contest is open to writers from all countries and entries are accepted in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All stories entered must be original and unpublished. The last Museum of Words contest attracted 22,571 entries from writers in 119 countries. Deadline November 23, 2014.

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GLIMMER TRAIN VERY SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 fee. Maximum length: 3,000 words. 1st place wins $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue. 2nd place wins $500 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). 3rd place wins $300 (or, if accepted for publication, $700 and 10 copies). Deadline October 31.

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Blogger CS Perryess said...

Amen to Solution #3! I'm with you.

October 19, 2014 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some of those are downright terrifying. I'll continue to avoid Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, thanks.
I've not had troubles, but I've had many friends have problems with Google, and they report the same thing - no way to reach them. No way to get a response from someone at the company - everything circles back to the forums section.

October 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Thanks for the quote! :-)

Re our new bot overlords, they're kinda, sorta like our old overlords. The sociopath in the corner office. The back stabber in the next office. The passive-aggressive bottle neck up or down the exec chain.

I remember one boss from my days at one of the Big Five. He was pried away at great cost from a competitor and his first memo was about how we should discard memos. I don't remember whether he said we should fold them so they could be easily unfolded and reread OR crumple them up as proof that they had been read but it was one of those two.

I kid you not.

October 19, 2014 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--After the week I've had, I feel like I want to take a time machine back to the 19th century. But I hope that taking a "20th century day" once a week will help.

October 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--You've created such a great blog community with the IWSG that you don't seem to need the other social media. Congrats on that. It keeps things simple. And those Google forums don't do much to help, that's for sure.

October 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--Overload sure is the name of the game these days. You make a good point about the old overlords, though. Yes, there are always sociopaths in management. And I suppose these days, the bots are often put in place by the same sociopaths. That boss sounds as if he came straight from the cartoon frames of Dilbert!

October 19, 2014 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

The bots extend to internet searches, too. I looked online at Staples and Office Depot for a computer desk and chair. Now when I log into Facebook, guess what ads pop up? I've also research a location for a book and gotten travel ads for it. Yikes!

At a con I was at, writers talked about using the cloud for writing. All I could was cringe. No, and no. People seem to forget these companies are in business to make money. Periodically, one of them changes their Service Agreement to say they own everything posted. When it happens, it looks like a mistake, everyone protests, and the company backs down. But it's no mistake. They keep testing the waters to see what they can grab.

(I've tried posting this tree times. It does not like me.)

October 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--You almost always post here on Sundays. Have you had trouble before? Yikes. It gets worse and worse. I apologize for the unfriendly robots. I sure wish I had some control over them.

That's scary stuff about companies trying to own what we write online. I sure hope Google doesn't steal all these blogposts!

October 19, 2014 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Anne, what a great kickoff to the days of 100k. You and I will not live to see the time when that's a small number of hits/fans/visits, so congratulations.

Second- I do not sing off-key, those are jazz interpretations. I will cop to "weird"- should have thought it went without saying.

Third- I think you are right in general about being nice on the phone, but it probably works better for you than most people. I have never heard your voice, Anne, but I'm a thousand-percent sure you could call me up, ask nicely, and I'd be wearing my socks on my ears forever more.

Fourth- I will take issue with you on one point. You certainly CAN blame FB, LinkdIn et al, and we all should. The internet giants are predicated on the use of our data, it's their business model. Sooner or later, the ones that are doing a lousy job will lose out: but WE have to help make that point for them. You want to put up with, say, Google, because of the balance of service you get? See, that's the market speaking, just like staying away from LinkdIn for creeping you out. All of those are ways of being heard. The robots will not win, and we can shorten the period of misery by being squeakier wheels. It's the opposite of your excellent advice about how to treat real people like fans and colleagues: what do we owe the algorithms,nothing.

On balance though, you are giving me more and more reasons to be grateful I'm not famous! My current plan is to keep quietly writing, let the slow burn make me famous after the dementia sets in, and have my daughter use the delayed royalties to make sure I'm well taken care of. The robots will burn out in frustration as all my screens go happily unanswered.

October 19, 2014 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I often lose the first post when I click Publish. Not sure why.

October 19, 2014 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--I apologize. That used to happen to me with some Wordpress blogs. It got so bad I'd write my comment in Word and then paste it in, but now I have a Gravatar ID, so they're happy with me. I sure wish Blogger would make it easier. I might have to go back to using the CAPTCHA and allowing anon comments. Do let me know if it gets worse.

October 19, 2014 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Will--So that was you on the bus! Dancing Queen is your best number, I think. I'll expect to see a photo of you with the socks on your ears on FB by next week. ROTFL

I've thought of leaving LinkedIn, but I'm not sure I know how. Squeaking requires a certain amount of know-how. I have left all Goodreads groups and turned off notifications, but that's because of offensive humans, not robots. But you're right that we don't have to use good manners with robots. Even Dr. Manners would agree.

Planning to be famous after the dementia sets in is as good a plan as any. But do make sure your heirs have all your passwords. We had the most awful time getting my mom's Twitter account taken down, and Barnes and Noble still thinks she's alive. This is a real problem for heirs these days.

October 19, 2014 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great post. And I am happy to hear you are taking a "day off" once a week. It will be good for your soul. I just researched caterpillars to find out what type of butterfly I am hosting on my fennel plant. I wonder what caterpillary things goggle will try to sell me. I bet I get offered something! It is a crazy cyber world we "live" in.

October 19, 2014 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--I'm sure you'll start getting ads for pesticides following you around the 'Net. Yes "live" needs to be in quotes. It's not quite living is it?

Maybe I'll visit a bookstore on one of my Thursdays off. You might just see me in yours!

October 19, 2014 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger widdershins said...

Make that 22 people ... oh, I'm in Canada, does that count? :)

I reckon the day one of those 'bots' comes back with the answer, '42' we're all in really big trouble!

October 19, 2014 at 1:19 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

I'm so glad there's a possible solution to ATT. Rather than try to connect with them again, I've just let things go. Not good. I'll try your suggestion: the registered letter. These kinds of things can make you crazy. That's why I try and focus on the WIP, even though I'm in early stages, it's just so much more comforting to escape to my own little fictional world and leave the real one behind. Great post, Anne.

October 19, 2014 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Natalie Aguirre said...

Good for you for taking a day a week off from this all. It's quite overwhelming.

Thanks for the heads up on LinkedIn. I have to join this week because I'm getting laid off as part of my company closing. But I'll be wary.

October 19, 2014 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Well this is interesting. The robots seem to be annoyed by this post and now the Blogger bots aren't letting me reply to individual comments. The window just won't come up. I'll see if this will post, or if I've been cut off from commenting on my own blog completely.

Widdershins--Love the Douglas Adams reference. Yes, when they all start saying "42" we know we're in trouble.

Paul--ATT can make you crazy. I wish I could escape to my WIP as easily as you do. You're so prolific!

Natalie--I'm so sorry to hear you've been laid off. Yes. Use LinkedIn only for work-related stuff and don't try to get social with it. It's just too creepy.

October 19, 2014 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Phyllis Humphrey said...

Anne: Great blog post, as always. I cancelled Linked In a long time ago, before they got crazy. Also a long time ago, I learned to write polite letters to CEOs, and they worked. I got my refrigerator replaced, and the builder ripped out the tub in my new house and put in a larger one. This week I got a phone call from Amazon. Now I love Amazon.

October 19, 2014 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Phyllis--Oh, good. I got the reply window back. It disappeared for about an hour. This stuff is so scary.

You sound as if you're way ahead of me--both on the LinkedIn creepiness and getting CEOs to solve problems their underlings won't touch. I think you may have known my Uncle Don Campbell back in RB. He was very good at getting things taken care of.

Yes, Amazon really does want its customers happy. What a concept!

October 19, 2014 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Belinda Pollard said...

Anne, the Datenkraken ate my last attempt at this comment (and I do hope it gives them indigestion).

I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was brilliant, incisive and helpful. HA. I’ll write it in Word this time and see how many goes it takes for Blogger to deem me Worthy.

I discovered on LinkedIn when you go to Edit Profile, over on the right there is an option that says “Notify your network?” I now have that set to NO, which means they don’t all get advised when I make another minor tweak. Before this freeing discovery, I changed mine to “Communication Ninja” some time back, for a bit of fun… and got a comment from an old colleague from the corporate world. *eek*

I live in mortal fear of that “Sign in with Facebook” button. It’s so large. So blue. So alluring. So hypnotic. I’m afraid that one day I’ll click it by mistake and Unleash The Maelstrom.

We must rise up, and resist the Cyberlords.

p.s. I have to say I really like the idea to print our books in that weird purple ink… Just the mention of it takes me back to primary school, and that smell…

October 19, 2014 at 3:26 PM  
OpenID fornow said...

Great article Anne
It highlights one big No-No. NEVER use one of those "log in with" credentials from another service. These are only offered to cross-link your web activity. It's also a security issue as if someone hacks one site, they get your access to the rest of it. It's also like a 'permission to track you' thing. You're much better off to use a tool like LastPass (basics free) and have distinct logins for every site. Remember one strong password and it keeps track of the rest for you.

Facebook does own whatever you post there. Its in the agreement. And they can use your pictures in advertising, etc. And they've admitted to manipulating user information to change users moods, etc. They're about the most predatory as gathering user info is their business model.

LinkedIn is professionally oriented but unfortunately has been adopting more predatory tactics.You should also never allow another service access to your address book as again its opening a permission doorway they don't close. Recently, LinkedIn indicated it had seen my address book even though I had not given it permission knowingly, so they're evidently getting trickier about it. I was royally annoyed.

I've also run into the issue with the "new job". I edited one of my jobs and got numerous congrats. So I had to write them all and say sorry, not new. I've written to LinkedIn twice about it but they've not fixed it. It's a useless feature and I'm sure they've gotten many complaints but they're letting it stand. They certainly know the difference between someone editing a job and adding a new one.

As you mention, they also have those bots that ask people to endorse you for skills. In my case, they're for skills I've set. But people are endorsing me for skills they've never seen me use. And the bots rule what you get endorsed for. The more you get endorsed for something, the more they ask. So my skills list is stupidly skewed away from what I normally do. It all renders it meaningless too.

Another big issue was Yahoo upgrading their mail and group software unilaterally. This was partly to adapt to mobiles but also to better track and advertise to users.

Keep in mind that these bots were originally written by a person. Normally, they would be well tested before being released into the world but they seem to be getting sloppier about that.

I wrote about this recently, particularly around blog links to social media. Some of those nice plugins for easy social media sharing are user tracking beacons that give them more stats about your visitors than you get. Many sites are oblivious that they're being used this way.

And if you think this is bad, try a permissions check on your smart phone apps. Talk about user tracking...

October 19, 2014 at 3:34 PM  
OpenID fornow said...

btw - if you're going to post here from Wordpress, be sure you're logged in to your WP site first or it can't make the connection. This tool doesn't share access, it just verifies you're not one of those bots.

October 19, 2014 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

Yikes! Now I have a whole new list of things to be paranoid about. What are ghosts or vampires compared to cyberbots? That would make a great Halloween costume if we even knew what they looked like. Nameless, faceless they stalk the Internet, terrorizing unsuspecting humans. I avoid anything or anyone that wants too much information. Big Brother is watching. The NSA is listening in. Cyberbots are feeding off us.

October 19, 2014 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Belinda--Thank you!!! I'll go right now and reset my LinkedIn profile. That piece of info is gold!

I usually use the sign in with FB for Goodreads, because I can't remember the password. I guess I shouldn't do that any more. you're so right about it's azure allure. :-)

That mimeograph ink had such a distinctive smell. Just thinking about it gives me anxiety. They always used it for those pop quizzes in arithmetic in second grade.

October 19, 2014 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

ForNow--Oh, my! You have way more knowledge than I do, but it sounds as if all my suspicions were right--and then some.

So Facebook owns everybody's photos of their vacations? And their kids' photos? I've often wondered how safe it was to post kids' photos on FB. Not very, I'd say.

And I have no recollection of giving LinkedIn permission to read my address book either. All I know is it was a long time ago. Recently they suggested I invite my mom to LinkedIn with an address she hadn't used for years before she died. I don't think if she wanted to contact me from the Other Side that she'd have done it on LinkedIn with an old earthlink address..

I'll definitely check out your post. This stuff is so scary!

October 19, 2014 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thank you!! A solution!!! Wordpress people, sign into WP first, then you can comment here!! Wow. Somebody out there, do try it and let me know how it works!!

October 19, 2014 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Eileen--Big Brother looks almost benign compared to the NSA and the drones and the algos that sneak in and steal your identity (and your book sales) doesn't it? You're right! Our 21st century monsters are way more scary than vampires and ghouls and things that go bump in the night.

I wonder how you could make a cyberbot costume? Maybe one of those white Ebola hazmat suits, covered with code...? Hmmm.

October 19, 2014 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger Belinda Pollard said...

Oh no! The purple ink gives you the heebies! It makes me happy instead. We used to get it for fun things like Find the Word puzzles late on hot Friday afternoons when the week was winding down and the teacher had basically given up. ;-)

Serious Learning generally came off the Gestetner (that thing where the typewriter punched holes in the stencil) which printed in black using different ink, so that’s a whole different smell-memory…

October 19, 2014 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger florence cronin said...

Anne, I sometimes long for all of cyber space to implode.

I would rather busy myself with something other than linking to the social media. It feels like those planned "socials" when we were kids. Like it or not you will dance with the little guy with the horn rimmed glasses that reaches you navel.

All of this is way too much like Big Brother is breathing down my neck. I want to hire a troll to rub him out !! Until then, we should all be wary. I've been hacked three times in ten years and the results two of those times were devastating.

Take a deep breath and pause before you move the little cursor and click :)

October 19, 2014 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger SK Figler said...


October 19, 2014 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--OMG, those dance school events. Nobody wanted to be there. Especially the little boys who hadn't pubed yet. Poor guys.

Being hacked can be so devastating. Nobody knows what it's like until it happens to them.

And oh, yes, always think before you click!

October 19, 2014 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

SK--LOL about "mostly oops." It *can* feel like cyberhell, especially when you get hacked or trolled or glitched.

I must admit I love old movies and books too. I wonder if the huge popularity of Jane-Austen spinoffs and fanfic has to do with a need to escape Cyberia. Also 1950s-set fiction and noirish mysteries. We love to escape to a simpler time. Great for writers who set their fiction in those worlds. :-)

October 19, 2014 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger dolorah said...

Lots and lots of spam out there. Last week my anti-virus program alerted me several times of malware and spam on several innocent sites I usually visit. I think there was something going on in the interwebs. A shame you just can't get away from it.

October 19, 2014 at 11:38 PM  
Blogger Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You made a frustrating subject amusing and I enjoyed all the show and movie references. Datenkraken is my word of the day.

October 20, 2014 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dolorah--I agree something's going on. But I think part of the problem is the anti-virus programs being over-vigilant. I get a "spam" warning on my notices from MailChimp about new subscribers and also on anything from Amazon. I know there's no spam on the Amazon notices (often answers from Author Central), so something else is triggering those warnings. But they're scary. And yes, we need to get away, at least for a while.

October 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Susan--Isn't "Datenkraken" a great word? When people asked me how I was last week, I kept saying. "Fine except I'm exhausted from fighting the Datenkraken." Everybody seemed to have a similar story.

October 20, 2014 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger Collette Cameron said...

I'm grinning!
I get ads for the strangest things, and it creeps me out how fast I start getting them for something I might have glanced at on Amazon.

I've made it a habit to be Social Media free while writing. Otherwise, I get off on rabbit trails.

October 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Colette--Sometimes the only thing left for us to do is laugh. :-) I think "creepy" is the way I describe this stuff, too. We're all being stalked.

I hear you about the rabbit trails. I go online to research something and 2 hours later, I'm in a silly conversation with somebody on FB and can't remember how I got there!

October 20, 2014 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

This comment comes from Judith Reishtein via email:

This post could have been written about me. I especially liked when you referred to the need for a "secret robot-whisperer decoder ring."

When I want to reply to a blog or article I read online, if the sign in requires me to agree to sharing anything about myself other than my email address and a password, I simply delete the post--I've gotten too many weird, uninteresting, or simply annoying emails and posts on my Facebook page to want any more. I'm not scared on the Internet; I just like to treat it with caution.

Yehudit R

October 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Judith--I agree about the emails, and BTW, if anybody is sending you mass emails because you commented on a blog, they're breaking the rules and you should not only delete, but unsubscribe and let them know you're unhappy with the invasion of your privacy.

I'm going to be dealing with this in a future post. I get newsletters and mass mailings from authors all the time when I did NOT subscribe.

I don't think there's any way to protect your privacy on Facebook, though, unless you only use it for a closed family group. It's the most invasive of all social media.

October 20, 2014 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Anne, first of all, congrats for your HUGE readership, that's fantastic! And second, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this piece. That's exactly it, we've all become krakendaten slaves, grrrrr! I'm back from a week in Sicily, there was a terrible storm and all the Internet connections went kaput. I never had a better vacation! So yes, a day off every week is essential and better yet, a whole week off...at least twice a year!

October 20, 2014 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--What a great story! A terrible storm results in the best vacation ever! I love the idea of taking an Internet vacation for a whole week. I think it would be great. The only trouble is the week back might be pretty awful. I'll have to see how my weekly Internet free days go.

October 20, 2014 at 11:55 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

I can relate to everything you say, Anne. 'LinkedIn ... do such creepy stuff.' Too true. Nor can you unsubscribe from LinkedIn. I tried to delete my account last year when its password list was hacked. But I still got daily emails saying that Joe/Jane, etc from LinkedIn wanted to connect with me.

'Nobody seems to be in control of the tech.' It's worse. Nobody is in control of the techies and they've taken over the asylum. For five years, I built a website on a famous platform I dare not name. (If I do, they might delete my site.) Nice people. Then a few months ago the mindless techies took control, imposed a uniform design on all new sites, and made the platform unusable for eccentrics like us who don't like cookie-cutter layouts. 'But the coding is so cool,' I was told. 'You'll learn to love our new, inoperable interface!' I'm now frantically trying to transfer my site to Wordpress.

Yes, the answer is to - somehow - contact a human being. I once made friends with a man at a payment portal by giving him an organic remedy for dog fleas. (True.) But has anyone, ever, managed to resolve a payment dispute at PayPal? The robots prevail. I'm now off for a cool beer. They can't automate my beer cooler, yet.

BTW: To post this comment, I was forced to use my Google account. I didn't want to. But does this software give me any other option I can use? No. Mindless techies...

October 20, 2014 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dr. John--I didn't know that deleting a LinkedIn account wasn't even an option! Sigh. But Belinda says there's a place to go to cut down on notifications. I'll go on a search for it when I get a chance.

As far as techies changing everything "because it's cool" I hear you. Last week, Chrome blew up fonts to three times the size and I had to change everything to 50% to read it. Today it's all back to normal, so I have to put everything back to 100%.

And how did "cool" come to mean "the latest consumer fad"? It used to mean laid-back and mellow, with a sense of self unaffected by outside events.

I've heard that about PayPal. Scary people.

And Google started blocking everybody who doesn't have a Google account about six months ago from commenting here. But one of our commenters says if you sign into WordPress and then sign in with that ID, they'll take it. I have no way to test it, but you might want to try next time. Not that I have much hope. The robots want you to join Google and gmail so they can read your mail, too!

October 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Ay, I read some while back that Google was reading everyone's gmail. In the UK, it was deemed illegal - a crime akin to the post office opening people's letters - but it seems Google still does it. But then Google has defined a new morality. ('Privacy is dead. Get over it,' as the president of Sun Microsystems said in 1999.) Cory Doctorow prophesied the coming dystopia - when Google attains its goal of owning all the information in the world and thus owning the world - as long ago as 2009 in 'Scroogled': http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2007-09-17-n72.html

At the time, it seemed absurd. But now?

October 20, 2014 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger TP Hogan said...

Love this post.
I was laughing nearly the entire way through, but it is all so true.
Thank you for the solution part. I'm bookmarking for future reference.

October 20, 2014 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Anne, I can't believe those things have actually happened to you and authors you know. Crazy stuff. I have to say, when I've signed on to something new and they ask to do it through Facebook, I get weirded out. I think I did it for Goodreads and then felt bad about it. No more of that.

Google reading emails? Seriously? That creeps me out big time. Not that I say anything exciting, but still. I guess it's safe to say we can't assume private messages are private. Sad.

And you're right about being kind. "You get more flies with honey" is definitely true.

October 20, 2014 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

TP--At least we can laugh through our tears. :-) Not much else we can do. At least until we find that 1950s mimeograph ink...

October 20, 2014 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--Hang out in some of the FB indie author groups and you read the most hair-raising stuff. And some of this has happened to me. The one thing you can count on with tech is that if something can go wrong, eventually it will.

And yes, they all read our emails. Big government, big business, and probably your big ex boyfriend. If you want privacy, you have to buy a stamp.

October 20, 2014 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Jan Ryder said...

Anne, like you I've re-discovered the real world, and the earthlings dearest to me. I'd also come to the conclusion that I needed to back off from social media for my own sanity (for the last 18 months I've been spending over 3 hours a day online). When I took a day off from cyberland last week (my first break in all that time) I almost had withdrawal symptoms. But, heck, I enjoyed the experience so much that I did it again yesterday! Btw, regarding those pesky adverts that follow you everywhere, if you go to the preferences tab on your browser you should be able to delete individual cookies placed there by the overlords. Recently I was looking at oak furniture sellers. Guess what popped up on FB, etc? Yep, ad after ad for oak furniture. I went into preferences and found the relevant cookie. No more ads.

October 21, 2014 at 4:02 AM  
Blogger LD Masterson said...

Oh, thank goodness. I'm not the only one who finds dealing with this stuff infuriating and more than a little scary. Sadly, my biggest bot-gotcha has been with Google and, you're right, there are no humans to talk to there.

October 21, 2014 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jan--Congrats on re-discovering the IRL world. I'm trying to get there :-)

Thanks a bunch for the info on deleting cookies. Helpful to know. The thing that bothers me most isn't the ads themselves--which can be hilarious when I'm researching a book--but it's the invasion of privacy behind them. Deleting one cookie will stop one set of ads, but it won't keep Google from reading your email. That's the scary part.

October 21, 2014 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

LD--Infuriating, scary, and dehumanizing. The bots want to reduce us all to a line of code, just like them. And you're right about Google. The real Googleans live in a gated community where they're catered to like royalty, and the rest of humanity is their prey. Funny that their motto is "Don't be Evil".

October 21, 2014 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Nina Badzin said...

Awesome post as usual. I remember your Pinterest snafu. And so true about LinkedIN. Annoying. Meanwhile, like a spaz I opened an Ello account. Will be deleting that soon. There are very helpful tips and I'm glad to know this post is here should I ever unfortunately need them.

October 21, 2014 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nina--Thanks, Nina. The Pinterest thing is so infuriating. I'm getting new followers every day, but they have nothing to follow. So Ello is a waste of time, too? That's what I've been hearing. We honestly have enough time wasters. Remember when machines were supposed to *save* time. :-) I hope you won't ever need any of these addresses.

October 21, 2014 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger venkyiyer58 said...

I didn't even know there were any helpful humans in Cyberia. It thought it was all machines doing 1s and 0s

October 24, 2014 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Venkyiyer--The trick is to get a line to communicate with the humans who produce those 1's and O's. Not always easy, but usually possible. :-)

October 24, 2014 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Tamara Marnell said...

"You can also publish books and reach appreciative readers without groveling for decades to get your work read by some unpaid 20-something intern in NYC who thinks books with protagonists over thirty are, like, totally gross."

I used to enjoy your blog, Anne, but it's because of lines like these that I've been visiting it less and less. I suspect you frequent certain websites where the meanest and smallest-minded people are celebrated as the wittiest, so I hope you simply don't realize how rude and alienating these caustic little swipes really are.
If you truly believe this is the way college-educated twenty-somethings at publishing houses think, then I must say your ageist attitude is, like, totally gross.

October 25, 2014 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tamara--I'm sorry you don't enjoy my humor. Big publishing houses have never welcomed older protagonists. Some of us find that frustrating.

October 25, 2014 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

Off the grid a whole week (really), I have only now gotten to this great post of yours. Among many other things it does is to underscore why I enjoyed myself so much: no email, no phone, nothing for an entire week. You have so thoroughly anatomized what's going on in Cyberia (thank you, it's now in my permanent glossary) that there's not much to add. Of course, people with successful careers can't do what I did, which is food for thought. But what price success? I think most (not all) indie writers must face a hard truth: deciding it's futile to keep banging on trad publishing's door and turning to self-publishing acts out the second half of a Manichaeist's world view. Forces of positive and negative, good and evil are and will remain in a state of permanent, balanced struggle. Everything gained by being one's own publisher is in a state of equipoise with all the negatives. Yes, you get to see your book in print, but then what? Drudgery and more drudgery is waiting in the wings..
As for Cyberia, I've come to think that the way people complain about living in a permanent state of frazzled exhaustion actually masks something else. I think the nonstop blizzard of connections, messages, replies, comments, etc., must actually make people feel important. Needed. They have so much on their plate, it's so hard to keep up, etc. In the end, the best image for all this is an old one: the gerbil on his circular treadmill, working away in a fish aquarium without water, filled instead with shredded paper.
And finally, I am sorry "Tamara" doesn't get it: you are a witty person, and as such you are in very short supply.

October 28, 2014 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barry--I'm so jealous! A week away must have been heaven.

But you're right on so many counts here. Being on social media makes us feel important and needed, and we get addicted to that. If I closed down the blog tomorrow, readers would move on without much regret. But I would miss them terribly.

And you're spot-on about the persistent light/dark of publishing. No matter which path you choose, you're getting a set of equal negatives and positives. As Ruth Harris says, "We've just exchanged tyrannical editors for tyrannical algos"

I'll be writing about that in a future post. Being unpublished is a luxury some of us look back on with longing.

I'm glad you got the whimsy of my remarks. I wasn't expressing my own opinion of the Big 5 as much as summarizing--in a comic way-- the attitude of most self-publishers.

I don't personally believe that every Big 5 author has to file a lawsuit to get paid, or that teen and 20-something interns are solely responsible for the ageism of the industry. My use of "darn wonderful" was meant to carry some irony. Exaggeration for comic effect has been used by humans since we acquired language skills, but alas, it may be lost in this generation.

I've read that Millennials are the most humorless and easily-offended generation ever. I fear that's due to our own failures as parents and grandparents.

October 28, 2014 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Barry Knister said...

Anne--If what you've read is true--that Millenials are the most humorless and easily-offended generation ever--I wouldn't pin the rap on parents. I'd pin it on a culture that relies more on visual than linguistic communication. After banana-peel sight gags, humor is mostly a matter of language. Take away knowledge and practice of language, and you reduce the capacity for grasping irony, or for self-knowledge. Ah well.

October 29, 2014 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Barry--Very insightful. Most humor is verbal. Some people call it "wit" as opposed to banana-peel type "humor". It's true Millenials have been trained to be much more visual than verbal. I hope it doesn't mean our culture is doomed to be dumbed down to banana peel level.

October 29, 2014 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Joseph Ratliff said...

Time to read some E.M. Forster "The Machine Stops" perhaps? :)

First time commenting on this blog, and nicely written post Anne (of course).

October 31, 2014 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joseph--Thanks much for commenting! Welcome!

And how nice to have a Forster reference. Thanks for pointing out the problem isn't new. It just escalates.

October 31, 2014 at 9:28 AM  

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