I know New Year’s resolutions are often abandoned by the end of January, but that’s no reason to avoid thinking about how we can improve our lives in the year ahead. As a tech journalist, I’m not going to lecture you about the need to go to the gym more often, even though I, and probably you, could benefit from a little more exercise. Instead, I’ll focus on how to use your technology devices and services to make them more secure and supportive of your mental and physical health.
Security, backup, passwords
Let’s start with basic security. You’ve heard this before, but if you’re behind, make sure all your software, operating systems, and applications are up to date. Bad guys are always looking for vulnerabilities, and companies frequently provide updates to thwart new threats. All major platforms have ways to automate updates, but it’s always a good idea to check from time to time. Instructions for Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android can be found at connectsafely.org/updates.
Another piece of advice as common these days as “eat your vegetables” is to “back up your data.” You never know when a device is going to fail, break or be stolen. Several years ago, I spilled coffee on my MacBook Air while on a business trip. I needed my device, data and software immediately. Even though replacing the Mac cost me a lot of money, I was able to fully restore the new machine before leaving the Apple Store because every part of my data was backed up in the cloud. Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Microsoft One Drive are all great solutions. If you have Microsoft Office 365, you may already have a terabyte of One Drive storage. There are deals on other services as well, so check which one best suits your budget or needs. And, while you can back up to an external drive, I prefer cloud storage because it won’t be affected by a local disaster (like a fire or flood) and you can access it from anywhere. It’s also relatively secure (nothing is 100% secure) as long as you have a strong password.
Speaking of passwords, this is my next oft-repeated tip. Make sure you have strong, long, and unique passwords. I use long sentences that I can remember and assign a letter to each word in those sentences. Proper nouns are in capitals and I add numbers and symbols. I also highly recommend two-factor authentication for sites like banking, healthcare, email, and social media. More tips can be found at ConnectSafely.org/passwords.
If you’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, or any other social media site, the new year might be a good time to review your usage habits. Start by asking yourself if you’re spending too much time on these apps. I’m a big fan of social media and appreciate its many benefits, but there’s too much of a good thing, especially if it gets in the way of other activities or spending time with family and friends. Despite its ability to make you smile, it can also harm your mood. Try not to get too upset if your friends seem to have better lives than you. Many people use social media to boast about their triumphs and wonderful experiences. Chances are their lives aren’t that perfect, and almost no one looks as good on a typical day as they do in Instagram and Facebook photos.
Also make a decision to be kind and courteous, especially if the online conversation revolves around politics, as it will during this election year. We can disagree without being disagreeable. And if someone is mean to you or says things that make your blood boil, learn to block or delete them, or in serious cases, report them if you think they’re violating the service’s community standards . You can find safety and civility quick guides for most social media platforms at ConnectSafely.org/quickguides.
If you’re like my family, you sometimes misplace your phone at home or worry you’ve left it somewhere else. I don’t have any tips for improving your memory, but I suggest setting up your devices to work with Apple’s Find My or Google’s Find My Device. I mainly use these services to make my phone or tablet ring at full volume if I can’t find them in the house. You can also call your phone, but you may not hear it if it is on vibrate or soft ringing. With these services, they explode at maximum volume. If you think you left it somewhere, they will tell you where it is as long as it stays on and receives a signal. If it’s off, you’ll see where it was when the signal died. You can also use them to find laptops, tablets, Apple and Google Watches, and even Apple AirPods.
I promised I wouldn’t lecture you about going to the gym, but we all need to take care of our health and fitness. You can buy a fitness band or smartwatch, but you can also automatically track your steps and bike rides with your iPhone or Android phone. Make sure you’ve enabled the iPhone Health app or Google Fit app to automatically track you. You already have the app and it may be tracking you, so take a look. If you’re looking for more data, especially on your sleep quality, consider getting a fitness watch or smartwatch. I moved from a Fitbit to a Google Pixel Watch 2 which I use to track all my activities and exercises, my sleep, my pulse, my oxygen saturation during the night (SPO2). I can also take an ECG on demand and measure my stress levels, although paying too much attention to your fitness metrics can actually increase your stress. The Apple Watch also does a great job in this regard.
I look forward to updating you on technology issues in 2024. Happy New Year.
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and internet safety activist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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