by Larry Magid
This post is adapted from one that first appeared in the Mercury News
I’m well aware that 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 to come. I’m not going to lecture you about getting to the gym more often, although I, and probably you, could benefit from a bit more exercise. Instead, I’ll focus on how to use your tech devices and services to make them more secure and more supportive of your mental and physical health.
Security, backup, passwords
Let’s start with basic security. You’ve heard this before, but in case you’re behind, make sure that all of your software, operating systems and apps 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 still a good idea to check now and then. Click here for instructions for Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android.
Another piece of advice as common these days as “eat your vegetables,” is “back up your data.” You never know when a device will crash, break or get stolen. Several years ago, I spilled coffee on my MacBook Air during a business trip. I needed my device, my data and my software right away. Although it cost me a lot of money to replace the Mac, I was able to fully restore the new machine before I left the Apple store because every bite of my data was backed up to the cloud. Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive are all excellent solutions. If you have Microsoft Office 365, you may already have a terabyte of One Drive storage. There are also deals on other services, so check which one is best for your budget or needs. And, even though you can back up to an external drive, I prefer cloud storage because it won’t be impacted by a local disaster (like a fire or flood), and you can access it from anywhere. It’s also relatively safe (nothing is 100% safe) so long as you have a strong password.
Speaking of passwords, that’s my next oft-repeated piece of advice. Make sure you have strong, long and unique passwords. I use long phrases that I can remember and assign a letter to each word in those phrases. Proper nouns are capitalized, and I add numbers and symbols. I also highly recommend two-factor authentication for sites like banking, healthcare, email and social media. Here’s ConnectSafely’s Quick-Guide to Secure 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 advantages, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially if it’s getting in the way of other activities or time with family and friends. Despite its ability to make you smile, it can also dampen your mood. Try not to get too upset if your friends seem to be having a better life than you are. Many people use social media to trumpet their triumphs and wonderful experiences. Chances are their lives aren’t quite so perfect, and almost no one looks as good on typical days as they do in Instagram and Facebook photos.
Also, resolve to be kind and civil, especially if the online conversation turns to politics, as it will during this election year. We can disagree without being disagreeable. And if someone is being unkind to you or saying things that boil your blood, learn how to block or unfriend them, or in severe cases, report them if you think they’re violating the service’s community standards. You’ll find safety and civility related Quick Guides to most social media platforms at ConnectSafely.org/quickguides.
And be sure to check your privacy settings to make sure you have control over who sees what you post.
Finding your phone
If you’re like my family, you sometimes misplace your phone at home or worry that you might have left it somewhere else. I don’t have advice about improving your memory, but I do suggest you configure your devices to work with either Apple’s Find My or Google’s Find My Device. I mostly 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 might not hear it if it’s on vibrate or a soft ring. With these services, they blast out at maximum volume. If you think you left it somewhere, they’ll tell you where it is so long it’s on and getting a signal. If it’s off, you’ll see where it was when the signal died. You can also use these to find laptops, tablets, Apple and Google watches and even Apple AirPods.
I promised not to lecture you about going to the gym, but we all need to pay attention to our health and fitness. You can buy a fitness band or a smart watch, but you can also track your steps and bike rides automatically with your iPhone or Android phone. Make sure you have 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 check it out. If you’re looking for more data, including how well you slept, consider getting a fitness or smartwatch. I upgraded from a Fitbit to a Google Pixel Watch 2 that I use to track all of my activities and exercise, my sleep, my pulse rate, my overnight oxygen saturation (SPO2). I can also perform an EKG 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.
Talking with your kids
If you have kids, this is a good time to talk with them about how they’re using technology. Make it a conversation, not a lecture and don’t just give advice — ask them what they and you can do to have a safer, more secure and more productive 2024.
Have a great New Year.