5 tech resolutions to consider for 2021

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Lose weight. Quit smoking. Manage finances better.

Sure, these are all popular and sincere New Year’s Resolutions – especially after the challenging year we’ve just endured – but you should also consider giving yourself a small tech makeover this year.

In fact, doing so can keep you safer, more productive, and even help the environment at the same time.

Perhaps you haven’t properly protected your devices, and thus leaving your info at risk? Maybe it’s the year you get friendly with the “Unsubscribe” option in your emails to clean up your inbox? And as you likely received new tech over the holidays, what do you plan on doing with your older gear?

Fortunately, there are some simple solutions for you to start 2021 off on the right foot. Here are a few techy resolutions to consider:

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I will back up my important info

You know the old adage – you don’t know what you got until it’s gone – so be sure to back up your important files on a regular basis in case of theft, fire or flood, a nasty virus, or power surge that fries your drive.

It doesn’t really matter how you back up your files, as long as you do something and fairly often. There are several inexpensive local backup solutions, like inexpensive external hard drives and solid-state drives (SSDs), networked drives, or USB flash drives.

But also take advantage of one of the free online “cloud” storage options, which lets you access your files securely through a password-protected app or website. Popular cloud services include OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox, to name a few.

I will use cybersecurity software

A Pew Research survey found a majority of Americans have directly experienced some form of data theft or fraud, which has prompted them to use cybersecurity software.

But you don’t need to fall victim in order to proactively protect yourself from hackers, viruses (or other malicious software), or a phishing scam (if deceived into divulging confidential information).

Reputable cybersecurity software on all your devices – laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones – can identify, quarantine, delete, and report any suspicious activity. The most robust software offers a suite of services, including a firewall and encryption options.

On a related note, only use strong passwords (or passphrases) for all your online activities, and never use the same one twice (in case that company suffers a data breach). Free password manager apps – like Dashlane, Roboform, 1Password and Lastpass – are a handy way to store them all.

And make it harder for the bad guys to access your data by opting for two-factor authentication, which means you not only need a password or passcode (or biometrics log on, like a fingerprint or facial scan) to confirm it’s you but also typing in a one-time code sent to your mobile phone.

I will clean up my gear

April may be a few months away, but it’s not too early to spring clean your gadgets and gear – especially when we’re encouraged to be extra vigilant about hand-washing and keeping surfaces clean from viruses, germs, and bacteria.

On the outside of your tech, use proper cleaning solutions to wipe down screens, keyboards, mice, remotes, and so on. It’s best to spray a rag instead of applying directly to your tech – in case the liquid does more harm than good.

There are also products that use ultraviolet light, which has been proven to kill up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. For example, the HoMedics UV-Clean Phone Sanitizer ($69) is a small pouch in which to place your smartphone – even a large one like iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 – and once you zip it up and press a button, it uses UV-C LEDs to sanitize in just one minute. (HoMedics also has a larger UV-Clean Portable Sanitizer bag, for $89, that can fit other items, too, like car keys, eyeglasses, jewelry, TV remotes, and more.)

For desktop computers with a tower, use a handheld vacuum to clean out the fan to get rid of dust, pet hair, and so on.

Also, clean up what you see on your screens and help make your devices run smoother. For example, is your desktop (on a PC) or home screens (on phones, tablets) littered with so many icons that you can’t see the photo behind it?

On a related note, uninstall unused apps to clear the clutter and free up storage space.

I will reduce unwanted email

Are you receiving emails from stores you no longer shop at or newsletters that are of no interest to you?

These all should have an “Unsubscribe” button or link at the bottom of the message. Don’t be afraid to use it. Some email programs will even ask you if you want to unsubscribe and if you click or tap “yes,” it will take care of everything for you.

After all, the more emails you need to sift through in your inbox, the more time you’re wasting, and the less you’re looking at relevant work emails and other important correspondence.

Similarly, junk email (or “spam”) clutters up your inbox, promising everything from cheap pharmaceuticals to fixing bad credit. Chances are your email program, such as Microsoft Outlook, or webmail program (like Gmail) lets you bump up the filters so that it catches more junk mail.

Some cybersecurity software also combs through your email and drop suspicious messages into a Spam folder.

Also, be selective about to whom you’re giving out your email address when online and if you want to share it with trusted companies (such as a retailer) set up a free, secondary webmail address (like Gmail or Yahoo!), to keep your main inbox dedicated to family, friends or colleagues.

I will properly recycle old tech

There’s one obvious downside to our increasing reliance on technology: electronic waste.

“E-waste” refers to discarded rather than recycled electronic equipment accumulating in landfills each year – about 50 million tons of it worldwide, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

The issue, of course, is that consumer electronics contain toxic substances such as cadmium, lead, mercury, beryllium, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), to name a few of the nasty ones, and this toxic runoff poisons our soil, water and ecosystems.

So, what to do?

You know the old adage: If you can’t reuse, recycle.

It’s always better to hand down tech to those who could use it, whether it’s to a family member, friend, or donated to a community center, school, or church. But assuming it’s time to ditch it, you’ll want to properly recycle.

The Environmental Protection Agency lists several ways to donate or recycle electronics.

You can see all the options on where to bring in your larger tech items (like computers and printers) at various drop-off locations across the country, including retailers, or for smaller items (like smartphones) that can be traded in or mailed through programs offered by mobile phone carriers. There are some differences per state, so be sure to read the details.

Before you recycle, remember to back up your information from the devices you’re recycling, and then properly delete the data from your devices so that it won’t fall into anyone’s hands.

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