In the new year – and decade – ahead, technology and the internet are set to be more embedded in our lives than ever. From the websites and apps we’ll use every day, to the emergence of super-fast internet and the smart gadgets likely to proliferate in our homes and offices, our technology will be helping to make life more convenient, information easier to access and, perhaps, by the end of this decade, transform how we live and work.
Setting clear intentions for how we’ll use our gadgets will be increasingly important if we are to manage the role of tech – and even more importantly, its impact on society and the planet.
1. Repair don’t replace
Americans throw out over 400,000 cellphones a day, and just 15-20% of old electronics are recycled. With e-waste predicted to double by 2050, this can have a significant environmental impact as the toxic chemicals inside electronics are released into the atmosphere. Do your part by making your smartphone last longer with regular maintenance – and instead of replacing it if it’s damaged, repair it, whether thanks to internet guides or at your local shop.
While most smartphones aren’t exactly easy to repair due to proprietary parts and a lack of official guidance, new legislation for consumers’ ‘right to repair’ is already pushing manufacturers to update their practices – Apple and Samsung, for example, now make their authorized repair programs available to independent shops.
2. Recycle old tech
If that laptop, phone, or smartwatch no longer suits what you need to do – or if that activity tracker is simply languishing in a drawer - find out how you can recycle it. Selling it at online marketplaces such as eBay can fetch a tidy sum – or at least give that old gadget another life – or you can look into nearby recycling programs such as local electronics stores.
3. Think before sharing online articles
As election season kicks off in 2020, our personalized news feeds may not offer a rounded view of all the headlines, while fake news articles could spike on platforms such as Facebook. Avoid perpetuating misinformation by double-checking the veracity of an online article – and if it’s a video seeming to show some celebrity or politician saying or doing something scandalous, decide if it’s a deepfake video, digitally altered to swing political opinion.
In an increasingly polarised political landscape, it’s more important than ever for voters to understand all sides of the debate – so try to seek out news from alternative, respected media sources, including unbiased outlets such as Reuters and the Associated Press.
4. Get savvy when using your credit card online
Cybercrime often targets online shoppers, whether it’s through unbelievable discounts and fake payment pages designed to steal financial details, or malware that skims details from real sites. Kaspersky's research found a 187% jump in such web skimmers embedded in online stores, as well as an increase in banking Trojans that hijack devices in order to steal financial details or money. Investing in a good antivirus solution is one way to minimize the online threats you are exposed to, but with many online scams succeeding due to human error – voluntarily clicking on that too-good-to-be-true deal for instance – getting savvy about safe online shopping is equally crucial.
5. Turn off more app notifications
App notifications are a great way of alerting you of something important – a news headline, a message, a refill of coins on your favorite sim game – but they also take you out of the real-world tasks you’re doing (and once out, studies show it takes up to 25 minutes to regain your place in the work you were doing).
While you may already have turned off notifications for non-crucial apps such as games or weather, it’s worth considering whether seemingly important apps really need to be able to grab your attention. News headlines, for example, may not be critical to read as and when, and you may even rethink whether message apps such as Facebook Messenger, where you might receive texts as part of groups that aren’t totally integral to daily life, could have their notifications revoked. This can allow you to choose when you interact with your phone, rather than reaching for it at every ding or buzz.
6. Get a VPN already
This vital privacy tool scrambles your internet traffic to keep your sensitive information from snoopers’ eyes – and it’s especially important if you’re on public Wi-Fi, say at a hotel, café, or airport. While browsing the web for, say, the best noodle shops near you, may be fine, if you’re logging into your email and social media accounts or buying something online, a VPN is critical for protecting the login and financial information that attracts online thieves.
And if you’re heading to a country with a restricted internet regime, a good VPN can also help you access important services from back home, whether that’s Facebook or Gmail. While we always recommend paid-for VPNs to minimize the risk of personal and browsing data being monetized, there are some good free options; with limited data per month, these are particularly good for occasional use, such as while traveling. (Two of our favorite paid services are NordVPN and ExpressVPN).
7. Subscribe to online content you appreciate
Over the last decade, internet content like blogs, newspapers, music, and video has been something of a Wild West arena – much of it has been free to consume, whether illegally through torrent and pirate sites, or because legitimate outlets want to maintain online readerships. However, as we move into a new decade with an internet increasingly dominated by sophisticated advertising trackers, subscribing to or paying for content you appreciate – whether that’s your daily newspaper, a blog where you can donate via Patreon or a subscription to aggregators like Apple News or Spotify - not only means you support creators to ensure a future for high-quality content, but can also reduce the reliance on ad models for revenue – and perhaps even the influence of advertising on internet businesses.
8. Set those digital boundaries
Do you know what you’re sharing with your friends, acquaintances and the public? Social media is a great way of connecting with friends and networking with career prospects, but it’s a good idea to head into the privacy settings of your favorite platforms to double-check you’re comfortable with the personal and professional information that’s visible and to whom – including whether search engines have access to it.
On Facebook, the Privacy Checkup tool offers a quick way to adjust who your posts and profile are visible too, while you can also head into Settings > Privacy to make detailed tweaks to your privacy settings. LinkedIn, where you may or may not want your profile available on search engines, has a Privacy Settings section where you can adjust what’s publicly available, along with what contacts and contacts-of-contacts can see. On Twitter and Instagram, you can toggle whether non-followers can view your posts, as well as implement approval before people can follow you – handy for stemming a deluge of bot accounts. And on Pinterest, you can prevent your boards from appearing in public search results, and if a certain board is for your eyes only (say, that ‘Dream Supply Closet’ mood board), you can set boards to be ‘Secret’ from other Pinterest users too.
9. Cover your cybersecurity bases
We say it every year, but amidst another major year for malware infection and the proliferation of new online threats, cybersecurity is a vital aspect of your online life. So, install a solid antivirus program that can not only block malware but also alert you of phishing sites trying to steal your details (we like $89.99, on sale for $39.99 on Bitdefender, check price on Amazon, for up to five devices, including Windows PCs, Macs, iOS devices and Android devices). Use a password manager to generate – and remember! – strong, unique passwords to minimize the risk of hacks. Turn on two-factor authentication on email and social media so that even hackers crack your password, they can’t access your accounts. And, when on public Wi-Fi that can easily be spied on, pull out all the safety stops.
[Image credit: 2020 resolutions via BigStockPhoto]