In tech, 2017 was a hectic year: Fake news hit new highs to sway global events; major tech corporations were hacked, exposing millions of Americans' information; and Facebook admitted that using social media could have adverse effects on your mental health. As we enter 2018, it might be more important than ever before to focus on finding a balance — between work and life, and in how we use our technology.
If you're anything like me, some of your resolutions revolve around using less technology — to improve mindfulness and stay in the present moment — while others are based on fine-tuning the best new tech to get fit, productive and of course, data-secure.
With the whole year sparkling ahead of us, here are 10 tech resolutions for all of the above:
1. Get motivated to exercise regularly
Dark winter mornings don't exactly make it easy to log those daily jogs, but the right fitness app can be the boost you need to get out of bed. Some of our favorite running apps track stats galore to help you monitor improvement, or feature tempo-based music playlists to keep you entertained. For a little extra push, pick an app centered around personalized coaching, such as Aaptiv, which can tailor workouts to your activity level. You might also want to check out other fitness apps for smartphone-based instruction for activities from weight-training to yoga.
2. Ban screens before bed
Screen time before bed is increasingly linked to adverse physical effects such as lower-quality sleep and higher body mass indexes in kids. So set a schedule for when it's ok for you — and the children — to use devices. Experts recommend keeping the hour before bedtime gadget-free.
At the very least, hold your device 14 inches from your face, and switch to Night Mode on your smartphone — iPhone and Android users will find it under Settings > Display — to filter the brain-stimulating blue light that can keep you up long after you've put the phone down. But don't forget: Having a smartphone or tablet tucked in with you can overstimulate your brain through addictive thrills like Candy Crush Saga, or by linking your bed with wakeful activities such as email checking and social media scrolling.
3. Think before sharing headlines
"Fake news" became Collins Dictionary's word of 2017, helped by the ease of social media sharing: One study found that 60 percent of readers don't click links before sharing them. Practice spotting fake news: It tends to spike around volatile events (case in point being the 2016 U.S. election) and its headlines are typically written to evoke an emotional reaction. Consider the source of the article, and the sources it cites within. Then exercise restraint before hitting Share or Like.
4. Create a solid backup system
If you're still saving ultra-important work documents or financial applications to a single location, 2018 is your year to start backing those files up already. Google, Apple and Microsoft all offer free cloud storage services that allow you to save sensitive docs such as a mortgage or insurance application to a desktop folder that constantly syncs with a remote server.
Alternately, you might want to consider switching to a cloud-based office suite, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365, which both offer online versions of the classic word processor, spreadsheet and slideshow presentation programs. Working online means your files are constantly saved to the cloud, and they're accessible from anywhere — regardless of dead batteries or forgotten laptops.
5. Safeguard digital photos
Upgrading your smartphone in the new year? Make sure all your photos are backed up online, particularly if you're thinking of switching your smartphone OS.
If you use an iPhone, the photos are backing up to iCloud; Android phones should be syncing your photos to Google Drive (check in Google Photos > Settings > Back up and Sync. Google Pixel and Nexus phones get unlimited full-res uploads). Note, however, that iCloud charges for storage after a paltry 5GB (shared among all your Apple devices), while Google's storage is unlimited only for compressed photos, albeit at a resolution fine enough to display on a screen or print up to postcard size.
For more storage, you might want to check out some of our favorite photo backup services, including Flickr (Android/iOS/Windows), which offers 1TB of free storage for photos with no resolution limit.
If you create tons of large files in music, video or photo editing programs, an external hard drive or two (or more) might better suit your needs. We like the Western Digitial My Book Desktop hard drive which comes in 3TB ($94 on Amazon) to 8TB ($185) and in a dual drive configuration up to 20TB ($799)
6. Get an antivirus program
In a year of continuing virulent online scams, battening down the digital hatches is the first line of defense against hackers and fraudsters. A basic — and free — antivirus program can hold off unwittingly downloaded viruses and spyware, while paid-for premium software will additionally warn you of phishing links that lead to fake login screens designed to steal passwords, and will block ad trackers and make your financial transactions more secure. One of our current favorites is Kaspersky Total Security (Mac/Windows), which can be shared among five devices.
7. Use a password manager
Still using one of these clunkers? Password hacking is one of the most common ways that hackers gain access to user accounts. Breaching even a non-sensitive account — such as a login for a site like Techlicious — can give hackers the additional information (location or email address, for example) necessary to hack into other accounts such as email and banking, allowing them to perpetrate identity fraud. One of your best defenses is a unique, difficult-to-crack password for every account — and unless you have a Herculean memory, the easiest solution is to use a password manager that can generate and fill in passwords for you. We like Dashlane, which protects your password bank with two-factor authentication.
8. Protect your identity
In 2017, Uber, Yahoo and accountancy firm Deloitte were just three of the multinational companies whose users' data were exposed by hackers. Limit the damage of identity fraud by enrolling with a credit reporting agency — this allows you to monitor if, when and how any of your credit information may have been used.
Not that credit agencies are immune from hacks — the global breach of Equifax probably had the furthest-reaching consequences of 2017, exposing the birth dates and social security numbers of over 145 million Americans, or nearly half the population. If you haven't already, make sure you check to see if this breach affected you. Should your details have been compromised, you may want to request a "security freeze," which prevents Equifax from releasing your credit report, making it impossible for anyone to make credit-dependent applications (such as a mortgage) in your name. (Note that this will also complicate the process for you if you're planning to apply for a credit line or rent an apartment or house in the near future, so plan the timing accordingly.)
9. Choose when you use technology
With apps and service providers vying for our 24/7 attention, it's not easy to carve out a distraction-free, tech-lite space in our lives. Of course, there are apps to help with using your technology mindfully. Meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm offer guided exercises to help you relax, get to sleep or, in general, improve your mindfulness and attention to the present moment.
Turn off notifications for other apps to reclaim control over your phone usage. Candy Crush is a no-brainer to add to the list, but you may want to consider turning off message notifications at times when you can't (or shouldn't) respond — for example, during work hours or when spending time with the kids. This allows you to decide when you interact with your phone, instead of reacting to every buzz or ping.
You can also set an automatic Do Not Disturb mode in iPhones and Androids (found in Settings), which lets you customize which alerts come through and when.
10. Make ethical tech choices
Like everyone else, we love apps that are convenient, efficient and slick to use. Yet many tech giants that have influenced the way we work and live are increasingly making headlines for questionable practices.
In the coming year, you might see the first build of Check Your Tech, a prototypical database for information about how your favorite app providers operate — designed to help you decide whether you need to find a kinder alternative. Outside the tech industry, Good On You is an app that shows how ethically fashion brands operate, while Buycott lets shoppers scan supermarket items to see how they were produced.
As technology becomes an increasingly pervasive and powerful industry, it's crucial that we consumers put our clicks (and cash) behind companies whose values align with ours — and the planet's.
[image credit: 2018 concept via BigStockPhoto]