Six New Year's resolutions for technology dummies
There's no better time to take advice on how to become more tech-savvy.
1. Start a new system for passwords.
We all suffer from password pile-up. There's email, PCs, office accounts, LinkedIn, Apple, Google, Facebook. And that's before various government services kick in.
Because they are so numerous, many of us are tempted to use the same password for multiple accounts. But this is a silly, dangerous thing to do: a single hack or lost laptop could put lots of sensitive personal information at risk. And even if you're not using the same password several times, it's likely that lots are simple words or birthdate combinations.
While security experts say that you should change your password every six months and use long combinations of letters, numbers and symbols, most people are unlikely to heed this. A compromise solution, say some IT experts, is to pick a password system that is customisable to individual accounts. For example, pick a phrase you can remember. Then take the first letter of each word, capitalise one and add a number, inserting the name of the service you're using. So if your secret phrase is 'My first dog's name was Sam', it becomes 'M1dnwSgmail' for Gmail. Or 'M1dnwSfacebook' for Facebook. And so on. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than 'Sean1973' or 'password' (incredibly, at least one in 20 passwords remain 'password').
2. Get a password manager
If you want to really get a gold star for password protection, IT security boffins say that you should change it regularly (every month, ideally) and use a long string of hard-to-guess letters and symbols. The problem is that these will be impossible to remember.
This is where password managers such as Dashlane or LastPass can be genuinely helpful. They offer a secure place to keep all your passwords in an easily navigable format. You can access the password vault from any internet-connected device (the services themselves are password protected). Best still, they allow you to change most of your passwords from within the services, meaning you can chop and change as often as you like, in line with best practice.
3. Learn three new things your phone can do
Over the last 12 months, you've probably figured out that your phone can be an effective free wifi hotspot, can make and take free calls over the web and can move your contacts to the cloud. But that iPhone 6 or Galaxy Note 4 you just bought can do a dozen other things that could genuinely help your day-to-day life. For example, if you use a regular route to work every day, switching on 'Google Now' can provide you with information on weather conditions and other practical matters on your phone.
Those with iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 models should get ready for Apple Pay, which will allow them to pay for things in shops and online simply by saving their credit card in their handset and using the fingerprint reader every time they pay. Your phone is now an incredibly powerful tool: learn how to let it help you a little more this year.
4. Clean up or delete old accounts
There are still thousands of 'dial-up' internet accounts throughout the UK and Ireland. Some of these, at least, are simply down to companies' oversight in cancelling them. Similarly, online, many of us have umpteen accounts that are either defunct or misleadingly out of date. The problem is that some of these turn up in Google searches for our names or are used for profile information by a variety of organisations. Update the ones you want to keep and delete the ones you don't.
5. Start taking LinkedIn seriously
LinkedIn is a bore, to be sure. But it is a lot more important to your reputation than you might realise.
It's not just that head-hunters and potential business partners often refer to it as a port of first call.
But if you spend 60 minutes getting to know it, you can access all sorts of interesting leads for your own work life.
This includes researching people in other companies as well as finding out who has been looking at your profile.
For those who are more serious, the premium account is worth a shot.
6. Switch off all your email spam notifications
Cutting down on the amount of semi-spam email you get from your own opt-in subscriptions is completely achievable.
You can start by switching off email notifications for your social media accounts (in their respective settings).
Then, start opting out of your email subscriptions as they arrive. (A short cut for Gmail users is to switch to Inbox, Google's new service that sidelines all the subscription-themed email into one basket for you to dip into).