It wasn't too long ago that setting up an email account seemed like a real fun idea. It was the greatest invention to come along since a phone you could carry in your pocket. But now, a lot of the luster has worn off, and our grand electronic postal service that was supposed to help us quickly communicate with friends, family, and business colleagues has turned into a dumping ground for sales announcements from LL Bean, Hotel Deals This Weekend Only! and corny jokes and stories that have made the rounds around the internet so many times they're received like fruitcakes at Christmas. The stories probably weren't even true anyway.
These emails come so fast and so abundantly. We haven't the time to keep up–not even to delete them. As a result, we end up with thousands of unread messages in our Inbox, and we run the risk of missing the important ones. Or, at the very worst, we give up and don't even bother checking them anymore. What can we do to regain control?
1. One method to resolve this issue is to cut bait and delete everything older than 30 days (or whatever timeframe you're most comfortable with). Think of it as an Amnesty Day for old emails that were waiting to be read. Let them go. If something was that important, and you missed it, chances are likely that the person or organization would have called you by now. You will end up with a much more manageable garden to then go weed. Save this one, delete that one, etc.
2. Additionally, one trick to preemptively handle future onslaughts of unwanted emails is to click on Unsubscribe, usually found at the bottom of commercial emails in tiny faint letters. Be sure to wear your progressive lenses. Note: only click on Unsubscribe in emails from legitimate businesses and organizations. Companies, like Target, will honor your request and take you off of their mailing list. Dubious players, like Ukrainian Wines Cheap!, will not. In fact, clicking Unsubscribe here will likely encourage them to send you more junk.
3. An alternative, the nuclear option, is to start all over with a new email address. If you choose this solution, be sure to send out an email to all of your contacts stating that you want them to email you at your new address. Don't forget to let your doctors and other services know, too!
Once you've cleaned out your Inbox and have 0 unread emails, It's a good idea to check it frequently enough that you don't let them accumulate again. From now on, that red bubble with the number in it will have regained significance and legitimacy.
Spilling coffee on your laptop, a power surge during a summer storm, or plain old hard drive failure. These are just a few things that can cause your computer to crash and for you to lose access to whatever you had stored on it–photos, music, documents, and more. If this were to happen, what would you lose? Would it be "game over," or do you have a backup plan?
Having a good backup system in place is a core element in managing your digital life. (And, as much as many of us hate to admit it, almost all of us do indeed have a digital life in some fashion or another.) Fortunately, the process of making sure your important items are backed up isn't as daunting as it seems.
There are a few solutions that are readily available. One that requires almost no work at all is cloud computing. It's a fancy shmancy term for having your data synced and backed up to a computer that's located somewhere else. If you have a Gmail account, you are using "the cloud." Your emails are located on a server that Google owns, and any device you use to access your email talks to that server. Google Drive is the same thing, only with documents. Any changes you make from any device are synced on Google's cloud server. Microsoft has OneDrive, and Apple has iCloud for email, photos, documents, and other data.
However, simply owning an iPhone or MacBook doesn't guarantee that you're using the cloud. You have to turn it on in System Preferences. Likewise, if you download a Google Doc to your computer and make changes to it, it doesn't mean that the new version is necessarily stored in the cloud anymore. While there are some procedures to follow, fortunately they're not difficult once you get started.
Cloud computing aside, it's also a good idea to backup your entire computer to an external hard drive on a regular basis. Both Macs and Windows PCs have programs that can automate this function for you. You just need to purchase the hard drive. Good news: they're not that expensive, and they hold a lot of data! From your external hard drive, you can even restore your entire system should you experience a crash or buy a new computer and want everything back the way it was.
Managing your digital life is something necessary–like going to the dentist twice a year (but not as painful as getting a filling). With a few procedures in place, you can feel confident that your important documents and family photos are backed up. You'll be ready when lightning strikes!
2020 has been a crummy year on so many different levels. For many families, one of the greatest hardships of the year has been being isolated from loved ones. For those of us who have family in assisted living, the lockdowns have been excruciating. There was one bright spot, however, that made this year a little better: the Echo Show smart display with Alexa.
When my dad went into assisted living about a year and a half ago, we wanted some way that we could communicate with him at any time of day or night. At first, we thought that we could simply FaceTime or Zoom with Dad, but we soon realized that his motor skills and lack of technology experience put an end to those video chat options. It wasn't that we weren't comfortable calling him. It was that he wasn't able to answer those calls. That's where the Echo Show came to the rescue.
Of course, the one we gave him was only intended to supplement the in-person visits that we had with him. Little did we know those visits would soon come to an end when COVID hit. Suddenly, the Echo Show was the main method of communicating with him.
The great aspect of the Echo Show is the Drop-In feature. It does what the name suggests–it allows you to "drop in" on the person you're calling. All you have to do is begin the video chat on your end (with a smartphone or another Echo Show), and it will call the person on the other end, with audio and video activated. In other words, my dad didn't have to do anything to answer the call. We could instantly see and hear him, and vice-versa. (Note: users have the option to turn this feature off for privacy.)
We liked the Echo Show so much that we set one up for my mother-in-law down in Florida. She doesn't live in a nursing home, but she has Parkinson's disease and has great difficulty holding a phone steady. Now we can drop in anytime to see her. In addition, when she's not using the Echo Show for our video chats, she utilizes its Alexa voice assistant to control the device. She can have it play music, show pictures, and fetch the weather and news.
I've recommended the Echo Show for many of my clients who live in or have family who live in assisted living, senior living, and independent living. While some of them don't like things that are "too techie," they all agree that this device has been very helpful. To me, it's one of the few material objects that made 2020 a little more bearable.