The Convenience of Today

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 26, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

It was a chilly, wet December day in Manhattan and I was sitting around a table at brunch with my cousins and sister. We were waiting to hear from my older brother about whether or not he’d make it to this family holiday celebration.

I tried him on his cell phone, no answer. We called his wife’s cell phone…no answer. Then my cousin, Maryana, suggested we try his landline. All 10 of us laughed out loud. “His landline?!  He’s a millennial. Why would he have a landline?!” This conversation of landlines vs. cell phones then segued into a broader topic about the convenience of the modern era – and the implications we’re facing today.

The Convenience of Today

The ladies at brunch.

I was just beginning high school when cell phones started becoming more mainstream. Fun, colorful phones like the LG Chocolate and Motorola Razr, and more sophisticated ones like the Nextels and Sidekicks, were making their debut. Yet, landlines were still used for those long conversations, as to not waste any precious minutes. Texting was restricted to T9 (unless you were lucky enough to have a full keyboard), which meant conversations were usually short and sweet. The Internet offered basic features like instant messaging, emailing, and keeping up with the news – but it was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today.

We were growing up in a time when access to cell phones and the web was just becoming more affordable to the average consumer. Our parents were learning with us, and together we were embracing this incredible shift from revolutionary to expected convenience.

Today, there is an estimated 2.32 billion smartphone users worldwide, out of a 7.6 billion global population. As a result of this advancement in technology, there has been a huge shift in society’s behavior. For example, today:

  • You can deposit a check from your phone without ever going to the bank.
  • You can pay your friends back without ever exchanging cash.
  • You can order a taxi without ever hailing one from the sidewalk.
  • You can track your family’s or friend’s location through a GPS locator.
  • You can call a friend in New Zealand for free.
  • You can scan and send documents.
  • You can track and modify your investment portfolio in real time from anywhere.

And one of the most fascinating examples of smart technology is the Echo/Alexa, the fly-on-the-wall Amazon life-bot that is constantly in “listen-mode,” offering more than 15,000 skills to its owner.

The Convenience of Today

Alexa Bot on Amazon.

Looking at the bigger picture, what does this mean? Technology can play a significant role in our lives, and it is up to us to understand how we’ll be affected. One of the most important considerations to keep in mind is our privacy. With apps knowing our exact location, target marketing based on conversations, and friends tagging us in in-the-moment photos, it can be a challenge to keep a low profile.

There are ways to protect your privacy, however, and below are a few hacks that hopefully you find helpful:

1. Use WhatsApp for Texting and Calling

In 2016, WhatsApp added their standard, end-to-end encryption feature for all calls and texts, keeping the conversations between you and the recipient(s) secure. This digital security feature was added to protect you, the user, from information hacks.

The Convenience of Today

2. Go Incognito When Browsing the Web

You’re familiar with the term “cookies” right? No, not the cookies you eat, but rather the cookies that store your information on participating websites. The reason for this is to store your information to personalize your experience throughout the site. This can include anything from your login information to remembering your purchases to recommending similar items next time. If this is unsettling for you, browse “incognito” or “private.” What this means is that cookies are disabled and you are able to search without your information being stored.

Typically, I do this when searching for flights. The reason being that after the 2nd or 3rd time of searching the same route and dates, the price increases. By searching incognito, I can search as many times as I’d like without the fare raising due to my constant searches.

3. Use an Encrypted Email Service

If you have ever written an email in Gmail saying something along the lines of “attached in this email” or “in the attachment” and accidentally forgot to add the attachment, when you click “send,” Gmail will notify you that you didn’t add Consumer Resource Guidethe attachment. You’ll have the chance to go back to the email and add the attachment. It’s a really convenient reminder, and more times than not we think, “Phew, thank goodness for that message!” Then we realize that in order for Gmail to send that alert, they needed to review the content in the email.

Google is one of the largest data collection hubs in the world. With all of their services (Gmail, Gchat, photos, G-Suite), generally, they know more about their users than most sites. What are they doing with all of this information? They say customizing the experience for their user, but is that all?

Now, Gmail has added an encrypted feature, but the recipient of your email must have the add-on feature as well. If not, then the email won’t be encrypted. If you’d rather keep the content of your emails private, consider encrypted email providers that work regardless of whether or not the recipient has it. Such providers include Confidesk or ProtonMail. There are many other companies out there offering these services, and the two previously mentioned are a couple of the most popular.

The Convenience of Today

BONUS:  Turn off your location services when not using apps.

Many social apps, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. will initially ask if they can use your location to better enhance your surfing experience. Some apps provide must-visit recommendations in the area and others add fun filters to your photos. When you’re not using these apps, turn off your location services. This means “they” won’t have a record of where you are unless you turn on the service. That’s more comforting, isn’t it?

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Technology is ever-evolving, and quite quickly. It is easy to forget the importance of preserving our privacy when thinking about the convenience factor. It’s up to us to decide if we want to be on-the-grid or off-the-grid, and if you choose to be off, do some more searching (incognito, of course) about other services that may fit what you’re looking for.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 26, 2017. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

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