Tools to be more deliberate

After thinking yesterday about being more deliberate in how I interact with the digital world, I find myself looking for ways to practice it. The instances that come to mind are centered around content: what content is delivered when and how. (Are there others?)

One way I accomplish this is through personal curation. There are sources that I rely on for various things, like the New York Times or Harvard Business Review. Rather than count on an aggregator or platform (e.g. Facebook) to pick and choose what we read and the acceptable sources, I do this on my own.

For a while now, I have used Feedly to handle my RSS feeds. Find a good news source or blog? I add it. Interestingly enough, a number of sources seem to be down on RSS as a viable way to interacting with the internet. Recently thought, I came across this article from Wired.

The difference between getting news from an RSS reader and getting it from Facebook or Twitter or Nuzzel or Apple News is a bit like the difference between a Vegas buffet and an a la carte menu. In either case, you decide what you actually want to consume. But the buffet gives you a whole world of options you otherwise might never have seen.

Doubling Down on RSS

I’ve always viewed RSS as a more curated and purposeful way to pick what I am reading. One aspect of RSS that is more pronounced today than ever for me, in the context of social media news feeds and knowing your sources of information, is that with RSS I can’t be lazy. I can’t just load up the old reader and see what someone has put in front of me without my having added them. Consent is built right in, assuming the source of information remains in-tact.

Living an algorithm-free life may be an impossibility today, but for now I am in control of what and when I see things. I can let sources in that I may not agree with and others which may be easier on the eyes, but however it is done I can rest assured I know where the content is coming from with an RSS feed.

Deliberateness is the antidote to our technology habits

It was February 2004. The Student Union was quite empty, and one of us had discovered a site, thefacebook.com. It seemed like a nifty place, like MySpace or Friendster, but it was only for those universities that were invited — we were school 34, I think.

Since then a lot has happened — the rest is history, as they say.

Seeing how we have become accustomed to zoning out on our devices, compulsively checking status updates or merely falling captive at any headline that washes over the screen, has given me pause recently. Trust has been somehow built, enabling us to take information at face value. Imagine this conversation:

Person A: “Did you hear…?”

Person B: “Where did you hear that from?”

Person A: “I can’t remember, somewhere online.”

Sources have almost been lumped into one, indistinguishable and therefore irrelevant.

Certainly, the advent and implementation of various algorithms (designed and maintained by a group of human beings) hold some of the blame, but this is only part of the story. Like your grandmother who clicked a link to give money to a fictitious Nigerian prince, we need to be more aware or mindful in how we use technology — for that matter, in our lives more generally. Being deliberate in how we spend our time and where we place our attention.

As someone studying business and digital marketing strategy, it is important to understand this, from both perspectives of the for-profit organization and all of us as human beings. It may have been a reasonable assumption to think of people as being responsible for their actions in earlier times, but what now when it appears our ability to be deliberate seems to have become disabled?

How do we balance our need to grow and control demand with what is in the best interest of our users as human beings? How much of our design has manipulated their behaviors beyond what is reasonable?

In the meantime, it is a terrific time to take a step back and inventory our own behaviors with respect to technology use. What percentage of what you do is purposeful and what amount is out of boredom or habit?

Gain sanity by managing your passwords

We are all constantly signing into and out of accounts. There are personal logins, business accounts, highly-sensitive stuff like bank accounts, or less-sensitive. Often times when helping people out, we get tripped up by having to remember account information — or having to reset a password because we just can’t. In the end, what I hear is that we can’t be bothered or a flippant “who would want to steal my Consumer Reports password?”

There are a few problems:

  1. Forgetting a password
  2. Loosing track of accounts
  3. Using the same password across accounts (often with the same user name)
  4. Using a poorly constructed password (e.g. password, 12345)
  5. Using a password after an account or service has been hacked or compromised
  6. Using passwords for an account you share with others

This post is for those of you not yet using a password manager. There are a few things you can do to help mitigate future issues, like two-step or two-factor authentication, but the smartest place to start seems to be managing our passwords.

(Worth pointing out, I use log-in and sign-in interchangeably. When I say “credentials”, I am referring to your user name and password, or whatever is required by a particular service to access said account.)

What is a Password Manager?

A password manager is an app, a single place, where you can store and access your account information. You may already have a password manager in the form of a notebook or an entry in the Notes app. A password manager is like that, but on steroids. Not only does it store this information, but it allows you to easily access the information where you need it. It also helps you create new passwords, so you don’t have to come up with one on your own. 

Which password manager should I use?

I am a fan of 1Password, but there are several options out there. 

Two places I recommend starting are The Wirecutter and The Sweet Setup. I highly recommend reading their articles on this topic. (At the time of this writing, The Wirecutter updated their review to place 1Password as a runner up — to competitor LastPass — noting excellent security, great for macOS and iOS users, but lacking some features for non-Apple systems.)

Passphrases. Not passwords.
While we’re at it, I also want to emphasize that a strong password is not a word. It is a string of characters that best attempts to make guessing or discovering your credentials — whichever technique they employ — as difficult as possible. This is where password managers are essential. Creating a unique string for each and every account you create is seemingly exhausting and how in the world are you to remember all those? The beauty is you don’t have to.

The Six Problems

In the beginning, I listed six problems. I want to go through each of these to give a little more context and try to show how a password manager addresses each of these.

1. Forgetting a password

Mostly, this is just an annoying experience we have all gone through — before password managers that is. Remembering passwords can be tricky, especially as sites have become more proactive over the last few years in requiring you to update them periodically. You may have even been told, while updating your password, that your new password “has been used before” and you have to come up with yet another. Password managers complete solve this by not only storing this information, but also helping you to generate a new one.

2. Loosing track of accounts

Ever gone to a shopping site and decide, “sure, I’ll create an account” as you purchase those boots only to find out that your email address already exists? Do you remember making an account at LLBean? Apparently you did. Similarly as before, password managers track not only the user names and passwords, but also the names and URLs of the accounts you have created. Get to a site like this and just launch your password manager to see your previous entries. (And if you find yourself having to hit the “forgot my password” button, now you can reset it using that password manager so you’ll never have to do it again.)

3. Using the same password across accounts (often with the same user name)

Yes, you do this. It’s convenient, right? You read this and said *I already have one password*.  And you use it *everywhere*, right? Now, you might not care about how secure your Yahoo! account is, it’s not like they have your credit card information or anything. But let’s look at what happens. [Yahoo! gets hacked]. (They were, in fact, in 2013 and 2014, but you didn’t find out until 2016.) Someone has your account information and not only do they use it to gain access to your account with Yahoo! they try it out on many other commonly used sites because, like you, so many of us use a single password across multiple services. Now, they have access to something you really care about. A password manager can generate unique passwords so you don’t have to come up with those passwords on your own. It will also tell you how old your password is, indicating when you might consider updating your credentials.

4. Using a poorly constructed password (e.g. password, 12345)

Not only do you need a password you can remember, you need one you can enter quickly. You’ve heard that password length is tied to how secure a password is, but you don’t have time to enter some 32-character password each time. Not only with a password manager generate these lengthier, more secure passwords, but through app integrations from the likes of 1Password, all you need to do is authenticate with 1Password and — poof! — your user name and password fills in automatically.

5. Using a password after an account or service has been hacked or compromised

You aren’t nerdy enough to be reading the internet waiting for hacker news. You might not even be reading the newspaper. That’s okay. Password managers have some features to help alert you to certain types of web security issues. 1Password launched Watch Tower to help with certain types of attacks. You can also do your best to update your passwords on a routine, annual basis. The password manager can show you passwords that are more than 1 year or 3 years old. You know, so when you set your clocks back and replace the batteries in your smoke detectors, just go in and update the passwords to some of your most used, most sensitive accounts.

6. Using passwords for an account you share with others

You don’t live alone. Or maybe you do? You share an account with a family member, then. However it happens, you may find that you share an account with someone else on a regular basis. Your spouse and your kid uses your Amazon account. Your kids and your sister use your Netflix account. What happens when you need to update your password? In a dark turn, what happens if a love one in your household passes away? How do you get to their accounts? Password managers can assist here, too. You have your own private vault, but with a family account you can create shared password vaults (like folders for your passwords) so if one of you has to update account information, you can do so without upsetting the other the next time they try to log-in and can’t. 1Password even allows you to upload secure documents, like a digital safety deposit box. (My Dad’s will is saved in mine.)