The 21 worst tech habits—and how to break them

Worst Tech Habits

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Worst Tech HabitsPhotograph by Robert Cardin
A bad habit can ruin your digital life just as easily as it can harm your offline one.

You bite your nails. Your house is a sty. You never signal before changing lanes, and when you finally reach your destination, you're 30 minutes late.

We all have bad habits in real life. Why can't technology help cure them? While technology should help us break bad habits, all too often it makes things worse.

Are you guilty of a bad tech habit? Here are 21 of the worst technology-oriented habits, plus potential fixes for all of them. (And we have a bonus at the end, on mending bad email habits.)

1.  Leaving equipment in plain sight

Worst Tech HabitsPhotograph by Robert Cardin
Someone can easily take your gear if you leave it sitting unattended.

The typical gadget isn't stolen by thieves who've done lots of planning. No, most gadget heists are conceived and executed in seconds, and probably be­­cause you left the item unattended. That cozy window corner at the café is great until you need to run back to the counter for a refill. A thief can pop in, grab your device, and be gone. Gadgetry is also commonly snapped up from airport security conveyers (sadly, sometimes by TSA agents themselves) while you’re waiting for your body scan. Your locked car isn’t safe, either. An eager crook will happily smash your window and grab the laptop bag from the passenger seat, even in broad daylight.

Fix: Don’t leave laptops and other gadgets unattended. Yes, that means you must either take them to the bathroom or leave them with someone you trust. At a café, it doesn’t hurt to ask the staff if you can leave something behind the counter for a minute. In any case, skip asking, “Can you watch this for me?” and pointing at your PC across the room.

2.  Oblivious gadget usage

Here’s how street hoods steal your phone. They lurk at the top of the stairs as you emerge from the subway, or sneak up behind you while you’re lounging at an outdoor café. Either way, you have no idea they’re there, because your nose is buried in your smartphone’s Facebook feed. Next thing you know, you’ve been punched in the face, and the thieves are dashing off to a getaway car. Can you identify the suspects? No, because the last thing you saw before it happened was a picture of a puppy.

Fix: Everyone uses phones everywhere, so it doesn’t feel risky to break one out on the train or while walking home in the dark. But electronics remain some of the most easily fenced items on the black market, and it pays to keep your wits about you when using them in an unknown situation. Make it a policy to limit mobile device usage to areas where you’re completely certain you won’t be the victim of a smash-and-grab attack. That goes double for using your phone while you’re driving. Don’t become another statistic!

3.  Using your devices with dirty hands

Anyone who has ever handed a cell phone to a child knows that the device will come back covered in a crust of dirt, crumbs, chocolate, and sneeze spray.

But you aren’t much better. Playing Bejeweled while downing a burrito won’t leave your phone looking fresh, and holding your phone against your face to talk may leave an oily shadow behind.

This isn’t just gross, but brings health risks, too: The old adage that your keyboard is dirtier than your toilet applies to your phone, as well. One report last year claimed that a Ugandan thief contracted Ebola from a stolen phone.

Fix: Keep an electronics-cleaning vial on your desk in plain view. Clean your phone, tablet, and other touchscreen devices daily. Add a quick wipe-down any time you see visible grime.

4.  Not cleaning your equipment

We covered the problem of filthy touchscreens (increasingly problematic in the Windows 8 era) in the #3 item, above. But what about everything else?

Literally everything in your high-tech arsenal is vulnerable to damage from dust and dirt. Grime seeps in through any crack and crevice, but machines such as desktops, laptops, and even printers, which have air-intake vents for cooling, are the most affected. Dust generally won’t damage electronics, but it can clog fans, optical-drive mechanisms, and other moving parts, which can lead to component failures and overheating if the fans stop working properly. Dust in scanners and printers can affect the quality of your printouts, too.

Fix: Cleaning your equipment isn’t hard, but it’s important to do so regularly before things build up too much. Once or twice a year should do it. Can’t remember? Try cleaning out your PC at the same time you replace the filter on your furnace or air conditioner, or whenever you get the oil on your car changed. A calendar reminder on your PC can help, too.

5.  Sitting with bad posture at the computer

The posture lessons, cautionary tales, and ergonomic gadgets of the past 30 years have apparently taught us nothing, and as a result, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common form of neurological syndrome called entrapment neuropathy, affecting 5.8 percent of the population. The typical treatment, even for moderate cases, is surgery. And all be­­cause you were too lazy to sit up straight.

Fix: Fixing this problem requires a proper work environment. Keep your chair at a height so that your knees bend at a 90-degree angle; also keep your feet flat on the floor, your monitor directly in front with the top of the screen at eye level, and your keyboard placed so your wrists are parallel with the floor.

This is easier said than done if, as it is for many, your office is now a Starbucks. But Imak Computer Gloves can keep your wrist at the correct typing angle and cushion your hand—an easy solution that you can drop into your gadget bag.

6.  Not taking breaks

Most parents have no trouble limiting their children’s screen time, but they find it harder to put down their laptops or smartphones when work demands action (or Angry Birds chirps).

Breaks are essential to good health. Your joints, muscular system, circulatory system, and eyes all benefit from a change of scenery once in a while. Remaining in a seated position for extended periods of time can cause blood clots (sometimes even fatal ones). And staring at a screen for hours on end can cause eyestrain that may affect your vision afterward and make it dangerous to drive home.

Fix: Fortunately, programs such as Scirocco Take a Break, mobile apps, and Web browser plug-ins can remind you to step away from your gadgets, stretch your legs, get a drink of water, or call it a day on your computer time.

Another easy way to remedy the problem is to keep, at all times, a very large glass of water at your desk (the solution for another bad habit: failure to hydrate). Sipping a gulp from that glass of water regularly will force you to take an occasional break to the bathroom.

7.  Working with your laptop on your lap

Worst Tech Habit
Photograph by Robert Cardin
A laptop on your lap can mean bad posture and problems from its heat.

Yes, they call it a laptop, but you weren’t supposed to take that literally. Using your laptop on your lap can lead to a whole host of problems, many caused by the heat that most laptops spew from their undersides. The maladies can range from simple skin dryness and discoloration to reduced sperm count to—the jury’s still out on this one—cancer.

Heat isn’t the only problem. Placing a heavy object across your thighs for hours on end can cause neurological damage, particularly when coupled with the typical laptop-on-lap posture: hunched over, legs outstretched, neck craned. Arthritis can also develop over time.

Fix: Fixes aren’t easy unless you want to move your desk into the living room so you can watch Game of Thrones while you work. Instead, start with a lap desk that shields your thighs from heat, and follow the break-taking tips outlined in item #6. Periodically shifting your laptop from one leg to the other can help. Avoid working on your laptop with your legs outstretched on the coffee table, too. Your nervous and muscular systems will be in better alignment if you keep your knees bent and your feet on the floor.

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