The end of the year is when people like to look back on how they spent the past year and commit to making the next one even better. Usually people focus on health and fitness, but there are many areas of our lives that could use an upgrade, including the relationship we have with the technology that surrounds us.
The holidays often bring at least one new gadget or device into our lives. Here are a few ways to get the most out of our gadgets -- new and old -- while lessening our impact on the planet.
1. Cut the cord
If you haven't cut the cable cord yet, now is the time. The amount of streaming options through devices like Apple TV, Roku or even just an HDMI cable and your laptop have made it hard to defend needing any of the extra channels that you may get through a cable provider and an expensive cable bill.
Another good reason to ditch cable TV is that cable boxes are major energy hogs. The LA Times reported in 2014 that these boxes are now the second biggest energy users in many homes next to air conditioning. There are roughly 224 million of these boxes in use in America and together they consume as much energy as produced by four giant nuclear power plants, running 24 hours a day. In Southern California, a typical cable box with digital recorder can consume up to 35 watts and costs $8 a month to run.
Switch to streaming and some rabbit ears for broadcast and you'll simplify your entertainment, save a good chunk of money and keep your energy use down too.
2. Game less
I should say game less or at least more responsibly. Gaming consoles are notorious for using a lot of energy while they're being used and still drawing significant power for the rest of the time while in sleep mode. The latest generation of consoles use as much energy in standby mode as when they're being played and that's caused by settings that don't actually allow the device to go into sleep mode, keeping them ready to fire right back up when you want to play another game.
A recent study by the NRDC found that Xbox One's instant on feature, which "listens" for users to activate it with their voice, is responsible for almost 40% of the device's annual energy consumption, and could be costing gamers an estimated $250 million USD in extra electricity costs.
Video games are fun, just unplug the box when you're not using it.
3. Recycle more
We all have a couple of old electronics kicking around our house somewhere. When I wrote about the true impact of not recycling our electronics, many of you commented that you aren't throwing them away, but you're not recycling them either -- just storing them somewhere in your house.
Now that the holidays are over, you might have gotten a new iPhone or Fitbit, which leaves a slightly older version that now needs a home.
Those electronics probably still have quite a bit of life in them. Check out this list of how to do good with your old cell phone if you have items to donate or if you have a newer device, there are plenty of resell services that will pay you nicely for it. Companies like Glyde, NextWorth, iCracked and Amazon will pay for your old devices whether they're in perfect condition, have scratches or, in some cases, even completely broken.
4. Take your tech outside
There is a misconception that smartphones and other devices keep us locked inside staring at our screens all day. Smartphones and wearables like the Apple Watch and similar are meant to be taken outside. Armed with a slew of fitness tracking apps, GPS capabilities, music, camera and more all in one, you're ready to hit the trail, travel somewhere new or just walk and explore a new part of your city.
Make a resolution to take your tech outside more and use it to its full potential.
5. Plug into the sun
With the array of solar chargers out there these days, there are no excuses for not using solar power for at least some of your charging needs. There are those meant to strap onto a backpack, tiny, but powerful ones the size of a paperback, those that fold up while stored and then unfurl to charge and those that can act as a compact off-grid power system.
If you like to DIY, there are lots of options for that too, including this small one that can be made for only $5.
Great chargers can be had for as little as $60. It's time to plug your smartphone into one, if you haven't already.
6. Upgrade what you have and DIY
A lot of the technology we have can be upgraded without replacing the whole thing, giving it a longer life and lessening the environmental impact. We recently made a few upgrades to an old laptop computer that took it from puttering to perform simple tasks with a quickly draining battery to blazing through them just like the one I'm typing on now. It took a little money and a couple of hours, but now my daughter has her first computer for doing schoolwork and learning to code and it didn't require buying a whole new computer -- just breathing life into the one we already had.
If you like getting your hands dirty, consider going DIY with more tech projects. Now that the Raspberry Pi Zero is only $5, it's a good time to start tinkering and making what you want instead of just buying it.
7. Think outward, not inward
This one is more esoteric, but it applies to life and electronics. Use your technology to look beyond yourself more and at yourself less. Our connected lives actually give us plenty of opportunities look out for the people and environment around us.
Take fewer selfies and more landscape shots. Use the Facebook donate button to support a cause you believe in. Use the Instead app to find ways to spend less on stuff and more on charity. Connect with friends to swap leftovers to reduce food waste.
When we use our technology to its fullest potential, we can lessen our impact and connect with the world more this year. Go out and do it.