I'm looking for some good digital New Year's resolutions, so if you have any, feel free to comment below or pass them my way (to david.berlind AT cnet DOT com). But here are three of mine.
First, unsubscribe. No, don't unsubscribe from the email newsletters and RSS feeds you actually want and like. But if you're like me, you some how end up subscribed to tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of email newsletters and discussion notifiers that you never wanted in the first place. To me, it is definitely a form of spamming when someone else decides that you belong on their email distribution lists. In many such cases, it's true spam. Solicitation for something like Viagra that you never wanted to be contacted about in the first place. And, in many of those cases, unsubscribing is downright impossible. But in a lot of cases, the newsletters are actual "legitimate" newsletters that, if you take the time to unsubscribe from them, you'll actually stop receiving them.
The process of unsubscribing varies from one newsletter to the next. In some cases, just clicking on a link unsubscribes you. In others, you have to follow some process after clicking on the link. Still in others, the newsletter may ask you to reply with the word "unsubscribe" or "remove" in the subject line. But whatever the process is, give it try with the routine email that you don't want. I know I know. There are a bunch of anti-spam bigots out there who are now saying "No no no no... if you trying unsubscribing, you're just telling the sender that your mailbox is active and that there's a real person reading it." While that could be the case, it generally isn't. Not only that, in my experience, my spam load hasn't changed dramatically as a result of trying to unsubsribe from certain things.
What sparked this resolution was my sudden receipt two weeks ago of a new weekly newsletter -- a pornographic one -- that I never asked for. Although I hesitated, I clicked the unsubscribe button. Sure enough, I was led through an unsubscription confirmation process that looked very legitimate and I haven't received another newsletter since. Maybe it worked. Maybe it didn't. We'll see. In the meantime, don't wait. Instead of deleting that same newsletter that keeps showing up in your inbox, skating by your junk mail filters, the next time that newsletter shows up, unsubscribe from it. It just might work.
Second, Delete or File. If you're like me, you end up using e-mail as your to-do list. An e-mail comes in, you read it, flag it in your mind as something that's important but can wait, and you move on to the next e-mail. Since you thought it was important enough to keep and act-on later, you've deliberately put that item on your to-do list. The problem? Well, if you're like me, your to-do list has over a 1000 items on it now. So, now what do you do? Well, for your New Year's resolution, do something, anything, with the e-mail when it comes in. But for God's sake, do not leave it there in your inbox. Act on it right away. Whatever it was that you planned to do with that mail in a couple of days, do it now. Respond to it. File it. Delete it. Do something with it. Get it out of your inbox, and off your to-do list.
Third, don't leave digital breadcrumbs laying around. You've probably already heard about Todd Shriber, the 28-year-old press aide to U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg who tried to hire a hacker to change his college transcript. At the request of the hacker he was communicating with, Shriber used email to negotiate the transaction and plan the hack. What did the alleged hacker do next? He (or she) posted the entire email thread on Web. Not that I've ever wanted to do something similar, but this is an important lesson when it comes to sending your content (text, still images, audio or video) into the ether (by way of Internet or telephone). By doing so, you are creating a trail. Some trails, like Shriber's, can be extremely damaging. Others could, at best, just prove you were in communication with someone, but not what the subject matter was. Even so, that could be enough evidence to put you in the sort of hot water that you don't want to be in.
Think before you type, open your mouth, or get in front of a camera and never assume that the medium of the moment is secure. Even though it's usually against the law to record a call without notifying the person on the other end, many phone calls get recorded anyway and now that publishing audio, still images, and video on the Web is child's play, what you say or do when the opportunity for someone else to capture the moment is only a "publish" button away from becoming public record. Assume that's the case and you're far less likely to become the victim of your own naiveté.