Time to declutter your digital life

  • Article by: GAVIN SULLIVAN , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2012 - 1:26 PM

Are your computer, smartphone and tablet overcrowded? Here are tips to dig out from all of those e-mails, photos and more.

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Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

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During the summer, use your time off to tackle the digital clutter piling up on your smartphone and computer desktop.

Whether you want to tame an overflowing inbox or bring schoolwork to the cloud, here are some tips to slim down your digital footprint.

Cut the clutter from e-mail. Google spokeswoman Kat Eller says Gmail can help students escape inbox overflow with the priority inbox feature, which helps determine which messages are truly important by highlighting them at the top of the screen. Not a Gmail user? No problem -- sign up for free and then visit the settings page to import other accounts into Gmail.

Put all of your music in one place. Thomas Douglas, a junior at Deerfield High School, in Deerfield, Ill., like many teens, accesses music on a variety of platforms.

"I use iTunes, Pandora, YouTube and the radio," he explains.

Spotify, a free download for Mac and PC, removes some of the complexity from finding music by pairing your own collection with millions of online tracks, making nearly any song instantly available.

Best of all, Spotify is social: You can create playlists and share them with Facebook friends. Want to take your music on-the-go? Upgrade to a $9.99 monthly plan and enjoy unlimited mobile access.

Simplify social networking. Instead of crashing your Web browser with multiple tabs, control all of your social networking from a single location. TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com), a free download in desktop and mobile versions, lets you manage Twitter and Facebook without flipping between screens.

If you want to reach some of the Internet's less common destinations -- from WordPress to Yahoo Answers -- try out Alternion (www.alternion.com), a website that lets you control more than 220 social media services in one place.

Ditch the "My Documents" folder. New Trier High School freshman Ainslie Martin, of Winnetka, Ill., says she juggles schoolwork between "one computer at home and one at school." But shuttling files between multiple devices carries risks: Flash-drives can be unreliable and easily misplaced.

You can avoid losing your precious work with Google Docs; simply drag-and-drop files into the browser window and they instantly upload to the website. Then all of your documents are readily available on any computer or smartphone.

Eller also touts the benefits for group projects. Host a Google+ video Hangout and all members can see the document on one screen and make real-time updates, she explains.

Google also announced the launch of Google Drive on April 24, a cloud storage solution for files similar to Dropbox.

Liberate photos from your phone. Photos aren't meant to remain forever trapped on your phone, but uploading them to a computer or Facebook can turn into a hassle. Eller suggests students try the Instant Upload feature of the Google+ app for Android or iPhone. Every picture you take automatically goes to a private album in Google Photos so you don't have to manually save them, she says. With just a few clicks, you can then transport them to any computer or social network.

There are also plenty of smartphone apps to help you get photos and video transferred from your phone to your computer for safe storage, such as the Photo Transfer App (available for iPhone and Android).

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