When Good Computers Go Bad

a very, very dead computer.

It's happened to everyone: you're in the middle of your 150 page final paper that's due tomorrow, or about to hit the submit button on the tax filing you've put off until the last minute, or all your plants are finally ready to harvest in Farmville and. . . suddenly, everything stops working. The screen freezes, or goes blank, or suddenly flips to the dreaded Blue Screen of Doom, filled with codes and numbers and - was that a warning that my computer will self-destruct in 15 seconds?

What do you do when the technology you love suddenly turns on you? You can always pay someone to fix it, of course, but many people would rather have that extra money to spend on little things like food or rent. Luckily, there are some free options you can turn to when good computers go bad:

Your geeky friend/co-worker/child: we all know someone who is more tech-savvy than we are. The problem is that they’re often not in your house when problems arise, and troubleshooting tech problems over the phone can be frustrating. Fortunately, free programs like TeamViewer or LogMeIn allow other people to view and change files on other computers, meaning your engineer daughter in Vancouver could diagnose your computer problems from her computer in Canada. Just make sure you bake her some cookies afterward.
 
Online resources: starting with the manufacturer’s tech support website can often solve your problem, especially if it’s hardware-related (For example: HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba, and Apple – you can just type the manufacturer’s name and “support” into Google and find the site right away). If the manufacturer doesn’t help, you can always ask everyone else in the world the internet is full of fantastic communities of smart people. Sites like StackExchange or Ask Metafilter offer forums to ask your questions to the whole internet. Someone out there has to have the answer, right?
 
Avoid the problem in the first place: the best way to avoid technology going bad is to treat it nicely. If you didn’t wash for 2 years, you’d probably contract some horrible disease – so why act so surprised when your computer gets sick after 2 years of downloading everything you can find on the internet? Some simple preventative maintenance can keep your computer running happily:

  • Run (and update) an antivirus program: there are plenty of good, free options like Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG, Avira, or Avast. Programs like these can help keep you from downloading viruses and spyware that can steal your information and damage your computer.
  • Defragment your disk drive: years of saving and deleting files on your drive mean that information is all over the place resulting in slower performance. The website GeekGirl's has a great introduction to defragging (“reorganizing your stuff,” in other words) and how to do it.
  • Clean up your junk!: programs like CCleaner comb through your computer to delete all the extra junk you don’t need that’s stored on your drive (don’t use a cleaning program, however, if you depend on your computer to remember your passwords for you though you probably shouldn’t be doing that). Uninstalling programs you don’t need can also help clean up space Microsoft has a decent tutorial on how to uninstall programs in Windows.

 
Learn more: knowing how your computer or device works means you’re more able to troubleshoot problems yourself – and less likely to ask it to do things it shouldn’t be doing. The Community Technology Center offers some terrific classes, from Computer Basics to classes on Android devices and iPhones/iPads/iPods. Of course, you can always ask the Gadget Guy as well. All of these classes will get you more comfortable with your computer or device and make it easier for you to deal with problems when they pop up.

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