Here's How to Keep Your Tech Healthy During the Pandemic

In the age of COVID-19, taking care of your technology is critical

It’s spring. I know. It doesn’t really feel like it. Most of you reading this are at home, hopefully working, possibly not. Either way, I suspect every single one of you is, during the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on your technology as a lifeline to work, friends, family, and an inexorably altered society.

Taking care of tech
 Lifewire / Bailey Mariner

You turn on your computer, tap your phone screen, power up the big screen and streaming box, and expect them to work, need them to work.

Oddly, advice I’d normally give at this time of year is more, not less, relevant than ever before: It’s time for tech spring cleaning. It’s time to protect your link to the world.

I’m just going to walk through some basic things you can do right now to protect, improve, rejuvenate and better understand the technology that connects you to humanity.

Cleaning a keyboard
Consider cleaning your keyboard just like this, too. Gattaca, Columbia Pictures

Focus on Battery Health

For the first time in years, your mobile devices (phones, laptops, tablets) are getting a battery break. You still use them unplugged, but an outlet is never out of reach. That means it’s a good opportunity to fine-tune how your mobile devices use battery power. You can dig into your iPhone, for example and optimize a variety of settings to help it get more out of each charge. Some examples include: 

  • Turn off background app updates (I promise to contradict this advice later)
  • Let your device manage screen brightness based on ambient light
  • Turn off cell service when you’re at home (unless you need to make non-Wi-Fi calls)
  • You can find more tips for iPhone battery management here
  • You can find Android battery management tips here.

Now is also a good opportunity to take a close look at all removable, rechargeable batteries. They live in things like camcorders (if you still have them), Digital SLRs, and drones. Grab these devices, open them up, take a close look at the batteries. Do the same for rechargeables in your game controllers. Recycle (do not throw them in the garbage) any that no longer hold a charge or show any sign of expansion / distortion.

Cable Management

Grab that box of cables and dump it on the table. Then methodically go through every single one of them. I promise you will find at least a few from the previous century. Unless you plan on opening your own computing museum, recycle those you no longer use, which I bet is a lot of them.

I bet you also have a lot of extra cables for current technology that look at little worse for the wear. iPhone cables, for instance, often fray near the lighting plug. If the rubber is a bit rippled, you’re probably okay, but if you can see any actual wires poking through the skin, you need to recycle those cables, too.

Cable box
This is my box. Don't let your cable box be like my box. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Dirty Tech

No, this does not mean what you think it means. Stop that. Instead, run a finger along any surface in your home and you will find dust. In fact, now that more of us are staying at home with more people, we’re generating more dust (from us, pets, opening the windows). All that debris doesn’t just sit on surfaces, it coats and jams up your technology.

Unplug your tech—TVs, laptops, desktop computers, game systems, streaming boxes, cable boxes—and clean out every surface, vent, port (yes, it's a good time to clean the lint out of your smartphone charging port). If you can, gently take a vacuum hose to all the vents. Your technology devices will thank you by not over-heating and stressing their fans.

Also, now’s a good time to check that your beloved game console is properly ventilated. Students and some adults who’ve been forced to stay home are gaming in record numbers. These gaming PCs, laptops, and consoles have some of the most powerful GPUs on the planet, which generate incredible amounts of heat. For consoles, move the box to an open space that has a nice cross breeze, or suffer the wrath of a teenager.

It’s also therapeutic to literally clean your technology. You can use those Clorox wipes to clean your iPhone and a lightly damp cloth to wipe down tech surfaces and then a soft, dry one to dry them off. Do not spray anything!

Get Organized

You can also spend some time getting your digital lives in order. Open your iPhone or Android device and start removing apps you haven’t touched in 12 months (6 months if you’re feeling brave). On iOS, you can offload unused apps. Reorganize your home screen so it focuses on the apps you’re using most in our new isolation age. This simple act will cut down the amount of time you spend searching for apps on your smartphone.

Do the same on your desktop and laptop systems. Uninstall old software and utilities (and instantly speed up your system). Plus, Windows and MacOS will auto organize all those desktop items. I’m a fan of macOS’s “Stacks” feature.

No one knows when life will return to normal, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be stuck at home.

You can’t afford to run out of space on your PC, which can cause it to slow down or crash. So, start offloading files to either local storage (if you have any) or uploading to the cloud. It’s easy enough to upgrade your cloud storage options in DropboxOneDriveGoogle Drive, or iCloud, though it will cost you. I consider it money well-spent.

On Windows, you might also want to change which apps can launch on start-up. Too many apps running concurrently while you’re using Zoom video, for example, can impact performance.

Your mobile, desktop and even connectivity devices (like streaming boxes and routers) won’t run at peak performance until you download and install necessary updates. Do that now.

Get to Know Your Network

Whether you have a stand-alone router or one that’s integrated with a cable system, you should dig into the settings, which are usually human-friendly, to see what you can do to improve performance for distance learning and video conferencing, to keep intruders out, and to take control.

For instance, with all the kids at home, there may be heated disagreements about who gets to game when and for how long. Or when it’s time to turn off the screens and focus on family and a board game. Learning how to adjust device-level internet access on an ad-hoc or scheduled basis is one easy way to maintain control and peace.

I might also suggest that parents start adjusting parental controls on devices (iOS or Android) so that their children don’t end up spending that free time exploring dark corners of the Internet.

Secure it

If you’ve been avoiding implementing proper system security, now’s a good time to dive in. Take stock of your terrible passwords, retire the one you use for EVERYTHING and finally start using one of many password managers. Remember, if you don’t want to use a third-party option like LastPass or 1Passord, you can use the built-in, free password managers from Google or Apple.

You’re online more than ever which means you’re more open to cyberattacks. Install all security updates and start running Windows Defender on Windows for solid baseline system protection.

Time to Learn

Now is also a good time go exploring. You’ve heard of the 8/20 rule, right? This means you use 20% of your tech’s capability 80% of the time.

Virtually every piece of technology you own has vast, untapped capabilities. Go exploring in Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS. You will discover in Android, for instance, how to cast your video to your smart TV or how to run multiple apps on one screen. On the iPhone, you might discover how to scan and OCR documents in Notes or use a three-finger tap on the screen to undo.

So What

No one knows when life will return to normal, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be stuck at home, relying on our technology to work, communicate, play, and entertain. Spring tech cleaning is not just a nice distraction, it’s the key to living in the age of COVID-19.

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