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When Tech Drives You Crazy, Don’t Make the Problem Worse

The other day, I was helping someone deal with a problem on their computer. While I was diagnosing the problem at hand, I noted several other issues that could impact the computer.

As is my way, I started to poke around, looking at this and that. When I’m focused on a problem, it’s not unusual for me to mutter a bit to myself, saying things like “Well, that’s odd”, or, “I wonder if that’s the issue?” It’s part of my exploratory process… just me gathering data, wondering out loud about what I’m seeing.

The person I was helping reacted to my words in an extremely common way.

Unfortunately, it’s often a very dangerous reaction.

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The knee-jerk reaction

That common reaction?

“Turn it off!”

“Get rid of it!”

“Delete it!”

While doing so may be the correct action to take, most often it isn’t. In fact, depending on what’s involved, randomly turning things off or removing things from your computer can make matters worse.

It’s nice to know those things might be optional to the person I’m helping, but we didn’t have nearly enough information to make a decision. Simply wondering if something might be involved doesn’t mean it is involved. Even if it turns out to be involved, it doesn’t imply some kind of nuclear option is the best approach.

Your computer is much too complicated for things to be that simple.

We want simple and fast solutions

In a way, that search for simplicity is part of the problem. We want the solution to our problem to be simple and easy to implement. “Delete” is probably one of the easiest solutions we can imagine, at least in concept.

The Nuclear OptionWe also don’t want to spend a lot of time researching whether whatever conclusion we jump to is the right solution. “Delete” is also one of the quickest solutions we can imagine, at least in concept.

And, let’s be honest: in times of frustration, deleting things just feels good.

We just want things to work. When they don’t, we don’t want to spend a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do about it.

We have better uses for our time.

Unfortunately, jumping to conclusions ends up wasting more time than it saves. Throwing things at a wall to “see what sticks” generally leaves you with a messy wall and a big pile of failure on the floor.

Slow down

As frustrating as it might be, the best approach is to slow down and take your time.

Take your time to understand the problem to the best of your abilities, and take the time to research proper solutions. Get help if you need it.

Yes, I’ll say it again, it’s frustrating to need to do that — particularly if you’re under pressure for some other reason. Things should just work. But making ill-informed decisions or trying a series of half-baked solutions is likely to make things worse. Often much worse.

Slow down. Take a breath.

Do the work.

Solutions

The correct solutions are often simple. Sometimes, rather than removing something entirely, you may find that a simple checkbox buried in an options page will resolve the issue you’re having. It’s fantastic when the research you do pays off that way.

The correct solution can also be painful. More times than I care to admit, the pragmatic solution really is a “nuclear option”: a complete reinstall of the operating system itself. I call it a “pragmatic” solution because while it sounds incredibly painful — and I’m not saying it isn’t — in many situations, it’s often significantly less painful than trying this and that over and over again without success, only making matters worse along the way.

The difference between simple and nuclear? Doing the research to understand the options at hand. More often than not, the solution is somewhere in between.

In the case of the person I was helping, it might even be both. The problem that brought them to me was, indeed, a simple checkbox. This resolved the pressing issue at hand quickly.

My advice for the other things that came up? “You know, if this were my machine, I’d back up, reformat, and reinstall.” Yes, the nuclear option was on the table.

But randomly making changes and deleting things without more information was never on my radar — and it shouldn’t be on yours.

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15 comments on “When Tech Drives You Crazy, Don’t Make the Problem Worse”

  1. Might be a time to keep your thoughts to yourself. By verbally saying those things people will take it negatively and will doubt your skills…

  2. It’s comments like this that make me want to add a “Like” button to the site. (Sadly doing so has performance impacts not unlike the various items you’ve listed. 🙁 )

  3. With most people’s phones being hundreds of times more powerful than the computers that helped us land people on the moon and an almost infinitely more complex OS. And with modern computers being many levels more complex than our phones, it’s amazing we have as few problems as we do.

  4. “My advice for the other things that came up? “You know, if this were my machine, I’d back up, reformat, and reinstall.” Yes, the nuclear option was on the table.”
    how does one “reinstall” since installation disks have been phased out?

  5. I once went through my usual schtick while running maintenance on a user’s PC. I emptied the trash bin, ran Norton System Works, cleared out temp files, etc.
    After feeling good about the system working much better, the user later called me back to say that her files were missing.
    There were very few files in the Documents folder, so I asked her where the files had been stored. She said, “Right here, in the Recycle Bin!”
    I explained that that is where only deleted files are stored, and she said, “But it’s the Recycle Bin! That’s where I keep all my important files that I want to use again, over and over, like recycling!”
    Arrgh.

  6. You have the most logical solutions for fixing computers
    You have been in the business for a long while.
    I trust your theories Leo, that is why I subscribe.

  7. Leo, your analysis of how the average non-tech person responds to complex problems is spot on. I see this “just delete it” attitude in so many other areas of life where self-appointed Decision Makers are unable to cope with complexity. A similar response I get is “We need a whole new …..” [whatever it is that is not set up right], when in reality a bit of expert tweaking is all that is needed. Thanks

  8. Very true. But sometimes in the time that it takes to find that one little check box, you could have reinstalled the OS twice over. I tend to not reinstall soon enough, but recently I did wipe my laptop and reinstall Windows. It took care of a lot of frustration that kept me from working properly for several days. I should have done it sooner.

  9. This morning a message popped up on my Android tablet. The message said that my tablet was infected and not to leave that page. I did leave that page and went to the software on my tablet to check for a virus and to perform a cleaning. It turned out that my tablet was not infected. A knee jerk reaction would be to react to the message and do the wrong thing and possibly infect my tablet. When this happens on my computer I shut down the computer and turn on again and perform a check. I have never had a problem taking these steps.

    • Very often messages like that are scam pop-ups designed to scare people to buy their useless, or even worse, malware infected software.

  10. since getting my win10 computer, i’ve tried 2 recoveries, and both times i needed hp support to reinstall files, that didn’t appear…it seems as time goes by, it’s harder to fix things…the support couldn’t tell me what causes my mouse to jump and studder!!! i’d rather live with my problems, then make them worse!!!

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