Tech Hygiene: 10 Bad Habits To Break - InformationWeek

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11/18/2014
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Jeff Bertolucci
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Tech Hygiene: 10 Bad Habits To Break

When it comes to digital devices, a little cleanliness – both inside and out – goes a long way.
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(Image: iPharm)
(Image: iPharm)

Keepin' it clean
Many of us take care of our digital devices -- smartphones, tablets, and PCs -- the way we take care of our bodies, and that's not always a good thing. Like that gym membership, the daily backup utility goes unused. We scarf down burgers and donuts (or your junk food of choice) just as we load up our PCs with performance-crushing bloatware.

And when your physical and digital worlds collide, bad things can happen. If you don't regularly wash your hands, for instance, you'll likely spread harmful bacteria to your devices. You may get sick more often, as may friends, family, and colleagues who have the misfortune of using your germ-laden phone, tablet, keyboard, mouse, or trackpad.

Maybe your digital life needs a hygienic overhaul.

For the purposes of this article, "hygiene" refers to the proper care of your PCs and mobile devices. This maintenance can be as simple as wiping down your smartphone every now and again with an antibacterial wipe. Some tips may require a bit more effort, such as disabling startup programs that slow Windows PC boot times to a crawl.

There's always an "ick" factor associated with the word "hygiene." Why? Who knows? Perhaps the word conjures up unpleasant memories of dental cleanings, filthy public toilets, or educational videos on the onset of puberty.

Most of our hygiene tips are targeted at consumers rather than business users, as the latter group is generally more disciplined when it comes to hygienic tech practices, such as keeping desktop PCs clean of fan-clogging dirt, hair, and dust.

Then again, workers in the enterprise are often guilty of hygienic gaffes such as spilling lattes and muffin crumbs all over their laptops and desktop keyboards. Or they may mistreat their work-issue devices, leaving a business laptop or tablet in a hot car on a blistering summer day, for example.

Small businesses engage in poor tech hygiene, too. You might think that all SMBs diligently back up data -- the lifeblood of their operation -- but that's not always true. Online backup provider Carbonite's "2014 Report on the State of Data Backup for SMBs," a survey of 500 IT professionals from US companies with fewer than 100 employees, provided some surprising revelations.

For instance, just a third (32%) of respondents said they had completed a backup that day. Roughly half of respondents had backed up all of their business files within the past week, and 15% said their most recent backup was "up to a month old" -- a whole month!

Do you need to polish up your tech hygiene skills? Read on to find out.

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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SachinEE
IW Pick
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2014 | 6:14:31 AM
Re: Guilty Pleassures
Cleaning the phone can be a risky procedure because the cleaning liquid may seep into the phone (if it's not waterproof) and damage the internal circuitry. Using a digital cabinet can help in cleaning some extra dirt/moisture/micro organisms on the phone.
jamieinmontreal
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jamieinmontreal,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2014 | 8:27:30 AM
dirty phones and hygiene
Digital - fully agree, keep it clean to keep it working.   Physical, not so sure.   I would hazard a guess that the average support rail in any public transit system contains more bacterian than any of our phones... Still, this kind of post must make the Lysol folks very happy.   
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2014 | 1:54:19 PM
Re: Tech Hygiene 10 Bad Habits To Break
"Bad Habits" is right - it's not so much about things we should do as it is about things we shouldn't do but are guilty of - the list of bad passwords makes that clear enough, and we're all guilty of putting off those virus definition and windows updates just a little bit longer than we should. It's true that some, like washing your hands, are universal, but there's a legitimate case to be made for them being worse in the age of the smartphone. Come to think of it, the same goes for data - It's that much riskier to have bad practices in the age of the cloud, where the bad guys can get high-speed access anywhere, and backups are cheap.

As for organization and keeping your desktop clean, that's a different story, but isn't there room for some personal preference? I don't think there exists a desktop that looks as clean as the one pictured, unless it belongs to someone who rarely boots up their computer. Mine is quite a mess even with most stuff organized into folders, but then again, it mirrors my real desk, so maybe I should take that point at face value. Eating and drinking are definitely no-nos, but it seems like they're bound to happen sooner or later - maybe some innovative company should come up with a product that makes it a little more sensible (like those old drinking hats).
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
11/19/2014 | 8:08:34 PM
Re: Guilty Pleassures
@SachinEE: good point, any liquid alcohol or not is probably a bad idea. A lot of cleaning wipes also contain oil-based moisturizers that won't play nice with touchscreens. Is it worth investing in a digital cabinet? How much do they cost? 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 2:00:08 AM
Re: Tech Hygiene 10 Bad Habits To Break
My philosophy has always been if you don't want me to save things to my desktop you shouldn't have given it to me in the first place. I remember teaching computers 101 a long long time ago and the way I would describe the desktop was, "it's just like the top of a physical desk - you can put your documents there!"
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2014 | 10:12:20 AM
PC hygiene
It's not really your work computer until you get crumbs in the keyboard. But seriously, I recently read the dirtiest spots in a hotel room are the phone and the tv remote, neither of which ever gets wiped down by the cleaners. (Yuck!) Now think about what may be lurking on your cell phone. You put it down on a table in the restaurant, the airport, your kids love to pick it up...Yup, phones=germ catchers.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 2:26:01 PM
Re: PC hygiene
After reading your article, I feel less "OCD" about cleaning my phone off with antibacterial wipes. I also would tend to bet that doorknobs and the bottom of most women's pocketbooks are filthier than a toilet too.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 2:28:26 PM
Re: PC hygiene
@Laurianne, I totally agree with you about the remote, phone and light switches in hotels. I always wipe them down with antibacterialwipes when I travel. A friend of mine sprays her room with Lysol, when she first checks into her hotel room.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 8:25:04 PM
What a list !!!
I have to admit that I am guilty of a few bad habits here: Letting PC get slow and letting PC get messy with food. I'll put these in my 2015 resolutions.

Thanks for a very comprehensive list common to most of us!
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
11/21/2014 | 5:58:07 PM
Re: What a list !!!
The eating/drinking at your computer brings back a funny memory.   Early in my career I once "lectured" a co-worker about liquids near the computer.   It is funny to think back on that now, since I eat and drink near my computer all the time.

It was a different World and budget back then.
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