Tip: Sometimes You Really Do Need to Reboot the Damn Thing

For an aggravating 36 hours, my phone had no service overseas: It showed no trace of T-Mobile’s free but low-speed international roaming. I tried switching it in and out of Airplane Mode. I fiddled with its cellular network settings. I wondered if there was something weird about T-Mobile’s roaming arrangements in Israel. And then I finally solved the problem by doing what I should have done when I first saw the “no signal” message on the screen.

I shut down and restarted the phone. 

That worked for the reason it usually does: Even theoretically simple digital devices have multiple software processes going on behind the scenes. Each of those processes can suffer from the same ailments as the apps you see on the screen: They can get stuck, they can get confused by errant input, they can crash and fail to resume, and they can run out of memory. And when one of those things happens, the fastest solution is often to reboot the whole thing.

That’s how I’ve fixed issues with: a laptop telling me it couldn’t detect its own camera; a phone complaining about the same thing; a computer hopelessly bogged down by its Web browsers (nice memory management, Apple!); a laptop unable to see its own touchpad; a printer failing to connect to my home WiFi; and many, many more miscellaneous malfunctions. I’ve even seen a flight crew go through the reboot routine to clear up a computer problem on an Embraer 175 regional jet — fortunately, we were still parked at the gate at the time. 

I realize that reboot-first troubleshooting advice has gotten a bad name, because so many tech-support reps use it as their first line of defense. (To the point that it long ago became Dilbert material.) But it’s still a good thing to try before you get on the phone or into the support chat. Then, when reps advise you to reboot, you can calmly explain that you already tried that and ask them to move to the next item on their troubleshooting checklist.

Email Rob at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro

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