Digital spring cleaning

April 19, 2017

In the last few weeks Canadians have been shedding their thick outer layers and slowly coming out of their dens, blinking into the warmer sun. Spring has sprung, even if winter had a harder time letting go of some parts of the country than others. And with the longer days comes a Canadian’s instinctive need to clean his or her living space. Objects are dusted, floors swept, cold-weather clothing stored until next winter, and even outdoor spaces are decorated with such seasonal items as tulips and cherry blossoms, bicycles and barbecues. 

But what of your digital space? This too is an area that should not be neglected. Studies have shown smartphones and tablets to be much dirtier than they seem. The best way to keep gadgets clean is to keep hands clean, but they can also be wiped with an alcohol-free bleach or vinegar solution and a lint-free cloth. Be careful not to get any moisture into the device! The best way to clean a keyboard is with a can of compressed air to remove any crumbs or dust between the keys. Follow instructions on the can carefully.

This is also an excellent moment to tidy up the contents of your device. First, back up your unique and important files, such as photos, music, videos, addresses, contacts, financial records, banking data, and game and app settings, choosing a secure backup device. Take this moment to delete temporary folders, old favourites that no longer make the cut, blurry photos, unnecessary videos, et cetera.

If it’s time to replace your device, make sure all personal information has been wiped (and all important files are backed up!). Internal hard drives can be removed from old desktop and laptop computers, but this makes them more difficult to reuse. Once all important files are safely stored elsewhere, some systems have a secure erase option with a factory reset. Otherwise, check the manufacturer of your system to see how best to erase all data. For mobile devices, first encrypt the device (either by hardware, available on most IOS systems) or software, and then run a factory reset.

Once you have a completely wiped device, you may choose to give it away or sell it, but consider donating a device that’s still in good condition to a school, library, or charity. If it’s no better than a hunk of junk, consult with your local municipality for electronic recycling services, or check with electronics retailers. Most electronic components contain toxic materials that are harmful to the environment. Do not send these components to landfills.

Finally, when shopping for new electronics, do your homework and try to support a company with a good environmental and ethical record. Every time we purchase, or discard, a device, we are making a choice that will impact the environment of the future.

So as you dive into your spring cleaning, don’t neglect your device safety, the safety of your personal information, and remember to dispose of all your clutter in a safe manner, too.

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