It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The time when you get to tackle a year’s worth of tech troubles in just one visit to the home of a relative. If you’re the designated IT expert in your branch of the family, here’s how to pass on the most useful advice in the quickest time possible, so you can get back to enjoying yourself.
Motion smoothing is designed to reduce blur, but unless you’re watching sports or playing video games, it can lead to an eerie “soap opera effect” that’s overly realistic. Do your family a favor and disable motion smoothing on their TVs—you’ll have to run a web search for the model of TV to find the instructions, but the option shouldn’t be too difficult to find (remember that different manufacturers have different names for motion smoothing).
Make sure your family members aren’t neglecting device OS updates, as these patches include essential security and bug fixes. It’s actually very hard not to update devices these days, but it’s worth checking that your loved ones are on the latest OS versions wherever possible (look under General and Software Update in Settings on an iPhone, for example, and under System, Advanced and System update in Settings on Android devices).
If you only talk to your family about backing up one type of data, make sure it’s photos and videos, which can be siphoned off to the cloud for safekeeping. Google Photos is a good cross-platform solution, and it’s free if you don’t mind a bit of resizing. If you can persuade your relatives to spend a few dollars a month then you’ve got many more options, including iCloud Photo Library, Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Photos again (at full res).
It’ll only take you a few minutes, but resetting your family’s router, checking for any firmware upgrades, and maybe putting it in a more central location (if possible) should stave off plenty of internet-related problems over the next 12 months. It’s probably also worth changing the wifi password—it’ll mean reconnecting every device, but it will kick off any neighbors or older devices that you don’t want taking up network bandwidth.
Many of us will have relatives who just use the same password for all of their online accounts, which is a very dangerous approach as far as security goes—even writing passwords down on a notepad and putting in a drawer is safer, as long as they’re different. Best of all, introduce your family to the password storage features in today’s modern browsers, or think about treating them to a dedicated password manager as a present.
Data breaches are all too common these days, but two-factor authentication (2FA) can keep you protected even if your username and password are exposed. Make sure your loved ones have 2FA on all their major accounts—the only extra thing they need is an authenticator app on their phone to generate codes. 2FA is supported by just about every significant service out there now, including Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft.
It’s a good idea to spend a few minutes getting rid of all of the unnecessary add-ons and extensions that have built up in the browsers used by your relatives: Chances are they’ve accumulated a bunch of pointless and even dangerous ones over the last year, some of which they may not even know about. By the time you’ve finished the process, the browser should be running more quickly, and the software should be much less bloated.
Speaking of browsers, putting limits on the number of trackers that websites can run will keep more of your family’s personal information private. Safari and Firefox handle this well right out of the box, while you can limit third-party cookies in Chrome via Advanced, Site settings, and Cookies and site data. You can also install a tracker-blocking extension such as Ghostery or Privacy Badger, which will put restrictions on how much tracking goes on.
If a laptop starts running out of storage space, it can quickly slow down to a crawl and start getting plagued by all kinds of bugs and problems, even if it’s relatively new and speedy. On Windows, search for and run the Disk Cleanup app; on macOS, open the Apple menu then choose About This Mac, Storage, and Manage. Both these utilities will guide you through the process of wiping temporary data and junk files off the computer’s drive.
Erasing old, unneeded temporary files will only get you so far—see if you can get your family members to also go through the apps they’ve got installed on their computers and even their phones and ditch the ones they don’t really need. They might have come preinstalled on the machine, they might have been installed years ago and been forgotten about, they might relate to subscriptions that are no longer active, and so on and so on.
Your relatives might well have a smart speaker or two around the home and possibly don’t realize that everything that gets said to these devices is remembered forever. Bookmark the relevant pages for Amazon Alexa and Google Nest speakers that enable these voice searches and commands to be wiped—in the case of Google, you can have activity wiped automatically once it gets older than three months, which is a setting worth enabling.
You might not be around for the rest of the year, but you can still check in on family members through the magic of screen-sharing software—free apps like Chrome Remote Desktop and TeamViewer enable you to check in from anywhere, even if you’re not in the same physical space, so set one of them up before you leave. Alternatively, don’t bother: Maybe you’d rather be left in peace until the next family gathering comes around.