Technology makes our lives easier -- until something goes wrong. According to a new survey released last week by Virgin Digital Help, only about a third of people say that technology stressed them out. But that figure more than doubled when participants viewed a list of specific devices and services.
The top three stress producers are related -- problems with Wi-Fi caused the most stress (12.4 percent), followed by "the cloud" at (11.4 percent) and then trouble with networking and syncing devices (10 percent). When any of these three or a combination goes awry, you can't get to the information you need. Say you've synced your iPad with your home computer and have left town for a few days. No Internet service? Can't get on Gmail? Not syncing? You're stuck.
Virgin Digital Help, a personal tech support service, conducted a small survey of 210 adults in the U.S. and U.K. over Facebook, Twitter, email and phone. Nearly 80 percent of the participants were 18 to 34 years old -- people who grew up with much of today's technology. But sometimes tech problems are out of our control, no matter how proficient or old we may be.
According to the study, consumers take particular issue with the fact that technology keeps changing (18.6 percent), as well as compatibility issues (15.2 percent). Women were more likely to be stressed out by tech than men -- 31 percent compared to 20 percent -- and around 27 percent of folks over 55 said technology was "just too complicated."
In the past week I was hit with the big three: no Wi-Fi, which meant no access to online documents in "the cloud," and Gmail slowed to a crawl -- at times, it wouldn't even load. So what to do when something goes wrong?
If you lose your Wi-Fi connection, first check your PC's network and sharing center by right-clicking on the double computer screen icon usually located in the lower right corner of the screen. Make sure you are connected to the proper network. Try Windows' automatic diagnose and repair function. If you still can't get a connection, restart your computer. While this has worked for me in the past, it did not this time.
Calling the customer service line for my provider was a last, but necessary step. Be prepared to answer security questions and have your router at hand, so that you can read off model numbers. When my device's model number did not match the provider's records, she insisted I had replaced it. I had not. Finally, she re-established the connection and changed my account to reflect the correct equipment. In this case, patience was more important than technical expertise.
Solving the connection problem also resolved my "cloud" problem. However, Gmail was almost unusable. Google's help section said that the problem could be caused by a conflict with software on the computer, an overloaded browser cache or a temporary problem on the Gmail server.
To identify the cause, you can start by searching for "Gmail server down" -- or whatever service you're having trouble with. You will see online reports from other users. You can also check Twitter where users will immediately tweet about service outages, and frequently, companies will respond. All you can do is wait until the servers come back online. There was no reported outage, so I emptied my browser cache by clicking on the wrench icon in the upper-right corner and opening "Tools." Clearing my browsing history had no effect on Gmail.
The third possibility was an incompatibility with software running on the computer. This would have been something that I recently added. Frankly, I had no idea. I use very little installed software, but could have run an update that caused the problem. If you can identify a change or addition you made to your computer, try uninstalling or disabling the program to see if it's the culprit.
But if you can't -- and I could not -- then use "Restore" to turn back your computer to a trouble-free time. Open the Control Panel from your Start menu and locate "system restore." For Vista, that's found under "Systems." Select "choose a different restore point" and then choose a point or "show restore points older than 5 days," if you'd like to go back a little further. I chose a point one week before the problem began. Now let the computer do its work -- this can take up to an hour or so. When I rebooted the computer, it was back to normal.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at email@example.com.