"Have you tried restarting your machine?"
These are the six words your product support person rattles off after you’ve been on hold for 15 minutes whenever you call them to fix your frozen computer, smartphone, printer or anything else that has a microchip. That's because 98 percent* of the time, it works. Why is that a thing? What is this high-tech sorcery? And why does it work just as well for your glitchy DVR as it does for your router when the Wi-Fi slows to a crawl?
*We made this up. But seriously, it almost always works.
Well, just like when you're feeling tuckered out, gadgets need little naps too sometimes.
Your computer does a heck of a lot all at once, especially if you're a demanding customer — constantly streaming on Spotify, opening infinite Chrome tabs, editing in Photoshop, Slacking with coworkers, watching weird webcams. You risk using up too much RAM, or temporary memory, for everything to run smoothly all the time, especially if one of those applications glitches in any way. Restarting wipes out all that temporarily stored data, giving the software a clean slate to run normally again. And since your smartphone is basically just a pocket-sized computer, the same logic applies to it as well.
As for the other gadgets you've found yourself rebooting when things go south — your wireless router, gaming console, Apple TV, etc. — they all run software that can be corrupted by overuse or random interference, so a restart is like shaking a messy Etch A Sketch clean.
You've also probably heard you're supposed to unplug and wait a few minutes before booting back up. There's a good reason for that, too. Basically, this ensures the machine is completely off, since even after you've flipped the switch, power may still be circulating from the capacitor (the component that regulates the flow of power from the outlet). Things don't reset until it's depleted completely.
So, the next time that person who is supposed to be a “genius” about your black box with blinking lights, says those six words. Don’t roll your eyes. 98 percent* of the time, it’s the right — and maybe — the only thing to do.
Adapted from a blog post that appeared at HuffPost.com and written by Joe McGaulley.