Michelle Zhiqing Yan/Sun Staff Photographer

Many students are struggling with computer breakdowns.

April 2, 2021

Strained From Soaring Screen Time, Computer Complications Plague Students

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As many students find Zoom classes challenging, many of their devices are struggling too.

More than a year into online classes, club meetings and remote work, long stretches of Zooming have hurt students emotionally and mentally, isolated from the shared experiences of an active college campus. But with screen time at an all-time high, students’ devices are also taking a hit from the long hours spent online. 

In the fall 2020 semester, two thirds of Cornell classes were entirely online, and this spring, many students are still taking most of their courses over Zoom. Some students are navigating computer damages, potentially due to this strain on their devices. 

The Collegetown technology repair store Fennec Fox Tech Repair said it has noticed a decrease in repairs because fewer students are in Ithaca than in a normal semester. But the store has noticed an increase in some kinds of overuse-related hardware problems.

According to Djamel Zekad, the owner of the repair store, studying at home can reduce the life of a computer by at least two years.

“We have seen an increase in battery replacements, motherboard failures and overheating problems,” Zekad said. “That [we believe] is due to an increase in students using Zoom and other applications a lot more than they used to.”

Overworked computers have made it harder for some students to get to class on time. Rachel Korosi ’24 was joining her statistics discussion section when her 2016 MacBook Pro restarted over and over again for about half an hour, making her late to class.

“It took so long to turn on that I was scared it would be permanently stuck in a restart loop,” Korosi said. 

Korosi said she started noticing problems with her computer about two years ago, but said these issues have gotten worse since then. 

With an already shaky battery capacity and a computer that often shut down whenever she closed the lid, Korosi said she felt her computer was going to get in the way of her attending class — so she went to The Cornell Store to replace it.

“The tech support area was pretty empty, but the workers were very helpful and got me a new computer in less than 15 minutes,” Korosi said. 

But not all students can afford a new computer in the middle of the semester as online classes wear down the hardware. While campus resources such as the Access Fund provide financial support for students facing these costly complications, many students have to cover these expenses on their own.

Alexandra Michael ’23 knows the shorter lifespan of overused computers all too well — she has gone through four computers in the span of 2021.

Michael uses her computer frequently for classes, club meetings and remote internships. She has experienced a variety of computer malfunctions — at one point, the microphone, camera and keyboard were all unresponsive, rendering her computer unusable. Last semester, her computer’s camera sometimes turned hazy and purple, and would even turn itself off in the middle of class.

“I have experienced the entire screen freezing and glitching, the screen itself turning upside down with no way to rectify it, random restarts and really just any issue you can think of,” Michael said. “Among everything else that’s going on during the pandemic, it’s an extra frustration to have computers that don’t function the way I need them to.”

According to Michael, dealing with computer troubles on a daily basis can feel isolating. At this point in the pandemic, she said, it often feels to her like everyone else has sorted out their technology issues.

After a two-hour long phone call with her laptop manufacturer that proved unhelpful, Michael took her device to Best Buy where she was able to buy a replacement laptop.

“The one that I am using now doesn’t have a problem,” Michael said. “I am hoping this computer will work out better for me.”