This past Sunday afternoon, I spilled a tall glass of water all over a laptop.
The laptop was open at the time of the spill — meaning the water immediately found every little crevice around every little key, ensuring a complete and total drenching of the mother board.
The worst part? It wasn’t my laptop, it was my brother’s — meaning immense guilt gets added to the inevitable feelings of regret and contrition.
Actually, come to think of it, that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is that my pride got the best of me in the immediate aftermath of the spill, and I cost my brother whatever chance there may have been to salvage his laptop.
How NOT to handle spilling water on a laptop
You see, my brother was in the other room at the time of the spill. He had left a glass of water sitting next to the laptop, which I clumsily collided into with my hand while reaching nearby.
Here is what my reaction should have been: go into his nearby room and tell him; or, just scream really loud “Dude, my bad, I just nincompooped water all over your laptop.” This way he’d have had a chance to suggest an immediate course of action.
Because, it turned out, he had a much better idea of what to do with a water-soaked laptop than I did.
My solution was to turn the laptop upside-down in an effort to drain it, then immediately plug it in and turn it back on to see if it would work (and to attempt a quick backup).
It did turn on, which I took as a good sign. And it stayed on for a little bit! But soon thereafter it crapped out. Uh oh …
The problem with my course of action? Turning a laptop on when it’s wet is exactly what you do NOT want to do. It can cause it to short, which makes the problem worse and most likely kills any chance you did have to salvage it.
A much better course of action is to keep it turned off and unplugged and let it dry fully (for up to 24-72 hours). (One drying strategy that seems to work well is to submerge the laptop in rice in an airtight container.) Once the laptop is fully dry, you can plug it in, turn it on, cross your fingers, pray, and rub your rabbit’s foot.
I didn’t realize any of this. My brother did, hence why he was a bit annoyed when he emerged from his room to see everyone huddled around his laptop and found out what had just happened.
I’ll jump ahead to the conclusion of the story: the laptop is dead. All the rice and rabbit’s feet in the world couldn’t bring it back from the brink.
Here’s what we all can learn from this
If you’re desperate for a bright side (which, of course, I am, being the antagonist in this story and all) it’s that the laptop was already old and not in tip-top condition, and he was already planning on replacing it. The Unfortunate Water Spilling Incident of 2014 simply served to hasten its replacement.
I can strain even further for a bright side and say that the lessons learned from this incident — never wait to back up your computer, don’t leave open containers of liquid near it, etc. — should serve my brother well in the future.
But the biggest lesson that needs to be learned from this incident is the one I need to learn about the limitations of my own knowledge and experience.
How to handle the immediate aftermath of the spill should not have been my call to make. I made it anyway, thinking I knew best and hoping that I could solve the problem I created before my brother even knew what was going on.
Big mistake. That’s hubris subduing humility and making a big problem even bigger.
Humility needed to rule the moment. I needed to let my brother know what had happened and see if he knew what to do in such an instance. It turned out, he did. Turned out, I didn’t.
At a minimum, I should have sprinted to Google and gotten expert advice on how to handle the situation before acting. It took me less than 30 seconds to find this post, which would have told me immediately that my instincts were wrong.
This was a case of the least qualified person taking the lead in a time of crisis. Sure, crises demand quick and decisive decisions, but when the decisions are as uninformed as mine were, they only exacerbate the problem. It’s in times like these that pride is a villain when humility could be the hero.
I realize this now. I wish I could have realized this then.
An apology and a warning
To my brother, I say: I’m sorry.
I could try to offer up the excuse that my intentions were good and I was trying to act quickly and take the best action possible, but the road to poor decisions can often be paved with noble intentions. What we needed more than noble intentions were correct answers and informed actions. You’d have brought them to the moment. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the opportunity to do so.
And to everyone else who reads this, I hope this serves as instructive warning of what to do in this exact situation (let a water-drenched laptop dry completely before you even think about turning it on!) and in any situation like it.
You may think you know what do, and your embarrassment may lead you to want to fix the problem before its even recognized … but unless you know FOR SURE, and have been in the situation before, your wisest move is to stop, drop, and listen.
And when I say drop, I mean your ego and your pride. Drop them, cling to your humility, and make sure your proposed solution won’t make the problem worse in the end.
It’s always more important to do right than to be right.
I wish I hadn’t had to be reminded of this the hard way.
I’m sure my brother does to.