Cognitive Daily

Greta and I have very different approaches to technology. I like to read all the latest technology news and learn about new products; she just buys the products she needs. That’s not to say she doesn’t like technology: she has a lab full of computers and uses them extensively in her research. We’ve also found that we have different quirks about how we use technology, like how we organize our desks and who we’ll let use our stuff.

That got us wondering if there are any patterns to people’s technology quirks. Are technophiles less likely to let other people play with their toys, for example? So, naturally, we’ve prepared a short survey for you, to see if we can find any commonalities in the ways people use technology.

Click here to participate

There are just 16 questions, so the survey should only take a couple minutes to complete. There is no limit on the number of respondents.

Since Greta and I will be out of town next week, you have until Thursday, May 29 to respond. Then don’t forget to check back on Friday, May 30 for the results!


  1. #1 Coturnix
    May 16, 2008

    Made me count icons on desktop up to 150….

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    May 16, 2008

    Yikes! I just increased the number of choices for that question!

  3. #3 Jefe
    May 16, 2008

    Icons: It varies. I clean up every now and again, and then let them spawn for a while.

  4. #4 minusRusty
    May 16, 2008

    I noticed there wasn’t any question regarding the actual organization (or lack thereof) of either of the desktops. Me? I’m semi-organized on the PC, more disorganized on the physical one.

  5. #5 Dave Munger
    May 16, 2008

    I guess I was thinking of the “number of items” as a sort of proxy for organization. At this point we’ll just have to wait and see how that works out.

  6. #6 redx
    May 16, 2008

    I have hundreds of files in my desktop folder(it’s where firefox is set to dump downloads), but I don’t actually see my desktop due to the Widows shell replacement I run.

  7. #7 dave
    May 16, 2008

    The “icons on the desktop” would have been different for any of the computers I use.
    On my laptop (Mac), I have two folder shortcuts plus the icons for any disks I have mounted. (That’s the one I’m using now.) On my Windows workstation, I have about 20, representing pretty much everything I use regularly and/or plan to come back to soon. On my *nix systems, my background is owned by the window manager, not the file manager, so I not only don’t have any icons on the desktop, I don’t even have the *option* of having icons on the desktop.

  8. #8 marciepooh
    May 16, 2008

    I counted each pile-o-paper™ as one ‘thing’ on my desk, but each book/journal/manual/well log individually. I didn’t even count the stuff on the other desk in my office, just the one I usually sit at. Although that desk could almost be counted as a single pile-o-paper.

  9. #9 sng
    May 16, 2008

    Didn’t finish the quiz simply because the set of assumptions it makes are, in my opinion, flawed.

    For example on my desk at home there sits an iBook running OS X, an AMD64 tower running OpenBSD, a soekris running OpenBSD, and a G4 tower running OpenBSD. I couldn’t do most of the things I do every day without any one of them. I need to add a fastish i386 box to the mix. So using PC to imply a Windows box is, from my point of view, wrong. And only letting me choose one is limiting in a way that doesn’t reflect my usage at all.

    I also didn’t really like the question about letting other people touch my gear. I’ll let my closest friends touch my gear but I usually pay very close attention to what they’re doing. But NOBODY else touches my stuff. End of story.

    I also found the question about the TV to be interesting. The answer for me is other people. But that’s only because I’m at their house. If I understand what you were going for there the answer is “when something is broken and it needs to be fixed I tell everybody else to get out of my way and start issuing orders”. So, yeah, I’m a control freak and typically the person in a group who best “gets” tech. But an honest answer to the TV question doesn’t reflect that.

    Just a few nitpicks that might be interesting.

  10. #10 chezjake
    May 16, 2008

    A few more nitpicks. On the “letting other people use your stuff” questions, it very much depends on who the other person is. A few people, I’d trust with almost anything, and another few I wouldn’t even loan a beer opener.

    Also, you fail to allow for “selective Luddites” like me – I don’t own a TV, so only watch at other people’s places if it becomes socially mandatory. I don’t (and won’t) own an iPod. And my cell phone is only for emergency use when I’m away from home or there’s a power outage.

    On the other hand, I have two Mac desktops going at all times — one for secure transactions and personal stuff, the other for browsing, discussion groups, etc. Very few icons or files on either desktop, since I save everything to a common networked hard drive with a very well organized file system, which is backed up automatically every day to another networked HD.

  11. #11 Janne
    May 16, 2008

    I didn’t really understand the point of all the “touching stuff” questions. Anybody’s free to use any of my computers if nobody else is (where “anybody” is usually my wife); they’d just use the generic guest account or get an account of their own. Can’t destroy anything outside that account. Cell phone is different, but only in the sense that I may need to – adnd do – use it at any time, so not havign ot for more than a few minutes would be a drawback (if I get a work-related call it’s a good idea if I’m the one answering). There’s no general rule.

    And you should have added an N/A or “don’t own” option to a lot of questions – without a car or iPod I just had to pick a random value for those.

  12. #12 Carolyn
    May 16, 2008

    For the question about what you do when a product breaks, you don’t have an option for “take it apart, get out the soldering iron, and see if you can fix it or do something else with it”

  13. #13 genuinely doug
    May 16, 2008

    Do I get extra points for taking the survey with an iphone?

    I was against purchasing an iPhone. Is it really worth the money, or will it end up with the other gizmos like the palm treo that now sit unused in my wife’s drawer? She is the person who always has the latest gadget. Not me. I get her used toys. But then she bought me this iPhone and i had two weeks to decide to keep or return it. I first said no, but then I got hooked on the safari web browser. So now its here to stay.

  14. #14 Freiddie
    May 17, 2008

    Pretty fun survey.

  15. #15 sng
    May 17, 2008


    Some of us are very possessive about our gear. Just as you don’t get why I get very angry when people start touching my gear I don’t understand how you can let them just touch things that are so personal and critical.

    I suspect that’s kind of the point. 🙂

  16. #16 Nemo
    May 17, 2008

    There are some people who do not have or watch TV. 🙂 And my “let touch” answers are based _only_ on the amount of personal/private data that I don’t want others to have access to.

  17. #17 simon
    May 17, 2008

    The question regarding fixing new technology lacks the answer “tinker around with it until it either works or is so broken you return it to the shop as faulty” :o)

  18. #18 Shadowduck
    May 18, 2008

    I have to agree with sng that “…using PC to imply a Windows box is, from my point of view, wrong.” PC does NOT automatically mean Windows. Maybe next time go for “Which OS – Windows, Mac, Other”?

  19. #19 Dave Munger
    May 18, 2008


    I wish I had asked who was offended by that question in the survey — I think we could have identified a group with an additional technology quirk.

  20. #20 Michael Bach
    May 19, 2008

    It may seem strange to US culture, but I never watch TV. So I can’t answer any questions related to it.

  21. #21 Mick M
    May 19, 2008

    …the only question missing that would have completed my ‘problem’ survey is “Do you hug friends when you meet them…” NO! urgh!

  22. #22 Modern Metrix
    May 20, 2008

    Hi Dave,

    To my knowledge, there are at least 4 or 5 typologies that classify people based on their attitudes toward technology and actual usage. Pew Center developed their famous typology of Information and Communication Technology Users. Mediamark Reserch and Intelligence has interesting Technology Attitudes and Behavior segmentation, and Forrester has their Technographics.

    Modern Metrix blog (

  23. #23 Gillagriene
    May 21, 2008

    *also doesn’t have a tv*

    And the people borrowing stuff is completely dependent on who it is and where they will be when borrowing it. In studio, I’m generally know as the go to person for borrowing.

    And there would be more stuff on my physical desktop if 1). I hadn’t just moved and 2.) the place hadn’t come furnished with a really small desk.

    How I fix stuff depends on what the stuff is. If I have a car problem call my dad first then read the manual. If I have a software problem I google it and email my uncle and/or my mom.

  24. #24 lylebot
    May 26, 2008

    Without really thinking about, I answered all of the borrowing-stuff/touching-stuff questions as if they were asking about somebody on the “work friend” level—i.e., someone that you interact with frequently, get along with well, but seldom see outside of your daily job. I figure that’s sort of the lower bound on whether someone is a friend or not. People that I’m less close to than work friends probably wouldn’t be allowed to borrow anything. People that I’m closer to might be allowed more freedom. But since closeness is sort of pyramidal—lots of people at the lowest level, fewer and fewer as you move up—“work friend” seems like the best compromise to me. YMMV.

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