A few weeks ago, Greta got a new iPod. I was, naturally, interested to see how it worked since it was supposed to be the latest technology, but Greta would hardly let me touch it: “It’s mine, and I want to learn how to use it before you do,” she told me.
This was surprising to me, since I generally let people try out my new toys right away — I’d even say it’s part of my own enjoyment of them. It got me to thinking whether there was some pattern to who lets others use their gadgets and who doesn’t.
So of course, we did something about it. Two weeks ago, we posted a quick survey that we hoped would get to the heart of the matter. The key question in the survey was this one: “When you have a brand-new product (cell phone, iPod, etc.), how willing are you to let others use it?” There were a dozen or so other questions, like “how interested are you in new technology,” and even a couple designed to see how organized or disorganized people are, asking how many items people had on their real and virtual desktops. Almost as an afterthought I threw in one more: “Mac or PC?” This turned out to be the one that really mattered — check out this graph:
There’s a dramatic and statistically significant difference between how much PC and Mac users let friends try out their new devices.
The “how willing are you to let others use your technology” question had 6 possible answers:
- They must not touch (0)
- They can hold it, but not press any buttons (0.01)
- They can try it out for a few minutes while I supervise (0.1)
- They can try it out for up to an hour, unsupervised (1)
- They can borrow it for a couple days (5)
- They can have it — I didn’t really want it anyway (100)
The numbers after each answer didn’t appear in the survey; they are how I coded the responses — I was simply trying to convert each response into a number of hours. When these figures are averaged together, you get the above results.
I tried correlating some of the other responses to the technology-sharing question, and none of them explained the results nearly as well as the Mac/PC question. Because of our very large sample size (892), we did find some significant correlations, but they’re really tiny in absolute terms.
For example, people who say they’re “interested” in new technology are less likely to let others try out their gadgets, but with a correlation of only .07. People who say they control the TV remote are also touchy about their new gadgets, again with a correlation of just .10. There’s a somewhat stronger correlation between people who take charge of the remote and those who leave the TV on when they’re not watching — .17.
To me, it’s more striking how many things don’t correlate with sharing your technology. A willingness to share clothing, a car, or tools doesn’t correlate with sharing technology. A neat physical or computer desktop doesn’t correlate. Whether or not you buy cases for your gadgets doesn’t and neither does a tendency to contact friends via IM, Phone, or face-to-face (though there is a significant correlation of .09 between texting and stinginess with technology).
In this context, the fact that Mac users (and “other” — mostly Linux users) are so dramatically more stingy with their new gadgets is truly a striking finding, even acknowledging the fact that our readers may not be representative of the public at large. This is literally the opposite of what you’d expect by watching Apple’s own advertising, where “Mac” is the type of guy you’d invite over for a beer and “PC” is the type of guy who’d turn down your invitation in order to organize his DVD collection.
I do have a guess at why Mac users might be stingier with their gizmos. It’s because Mac users have invested more in their technology. Not only are Macs considered “luxury” computers, but Mac users have to deal with the fact that their computers aren’t always 100 percent compatible with the rest of the world. If they’re willing to sacrifice this much for their computers, it’s a safe bet that they’re also more protective of their technology. It’s almost the same reason a BMW owner is less likely to let you borrow her car than a Ford owner. The same reasoning can be adapted to Linux users — while Linux computers aren’t more expensive than PCs, there’s little argument that they have a steeper learning curve than Windows PCs, and also have compatibility problems. Just as a person who’s lovingly restored a 1969 Camaro might not let you drive it, so a Linux user might not let you give his new Ogg Vorbis player a test run.
Any other explanations for our data? Let us know in the comments.