It’s not really a surprise that Americans are clueless about tech terms

I saw the results of this survey and thought, Oh, they interviewed the elderly and rural populations. Not necessarily. We web-addicted people tend to forget that NOT EVERYONE has a computer or 3 on their desk. The results seem to be about right to me.

1 in 10 Americans think HTML is an STD, study finds

A recent study found that many Americans are lost when it comes to tech-related terms, with 11% saying that they thought HTML — a language that is used to create websites — was a sexually transmitted disease.

The study was conducted by, a coupons website, as a way to determine how knowledgeable users are when it comes to tech terms.

Despite the incorrect answers, 61% of the respondents said it is important to have a good knowledge of technology in this day and age.

The study involved 2,392 men and women 18 years of age or older. The participants were not told that the study was specifically looking into their knowledge of tech terms. They were presented with both tech and non-tech terms and were asked to choose from three possible definitions.

Some other golden nuggets of misinformation gathered from the survey:

27% identified “gigabyte” as an insect commonly found in South America.

23% thought an “MP3” was a “Star Wars” robot. It is actually an audio file.

15% said they believed “software” is comfortable clothing. Software is a general term for computer programs.

Some people find these results so ridiculous that it must be a hoax. Never underestimate ignorance. Some people get along just fine without modern tech, difficult that is to believe. However, this type of knowledge is associated with a higher income and education in order to utilize it. There is a significant portion of the population that is neither. Whether left behind by circumstances or by choice, there are still lots of problems with literacy off all kinds in this country.

Multiple people tipped us off on this story.

  20 comments for “It’s not really a surprise that Americans are clueless about tech terms

  1. Angela
    March 5, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    I admittedly took a long time learning the tech terms and for a while–I was doing good to turn the thing on. I got better because I wanted to learn. Many are happy just to have the access to the web and don’t think about the technology that makes all of that come together.

    *side note–there was someone who was having issues with their computer. I asked if they had cleared their browser of cookies. They told me they didn’t eat cookies at the computer. That’s when I realized that it really IS that important to learn at least some of the basics.

  2. busterggi
    March 5, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    I’m pretty tech backwards so I figured I’d do poorly on the survey until I looked at it – multiple choice w/ some almost joke answers. SEO was the only one I missed.

  3. Overkill
    March 5, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    As someone who has participated in many online surveys, I’m EXTREMELY skeptical of any of their “findings” 🙂

  4. terrence
    March 5, 2014 at 9:01 PM

    I worked in IT for over 27 years – I could cry at how uniformed so many people are – and they TRY to act as if they know a lot.

    OT – I just voted for Doubtful News in the The 2014 Bloggies survey.

  5. Chris Howard
    March 5, 2014 at 10:54 PM

    So, if it burns when I download that’s not HTML?

  6. Wang-Lo
    March 6, 2014 at 1:27 AM

    I am a professional software developer and well acquainted with computers and networking since about 1971 — but I used MODEMs for about three years before I found out what the term is an abbreviation for*. So although I could install, use, and troubleshoot a MODEM, that survey would have identified me as one American who doesn’t know the technical term.

  7. Barry
    March 6, 2014 at 3:16 AM

    I wouldn’t fret too much about this. It’s not like knowledge of the gigabyte is a critical life skill. I think it’s more alarming that (seemingly) 50% of the population can’t cook anything more complicated than a PBJ.

  8. Haldurson
    March 6, 2014 at 3:38 AM

    To me, it’s neither surprising, nor depressing. I know from experience that there are parts of the country where I’ve visited where I can’t always understand a lot of the language (parts of New Orleans for example). You learn the language that is necessary to get around within your environment. It’s really a simple principle. No one is surprised when a foreign English speaker doesn’t understand all of the American idioms, for example, so why be surprised at this?

  9. Karin
    March 6, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    If true, it must be most males, conditioned as they have been to let the women in their lives do everything in the kitchen. It is indeed more alarming than a segment of the population not knowing what a gigabyte is, however. Though the statistic is entirely & depressingly believable, I would like some information as to its source!

  10. Rex Dart
    March 6, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    I think what this really shows is not necessarily a bad thing – that computers have definitely moved from something used by techies/enthusiasts to a mass-market product.

    People interacting with technology usually know what they NEED to know. Even if they use the technology a lot. I like cars enough to consider myself at least something of an “enthusiast,” but I haven’t the foggiest idea of what, say, the Macpherson strut suspension is, beyond the obvious fact that it was invented by automotive engineer/supermodel Elle Macpherson in the off-time between Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.

    The average computer user doesn’t really need to know any of these terms in order to do what they need to do (though the “software” concept is certainly handy.)

  11. Joni
    March 6, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    On the other hand…. how many of those who drive cars know how to rebuild the engine…. or even perform basic maintenance?


  12. CLamb
    March 6, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    This doesn’t surprise me. I am appalled at people’s ignorance about high-def television however. Just about everywhere I go, even in sports bars, televisions are set up to display standard-def broadcasts wrong. They set up the TV to stretch out the 4:3 image horizontally to 16:9. Doesn’t anyone notic that people look short and fat? That all the round things, like wheels, are now ovoid? I stayed at the Marriot Wardman Park hotel in D.C. once–not a cheap place. I called the desk asking how to set up the TV to show a 4:3 image properly. They sent up the hotel engineer to take the back off of the television, give me a 2nd remote, and show me how to switch between using the two remotes–just to get a picture to display properly!

  13. Brian
    March 6, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    I have an honest question: According to the media- are we (Americans) really that stupid, or are we getting the shaft? We do not know science. We do not know tech terms. We cannot figure out basic principles. (We also don’t know how to the hell to use they’re, their, and there, or proper placement of an apostrophe, but I digress). We seem to barely know how to use a toilet, according to these media stories.

    I don’t see these sorts of stories concerning other countries….

  14. Lagaya1
    March 6, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    If you lived in other countries, you’d see stories about other countries. Would you read an article titled “Children in Germany falling behind in math skills”? Likely not, unless your family or friends lived in Germany.

    With that aside, it does seem that people in the US have lost their edge in the world, though. Or maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.

  15. March 6, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    I’d really like to see the raw answers, what were the proportion of correct answers for each question? That might tell us more. I’d admit the what html stands for is fairly esoteric but mp3 players are everywhere, the temptation to click on the sillier answers as a joke must be pretty high.
    Also we are talking about people filling out a survey about technology on a computer, for a company that offers an online based service it’s not like the survey was including non-computer users.

  16. Anthony
    March 6, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    “We seem to barely know how to use a toilet, according to these media stories”

    I can attest that we don’t know how to use the toilet. I used to work in a gas station. Cleaning the bathrooms always destroyed whatever good opinion I may have developed about our species. There are many mothers out there with whom I would like to have a word.

  17. Maria
    March 9, 2014 at 4:41 AM

    My first reaction was LOL. My second reaction was realizing that people might have deliberately picked joking answers. You see, even if the multiple choice test offers an apparently absurd option (like “I am a dog”), there are always some people who choose it.
    My third reaction… Well, my mother used to be an engineer in Zelenograd, which once was the Russian analogue of Silicon Valley. In early 1990s, she heard her colleage say: ‘I DREAM of the time when the users will be ignorant of the word ‘file’!”
    So, from his perspective (sadly, I don’t know whether he is still alive), this is a good bit of news!

  18. March 12, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    The story was a hoax.

  19. March 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Evidence please.

  20. March 12, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    The real story here is that this is just more proof that all the blather from the overclass about the importance of knowledge in our age is a diversion. Technical knowledge is probably of decreasing importance in our age. The real issue is economic inequality and why we tolerate leaving the bottom half of the population to a terrible fate.

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