back to article Survey outs Britain as nation of tech twits

One in 20 Britons think Steve Jobs is a Division II footballer, six per cent think a virtual hard disk (VHD) is a sexually transmitted disease, and 10 per cent believe a wireless dongle to be a sex toy. Perhaps that last bit is true in a pinch, but it's hard to fathom how Apple's CEO could be mistaken for the redoubtable Steve …


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  1. Paul Stevenson
    Paris Hilton

    Not surprising

    That doesn't surprise me; the last time that i made an impromptu survey of the local pub, ID cards were thought to be a good idea.

    It all depends where you do the survey. Online, you're bound to get a bunch with at least a little tech knowledge; those that know their mouse from their elbow.

    In the middle of a street/pub/local fish market; the demographic can change.

    Paris, because...well I'm sure she knows how to double click her mouse.

  2. Phillip Webster

    Bill Gates

    "Three per cent identified Bill Gates as an American comedian."

    Well I always thought Windows was the tech industry's biggest joke. ;o)

  3. DJV Silver badge

    Three per cent ...

    "Three per cent identified Bill Gates as an American comedian."

    Well, I'm with them on that!! Though, arguably, his sidekick, Ballmer, is actually funnier.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      The root cause of all MS's problems.

      I finally understand! Any good comedian needs a good straight man.

      All they need to do is post an ad: "Wanted. Solid, sensible executive type to say boring, sensible things while the CEO makes bad jokes and hams it up for laughs. Must be able to keep a straight face when covered in custard. MBA preferred.".

  4. Sim

    survey me

    i will always lie in a manner that amuses me at that time.

  5. cs94njw
    IT Angle

    No seriously...

    What the hell is a virtual hard disk?

    1. Annihilator


      If asked "what's a VHD", I'd struggle. Hell, I'd struggle if they asked me "what's a VMDK" and I use those day to day.

      1. Thomas 4

        I'm British, so this probably isn't the right answer

        ...but if I had to guess, either storage space allocated to a user on a network, or a fancy term for a partition?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The title, woopdeewoop

          Afaik it's the HD space you have allocated to a Virtual Machine, same as the vCPUs, the virtual CPUs in your VM

  6. Anonymous Coward

    1000 people?

    I don't understand how they can take 1000 people (which is a fractional percentage of the population) and draw such damning results from them.

    1. Sly

      lies, damned lies, and stats

      nuff said

    2. Richard 118

      It's called statistics

      You only need a small fraction as a sample to provide a relatively accurate result. The difference between 1000 and 10000 will be negligible but 100000 might provide a better result.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Surveys theory

      There's supposed to be a set of classifications that they can use to classify everyone they survey and so x-ref them into a representative sample of the population. If they manage to get enough people stuffed into the appropriate categories, then they can claim that the sample is representative and so extrapolate the results to the general population.

      Personally, I am of the opinion that this size of sample is way too small and that the classifications aren't up to the job these days. However, I've only got a First in Statistics, so what do I know?

  7. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Sounds right

    >Nine per cent of respondents believe Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the head of MI5.

    Damn the secret is out.

    >Another five per cent identified Sir Tim as the first British astronaut in space.

    You're thinking of Sir Terrence Lambert-Simnel

    >Six per cent think phishing is "an angling method used by Eskimos."

    Obviously the eskimos moved to Nigeria because the ice melted

    >Six per cent believe SaaS (software as a service) was an '80s pop band.

    And Kraftwerk is a web framework

    >Eleven per cent couldn't name a single social-networking website.

    Good - thats a big vote for the inteligence of the British public,

    >Three per cent identified Bill Gates as an American comedian.

    It's just sysadmins don't get the joke.

  8. EyeCU

    Who cares?

    What does it matter if they don't know who Steve Jobs is? I bet they have heard of Apple though.

    I don't buy a TV based on who the CEO of the company is and frankly don't give a toss as long as it is a good product

  9. Chris Malme

    And 50 percent of those questioned...

    ... identified themselves as jokers who lie humorously to stupid surveys.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I suspect the survey actually means that roughly 10% of Brits have a sense of humour.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good point, what is a virtual hard drive?

    One can speculate I suppose, but it is made up and not technically accurate.

    Right off to see what people think is a virtual hard drive: a ram disk, 'hard' should not be in there it should be a 'virtual drive', and haven't they heard of tmpfs.

    The real problem is those asking the questions don't really know about technology themselves blundering through creating mayhem in their ill educated wake.

  12. LesB

    And 39.67%...

    ..declined to take the survey seriously and gave the silliest answers they could think of.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Not all bad then

    # Eleven per cent couldn't name a single social-networking website.

    Some hope for the nation, then.

    # Three per cent identified Bill Gates as an American comedian.

    Three per cent were correct.

  14. Christoph

    That's terrible

    This seems to imply that a large percentage of the rest of the people interviewed actually gave accurate replies to some idiot with a clipboard? What were they thinking of?

  15. JasonW

    Anyone who interacts with the "Great" British Public....

    ... will not be surprised.

    It's amazing how some of them function socially and economically to be honest.

  16. AzaB
    IT Angle

    A problem?

    Does it really matter that a lot of people don't know the answers to these questions? Does it affect the life of an average person or have an impact on mainstream news? Probably not.

  17. mantavani

    Oh come on...

    It's a bloody PR agency puff piece. I know it's just a bit of fun but I used to expect more of El Reg...

  18. wikitect

    I Must be One Too!

    and I thought Ada Lovelace was a porn star :-)

  19. Robert E A Harvey


    "One in 20 Britons think Steve Jobs is a Division II footballer, six per cent think a virtual hard disk (VHD) is a sexually transmitted disease, and 10 per cent believe a wireless dongle to be a sex toy."

    and 9 out of 10 like messing with people asking them daft questions.

  20. iamapizza

    This is a good thing

    "Nine per cent of respondents believe Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the head of MI5."

    Indicating that 91% knew who he was?

    1. MadonnaC

      Title goes here

      I wish... Unfortunately, 20% will think he's something to do with IE, another 20% will think he's a writer for 'The Internet', and all but 4 will say 'Dont Know'

    2. Brutus

      ... mostly

      According to a BBC story I read the othe day T B-L invented the internet.

  21. Morpho Devilpepper

    Don't feel too bad

    After all, the knobs at Investors Business Daily labored long and furiously under the misapprehension that Stephen Hawking is American.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's that machine voice of his, isn't it.

      The problem is it doesn't make interjections like "Oh, I say!", compliments like "Good show!", or complete sentences with "What!" and "Don't yer know!" In the absence of all that, what else are they supposed to think? Hawking only has himself to blame, not even wearing a bowler hat!

  22. Pigeon

    Is Steve Jobs really a footbaler?

    Maybe I could search for Steve Jobs the plumber, or something.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    They've just identified that about 5% have sense of humour!

    Bill Gates IS and American Comedian!

    How did this survey control for people that deliberately put 'wrong' answers for fun in the full knowledge that it's not important at all? - So they can have a bit of fun. Lots of people do that in surveys all the time. It's good to know what they're surveying without giving any useful info. That means doing the survey and putting down a load of bollocks. The Phishing one is another joke. Unless they're interviewing people that don't use the web. Which would be somewhat pointless. Why would they need to know what a social networking site was? It's like expecting a non-phone user to know how to multi-touch a particular model (of phone).

  24. David Webb

    Who is..

    Who is the CEO of:











    So far I'm 0/10! Some of the biggest companies in the world and no idea who their CEO's are, so a large percentage knowing the CEO's of two American companies is pretty decent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I remember when... used to play for Chelsea, then got into trouble for growing a beard! So, how is Pamela?

      Anyway, the answer is "Gordon Brown". They all just asked him to do it!

  25. John 156
    Big Brother

    forthurst the Debianite

    It would be helpful wouldn't it if the survey questioners knew the correct answers.

    SaaS? That is what I have on my quarter pounder, Reggae Reggae SaaS.

    Sir Tim Berners-Lee if you recall boldly went on the Enterprise meeting all sorts of new life forms with American accents..

    A VHD is one that yo pay for but never in fact receive.

    Bill Gates - wrong again; he became the richest man in the world by becoming irreplaceable as the voice of Kermit the Frog.

    Anyhow what's this got to do with playing computer games or am I missing something here?

  26. jake Silver badge

    Don't despair, Brits :-)

    It's equally as bad on this side of the pond. And everywhere else on this dampish rock[1]. People, as a race, are for the most part ineducable.

    And I'm glad to read that I'm not the only one who lies on surveys :-)

    [1] Well, I haven't been to Antarctica (yet); somehow I suspect the education level and technical ability down there is a little different than a random sample anywhere else ...

  27. heyrick Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Oh dear God...

    That said, I Googled "Closer" magazine and browsed the site. "Danielle Lloyd", who? I've heard of Holly Willoughby, but on the other hand, who do I want to leave the CBB house? What?

    Oh, right, Celebrity Big Brother, yes? <clicky clicky - c4/bigbro site> Until now (evidently day 13) I had _no_ idea who was in the... what the f....? That's the bloke from Lock Stock &, yes? And hairpiece-Trump's Ex, yes? Haha! In the photo-mosiac, "Katia" looks sweet, but apart from Vinny/Ivana, who the hell are the rest of them?

    Point is - the public, all 1000 of them (!), probably don't care who Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are. Given the odd thoughts of what "phishing" means, I'd be interested to know if this was a free-form quiz or a set of "tick the answer you think is most likely" (could El Reg find out?). As for VHDs (what, nobody thought it was a television music channel!?), I know a lot of geeks that call them "images", the VHD terminology being mostly absent. Myself included. Then you aren't tied to pointless restrictions. You can have CD images, disc images, DVD images, floppy images, ghostly images, p()rnographic images <smirk>, the list goes on...

    Not able to name a social networking site? I bet a fair few people know *of* Twitter and FaceBook (et al) even if they aren't exactly certain what the point is, or that they are classified as "social networking". I never Twitter but I have a MySpace. I never think "I'm going to network socially". These are just buzz-terms.

    Try some better questions:

    How often do you check your mail? [every 10 mins, automated]

    How often do you Twitter? [never]

    How often do you blog? [when I feel like it!]

    Your favourite website? [by time spent, this one! :-)]

    You start asking "techie" questions, like "what sort of router to you have?" people will be all "WTF?" because we fellow geeks probably installed it ourselves. How many of Joe Public had a man turn up from BT/NTL, plug it in, it works, they've not touched it since or ever wondered what the blinky lights are for...

    Seriously... VHD? Why does 99% of the population even _need_ to know what that is?

    Paris, for if she was in the BB house, I suspect El Reg would be strangely silent...

  28. JonP
    Black Helicopters


    For a brief, paranoid moment i thought this was based on the results of the El Reg Reader


    Then i noticed it was still on-going so they won't have analysed the results yet...

    1. spiny norman

      The El Reg reader survey

      Tell us what you want from El Reg, they said. Except the questions were all about IT budgets and what you have authority to buy. So actually it was: tell us what ads we should flash at you while you're reading.

      Is that what Phishing means?

  29. Rogan Paneer

    Deja vu

    Surveys giving curious results? Doesn't anyone remember Peter Cook (may he rest in peace) in the film "The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer'?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Oi, stop being so smug!

    After 125 years of the automobile, how many of us can fix our own car from base to top? I know i can't! I can put stuff in the right holes, check the bits I am supposed to check, tyres, lights, etc, but other than that I pay someone else to do that.

    I was going up the escalator at a well known tube station the other day and I overheard these two old dears, late 50s, shopping trolleys, the works, bother were talking about the wireless router one of them had just bought, talking about the difference between WEP and WPA, setting up MAC addresses and ensuring DHCP was off, all the good stuff. I was utterly engrossed in how much knowledge that had for people from a generation often written off as having no tech knowledge.

    My old man, almost in his 70s, still fixes his own machines when required, so not everyone is a complete muppet, surveying 1,000 people out of 60 odd million is not that representative is it?

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Leisure Suit Larry?

    Weren't those the questions you had to 'prove' your over-18 status?

    "What is a hard disk?" fnar fnar

  32. Evil Genius

    Is it wrong... lie to those asking the qustions in the survey?

    Oh well.

  33. Ian Tunnacliffe

    Stupid Stupid Stupid

    This "survey" shows nothing useful at all. If you confront people with a multiple choice list and they either don't know or don't care about the answer, they will select one of the choices maybe at random. So if you neither know nor care who Tim B-L is then you just pick one of the alternatives - which may well be "Head of MI5". If you allowed a "don't know" alternative AND people took the survey seriously, I doubt if you would get so many silly headlines. But then the PR company wouldn't achieve its objectives and the thing wouldn't be done.

  34. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Turn it around ...

    ... and it's not very impressive is it. 97% didn't think Bill Gates was an American Comedian etc.

    So all we have is confirmation of the previously well known fact that a small minority of people get things laughably wrong, and often not unreasonably so, or deliberately. Give a ridiculous choice to select from on a subject which some people are unfamiliar with and someone will select that answer.

    How many initially thought The Falklands was off Scotland's coast ? How many still do ?

  35. SuperTim

    Ask a silly question

    A VHD? Thats a Volumetric Haptic Display, I thought that would have been obvious, or did the researchers not realise that there is more than one answer to their questions?

    I gather much of it was multi choice, given the unnerving silly answers. anyone filling out a technology survey with non tech answers is a joker

  36. Rob Moir
    Thumb Down


    Giant who cares, frankly. So the general public can't pick the names of CEOs and notable engineers from our industry out and don't know obscure acronyms; how would the IT crowd do at identifying famous people and technical terms from, say, the legal or road engineering.

    Slow news day was it?

  37. dreadful scathe

    silly survey

    I think we can safely assume that this was a multiple choice survey with ridiculous answers to ensure that those that; don't care, think its funny or occasionally don't know ,will pick them. Thus 1 in 20 believe Steve Jobs played division 2, they don't.

    Still at least 25% of people did not recognise Sir Tim Berners Lee as the founder of the internet - because he wasn't. Shame on the other 75% though, but what can they do when there is no correct answer?

    Surveys, bah!

  38. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    Eleven per cent couldn't name a single social-networking website.

    I find that strangely reassuring!

  39. Bassey


    Who gives a flying monkey who the CEO of a large company is outside of those in the industry? Are people who buy TVs expected to know the name of the head of Sony? Are people who buy music expected to give a shit about the model of mixing desk used in the studio? Do people who drink wine care about the name of the guy who invented the latest bottling process?

    Of course not. It's pointless nonsense and I'm glad the British public have more important things to concern themselves with. I just wish that "more important" thing wasn't what's happening in Eastenders.

  40. Cameron Colley

    Not really a techie survey.

    As has been pointed out, VHD is term not often used -- and it's not entirely free of ambiguity when you consider tmpfs and other RAM disks.

    As for SaaS -- that's just a term used by management, surely?

    The you get onto the CEOs -- how does it help me to set up, configure and administer a Windows domain to know who Bill; Gates is, for example?

    1. Thomas 4
      Gates Horns

      Easy answer

      When it all goes tits-up, you'll know who to curse loudly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      SaaS ???

      That's definitely a bit of management speak - I've been working in IT support for seven years and never heard it. And that's working at BT, where management completely *push the envelope* in terms of using the latest buzzwords & TLAs. (Three Letter Abbreviations, for the uninitiated.)

      Definitely seems that the surveyors themselves had no idea about the subject.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Three Letter ACRONYM

        1. SuperTim

          Strictly speaking.

          Three letter initialism. But that would be a TLI.

  41. Subtilior

    We need

    a dedicated army of real life BOFH types, to launch a brutal campaign of elimination against the technologically ignorant. Given their higher breeding rates, if we do not, then your children will have to cope with ever increasing numbers of twits: a sorry fate for humanity.

    1. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge


      Hang on, did you just advocate killing everyone not as smart as your own circle ?

      Paging the Hague ...

      1. greenmantle


        'Paging' ? That went out with that 80's pop band SaaS...

        No wonder this country is technologically challenged!

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      twit--; bad idea!

      If it wasn't for twits, what would the BOFH do? We can't all be sysadmins, the smart people are, and the twits are the ones dumb enough to phone up for assistance and give their user ID...

      [you haven't been watching "Idiocracy" have you?]

  42. Ben Rosenthal


    89% of us know at least one social networking site, that seems pretty switched on for the general Joe public tbh.

    The other information expected of them, tells me more about the people asking the questions than those that answered (out of touch bunch of hypergeeks that actually put importance in obscure acronyms and trendy buzzwords).

  43. Sceptical Bastard

    What's the date?

    Oh. It's not 1 April after all.

    Why give this risible rubbish the oxygen of publicity? Until now, I'd never heard of Lewis PR (which, it seems, is a "Global Public Relations Agency, offering SEO and Social Media PR"), Now I have. But I didn't want to.

    My advice to the compilers of the survey (and to so-called search 'optimising' businesses) could be summed up as "Why don't you either just FOAD or get a proper job doing something that's actually of use to society, you parasitic leeching wankers."

    Anyway, who the hell does Tim Berners-Lee play for?

    1. Francis Boyle

      I think I need to be convinced

      that Lewis PR is not an excuse for Lewis Page to wander around with a clipboard doing a bit of 'social networking' - It'd make as much sense as any alternative.

      Joke alert because it is - either way you look at it.

  44. LinkOfHyrule

    SaaS 80's Band

    If they were a 80's band, I reckon they'd be pretty cool, lots of synths and drum machines, male lead singer with emo-ish hair looking all depressed, a Yorkshire ripper look-a-like playing the Mini-Moog, yeah, SaaS (Software as a Service) were pretty hot s**t back in the day!

    My favourite songs of theirs are "Tainted Disk" and "Just cant get an IP" ;o)

  45. David Sidebotham
    Jobs Halo

    Time to boldly go

    Lets face it the only tech terms in general use come from Star Trek or Dr Who. No one knows all the jargon. Yet most people will have a passing knowledge of a sonic screwdriver. How many techies have a clue what a MBO is or DREEAM (apart from wet ones). It all depends on your field. Jargon is what jargon makers make it and the devil take the hindmost.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Bill Gates?

    "Three per cent identified Bill Gates as an American comedian".

    Had the other 97% never used Microsoft Software before?

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Do you (the news media in general) give space to these surveys? If they bothered to interview a significant number of people then fair enough, but a sample of 1000 represents something like 0.002% of the adult population. What's the point? It's not statistically significant so the survey tells us sweet FA.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge


      I presume you don't think quality control can be done by sampling? And that all opinion polls are worthless ... oh, ah ... hang on, you might be on to something

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That's the point

        The companies performing these surveys tell us that they can perform clever profiling in order to get meaningful results from a very small sample. However I think we can draw the conclusion that this is some pseudo mathmatical BS that statisticians feed their clients in order to (a) be taken seriously and (b) get the contract in the first place. (a) of course covers the media. (b) is more important. Imagine that you as a company or government department want a survey performing, one company tells you they need to survey 50,000 people to get a meaningful result while another company tells you they can achieve the same with a survey of only 1,000 people. Who is going to get the job?

        If you don't believe any branch of maths or science could be that corrupt consider that the highly respected (ahem!) science of climateology expects us to believe that we can record and predict worldwide temperatures from core samples of only twelve trees for the entire planet. And of course those twelve trees have been very carefully selected to give representative results. I mean, nobody would be so cynical as to suggest that those twelve trees were selected in order to give the results they wanted, would they?

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed a bit.

    And 10% spoiled the survey form by wiping their arse on it because that's all it was good for.

  49. Chika

    Hmm... we're a bit short of news items today...

    Wonder what we can use the FOI act and/or the latest surveys to make a list of?

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