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Being tech-savvy today isn't just about surfing the Net or working with computers. You need to go high-tech just to navigate your own home. With the increasing omnipresence of advanced electronics in our everyday lives, this month's exclusive American Demographics survey conducted by Greenwich, Conn.-based market research firm NFO WorldGroup set out to reveal how many Americans truly understand how to operate the gadgets they own, and how many are simply getting by — or avoiding them altogether.

According to the online survey of nearly 3,000 adults fielded January 10-22, a majority of Americans admit they are less than certain how to fully operate their mobile phone (56 percent), home computer (56 percent) and home security system (55 percent). Jokes aside, only 40 percent of Americans say they have technical difficulties with their VCR; a full 60 percent can program it with their eyes closed.

Not surprisingly, most Americans “get� their televisions. A full 82 percent of respondents say they are capable of operating their TV and all of its features; only 18 percent admit to some level of unfamiliarity with its functions. People are nearly as familiar with their answering machine (only 27 percent say they are unable to fully operate the device), stereo system (23 percent) and microwave oven (22 percent).

The tech-savvy tend to be young, black and male. Sixty-five percent of blacks say they know the features of their mobile phone inside and out, compared with only 42 percent of whites and 56 percent of Hispanics. According to our survey, blacks are also better than whites at using their stereo, computer and VCR.

Adults under the age of 35 are also more adept at tech issues. For example, 77 percent of respondents age 18 to 34 are confident in their ability to operate their VCR, whereas only 54 percent of adults 35 and older claim the same. Young adults are also more proficient users of their mobile phone, stereo, remote control, microwave, computer and answering machine than those 35-plus. Men may be better skilled than women when it comes to using the computer, remote control, home security system, cell phone and VCR, but women have the upper hand when it comes to the microwave and answering machine.

The survey also found that separated, divorced and widowed Americans are more high-tech than other singles and married individuals. A greater percentage of them can operate all the functions of their television (93 percent), VCR (74 percent), mobile phone (60 percent), stereo (81 percent), microwave (87 percent) and answering machine (80 percent) than either never-married singles or married adults. Then again, chances are good these folks live alone without a spouse or roommate with whom to share the tech duties.

Most Americans (89 percent) say they consult the instruction manual when learning to use a new tech item. Women seem to be more open to reading the directions: 91 percent check the manual versus 84 percent of men. Blacks are the most likely of all groups to take a look at the how-to guide (96 percent). Nine in 10 whites, and 3 out of 4 Hispanics also read the instructions.

When something malfunctions, most Americans attempt a do-it-yourself fix. Almost half (47 percent) say the first thing they do when a piece of equipment fails is to try and repair it themselves, while another 21 percent say they have a friend or family member look at it. Only 9 percent say they take a broken device to a repair shop. One in 5 respondents send the busted item back from whence it came. And then there are the 3 percent of Americans who say that when something breaks, they simply get a new one. Which may not be so techno-dumb after all.


A greater share of Midwesterners than residents of any other region report being fully capable of operating most household electronics. Northeasterners could use a crash course in technology.


Television 82% 86% 79% 78% 83%
VCR 59% 58% 53% 56% 70%
Mobile phone 44% 41% 40% 43% 53%
Stereo 77% 78% 73% 74% 76%
Home security system 45% 53% 47% 53% 27%
Remote control 68% 69% 64% 60% 76%
Microwave 78% 76% 70% 81% 83%
Computer 44% 40% 38% 46% 53%
Answering machine 73% 76% 67% 74% 73%
Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup
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