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Men think they can fix a computer (but can't), study says

A study suggests that men are especially keen to let it be known they know how to fix a computer, but their actual knowledge may not match their bravado.

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Are men as reluctant to ask for computer help as they are to asking directions? It seems so. The Unofficial IAIN LEE Radio Archive/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When it comes to technological items, I have a simple way to fix them.

I ask my engineer friend George, who sneers at me in as kind a way as he can and gives me simple instructions. Then, with just one look, I feel as if someone's slapped me on the back of the head and told me not to do it again.

It seems, though, that not all men are prepared to subject themselves to such assistance. I have before my eyes a survey that suggests many, many men think they know all about computers and, well, don't.

The survey, performed by GMI Research among 1,001 willing men and women aged 35 to 70, asked whether these willing men and women were confident about fixing a computer. Forty-six percent of men said they were either confident or very confident they could fix their computer. This contrasted with 27 percent of women who were equally sure.

Moreover, 68 percent of the men said they expected their computers to last more than five years. However, 48 percent said they viewed a slow computer as, well, something of a money-saving DIY project that was preferable to paying an expert for help.

Now to the curveball. The respondents were then given what the sponsors of the research, Crucial.com, describe as "the classic symptoms of insufficient memory, such as slowing performance and lockups using common programs."

The respondents were given five diagnostic choices: A failed component inside the computer; virus or malware; a program recently added or downloaded or a recent update to the operating system or application; the computer needs more drive storage; and finally, the computer needs more memory.

Stunningly, only 8 percent of the men said that this sounded like an insufficient memory problem. The two most popular results were "failed component" (35 percent) and "more drive storage" (34 percent). Crucial.com believes that "failed component" should have been the least likely of the answers.

On the memory question, the men were "defeated" by the women. Nine percent of the latter identified insufficient memory as the most likely cause.

You will, perhaps, temporarily lose memory of your name and location when I tell you that sponsor Crucial.com is the global brand of Micron and is rather interested in selling you more memory with its SSDs and DRAM products.

Still the research, which was performed between June 27 and July 4, offers much to consider. Especially when one looks at some of its other conclusions. For example, of all these 1,001 people, 83 percent said that they'd replace their PCs altogether if they got fed up with it being "slow, broken and out-of-date."

The seemingly self-contradictory nature of humanity was also exhibited in another answer. Even though 27 percent of women said they were confident or very confident they could fix their computers, only 11 percent said they'd fix their computers "because I know I can."

One greater question emerges for me: How easy is it, even for an alleged expert, to identify a computer problem from a simple verbal description?

So I posed as a half-witted customer (not difficult) and asked professional tech support people about their initial instincts. I told them my computer was running slow and that it was suffering lockups, just as the survey had asked.

I contacted Tekserve. One of its customer support reps told me: "Most commonly, slowness and lockups are due to a bad hard drive. Since the hard drive is often one of the only moving parts in a computer, it makes sense that this would be a common failure. Hard drives do wear down over time and need to be replaced on occasion."

I spoke to a very nice man from iTok, who told me that his instinct was that a background program may have been sucking the life out of my computer.

In both cases, however, the tech support people wanted to see the computer first and analyze the true problem. The very nice man from iTok told me it might take two hours to make sure the right problem had been identified.

I also went online to see what self-help I could find from instant diagnosticians. One site listed Memory Upgrade as its No. 9 option for a slow computer. Another seemed to place it at No. 2.

I also showed the survey findings to Alan Dworkin, president and CEO of AJD Computer Specialist. His reaction: "It doesn't surprise me that so many of the survey respondents didn't identify insufficient memory as one of the likelier causes of a slow computer. Customers come to us all the time because they want faster computers. Oftentimes they've already upgraded their OS but don't think of upgrading their memory as well. Although adding memory is easy and straightforward, it is overlooked by many of our customers."

Then I asked friends and colleagues what they thought the root cause of a slow-running computer was. I got answers that varied from "corrupted hard drive" to "an old laptop model using new software" to "Dropbox" and "any Adobe software."

Some did say "memory." There was even one who said: "Windows. It has a human-like arterial system that gets clogged with digital cholesterol over time. I've seen it countless times. Seriously."

I confess I had a slow-running MacBook Air a few months ago. Too scared to endure my engineer friend George's scorn, I took it to an Apple store. The genius stared at it, prodded it, poked it and looked me strangely in the eyes. Then he said: "Wait here."

He rushed off with my computer to the mysterious backroom -- where, I suspect, the real geniuses hang out. playing video games and picking at their pimples.

He returned with a diagnosis: insufficient memory.

Perhaps the moral of this research is that, indeed, you shouldn't trust anyone but a professional who knows what they're talking about. (Not all professionals actually know what they're talking about.)

It's like cars. Just as with computers, they seem to have minds of their own. Many is the casual "expert" -- often a man -- who'll tell you that it's the brakes/steering wheel/crankshaft/exhaust.

How often is he right?