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The Internet Explorer hoax: Who are you calling stupid?

Did you know that people who use Internet Explorer 6 are stupider than other web users?

It's true, according to CNN,, CNet, the BBC and other news outlets. They broke the story in late July that a Canadian research company, AptiQuant, had conducted a study correlating a web user's IQ and their web brower.

Here's the original story from Mashable:

"(The study) compiled IQ test scores of 101,326 individuals older than the age of 16 and divided them into groups according to the browser they use.

The results are fascinating. Users of Internet Explorer 6 have an average IQ score barely more than 80; Firefox and Chrome users fare much better, with average IQ scores of around 110, while Opera and Camino users have an average IQ score more than 120.

It’s also interesting to note that average IQ scores of IE6 users were significantly higher in 2006, and that the IQ scores get better with newer versions of IE."

Alas for Mashable, the BBC, CNN, the Telegraph, CBS and hundreds of other technology and general news outlets, the story turned out to be false. AptiQuant is not a real company and there was no scientific study relating IQ to browser preference.  But for 48 hours the bogus news was tweeted and retweeted, posted on Facebook and Google Plus and otherwise shared gleefully by us urbane technological sophisticates.

Why were so many (including me) taken in? I think it because we ---the digerati –- wanted to believe it. The "study" confirmed our suspicions, that those of us who have the latest technologies, the coolest apps, are superior. The others –- folks who don't use smart phones (is the opposite of a smart phone a "stupid phone"?), who aren't using the latest version of Google's Chrome browser, who are still surfing the web on a desktop PC –- must be inferior.

When computers are a commodity, when the internet is accessible to practically anybody in the Western world, It's hard for us digerati to differentiate ourselves from the masses. So we show our superiority by engaging in a technological arms race. We gravitate to the latest technological wonder - the newest laptop, tablet, smart phone, operating system or app. Once we get them, we look down our noses on those who don't have the latest shiny toys.

The reaction to the IE6 hoax provided a good example of this. Facebook is another example. A few years ago, there were a flurry of stories (in the same media that so breathlessly reported the fake news about IE6 users' IQs) that said that MySpace users tended to earn less and have less education than Facebook users. Alas for the digerati, everybody and his dog is on Facebook now, so using it does not increase our prestige. Thank goodness Google Plus has come along to allow us digerati to differentiate ourselves from the Facebook plebes.

The IE6 hoax has caused me to reflect on this technological arms race. I've come to realize -- belatedly -- that the stupid are not the ones who are still using old operating systems, old computers, old phones and old web browsers. Instead, it's us. Instead of being satisfied with what we have, we throw it away to get the latest version -- the latest computer, the latest smartphone, the latest apps -- regardless of the cost -- to us, to the environment, to society. And all for a few new bells and whistles --more pixels per square inch, a few ounces lighter in weight, a brighter screen, a faster processor.

My mother-in-law is still using the computer she's had since 2004. She accesses the Internet through AOL using a dial-up modem. She reads her email, follows her stocks, plays DVDs and looks at photos. That's all she needs from her computer. The rest of the time, she goes for walks, visits with friends, interacts with real people, enjoys life. Seven years since she bought her computer and it's still in use. Not sitting in a landfill seeping poison into the environment.

Meanwhile, we the digerati proudly show off our new phone and its cool apps (as if we had anything to do with creating the phone or the apps). We argue amongst ourselves about Android versus iOS, and talk knowingly about open source, mobile platforms, crowdsourcing and pervasive computing. And we look forward to -- with both anticipation and trepidation -- the next upgrade cycle when we'll feel compelled to buy a new tablet, a new phone, a new laptop, or a new operating system.

Talk about stupid.

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