Survey reveals: MP3 is a Star Wars robot and HTML is an STD

Just for fun, we review the wide array of technical terms that seem to be misunderstood by a whole lot of people. A motherboard, my fellow Americans, is NOT the deck of a cruise ship.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

No, folks, this is not a gigabyte.

Lavoview, Getty Images/iStockphoto

In a world where #fakenews is claimed by anyone who doesn't agree with something, it's becoming more and more important to dig deep to find the real truth.

This lack of understanding is not limited to the political arena.

This week, our own Jake Smith reported on a study showing that 1 in 3 consumers have challenges setting up or operating a connected device. Of course, it's not just the fault of consumers. Tech companies have built some truly terrible devices (Juicero, I'm looking at you!), as my ZDNet buddy Adrian Kingsley-Hughes pointed out in his recent overview of tech products that fooled or failed us.

Hardware is hard: The tech products that fooled or failed us

That said, it can be pretty shocking what our fellow Americans believe about technology. I recently stumbled across an LA Times report from 2014. I know this is from a few years ago, but given our recent coverage about technology misunderstandings, it was too good to pass up.

Let's start with one of my favorites. HTML (or Hypertext Markup Language) is the coding structure used to format webpages. But, according to the study, more than 10 percent thought it was a sexually-transmitted disease. Another 10 percent thought it was, and I quote, "the main road structure throughout England."

So don't get on the HTML tonight, because if you do, you might catch HTML, and then you'd need a whole set of shots.

How many of you remember Star Wars? Apparently 23 percent of survey respondents (or almost a quarter of the people asked), think MP3 is a Star Wars robot. Yet another 15 percent think it's a cleaning product.

It's always good to rub MP3 on MP3 to make sure he's fully cleaned, right?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization not only confuses those who want to maximize their Google juice, but apparently 41 percent of survey respondents think it means Safe Energy Optimization, and another 36 percent think it means Standard Engine Output. SEO does have a lot of meanings, including Seasoned Equity Offering, Security Engineering Officer, Socio-Economic Objective, and State electoral office. It's also a Korean family name.

Less than a quarter of respondents actually know what SEO really means, which tells me that all those Google spam telemarketers are going to get even fewer bites than they might think.

Of those asked, 42 percent think that motherboard is the deck of a cruise ship. 27 percent think that gigabyte is an insect commonly found in South America (why South America?). Twelve percent of survey respondents think that USB is an acronym for a country in Europe.

Twelve percent is an interesting number. The US Census Bureau estimates that the total US adult population (those 18 and older) is about 247 million people. Twelve percent of that is about 29 million people. According to the survey, twelve percent (or nearly 30 million Americans) also believe Blu-Ray is "a soul singer famous in the 1930s," software is "furnishings and home accessories" (although they might be right about that one), and jargon is a "type of meat." Yes, there well may be 30 million jargon-eating Americans.

Just in case you think this is, itself, fake news, the LA Times vetted the information. The study comes from a survey Yetis Public Relations commissioned on behalf of a shopping website, and the full study results are published with the LA Times article.

One thing the LA Times didn't do is cross-correlate the results of this survey with the number of Americans who are either not native English speakers or who speak another language at home. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, one in five Americans speak a non-English language at home.

That could mean the reason for lack of familiarity for many of these terms is not lack of technical knowledge, but lack of English speaking skills, and of English vernacular. Then again, it could also be survey respondents having just fun with the questions and thereby skewing the results.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to Simon Whistler, who hosts two of my favorite YouTube channels, TopTenz and Today I Found Out. He recently did a show on 10 Bizarre Things Americans Believe According to Studies, which referenced HTML as an STD in the LA Times story as one of its items. If you want to spend some quality time on YouTube, you won't do much better than Simon's shows.

With that, I'm going to grill up some jargon tonight for dinner. We're going to serve it with a nice bowl of migraine (which 29 percent think is a type of rice). It's enough to give you a bad case of dialect (which 6 percent of survey respondents believe is a bowel illness).

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