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TECHNOLOGY

What Your Phone Says About You

You might be surprised how humans and even computers judge you according to the kind of phone you use.

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I sometimes use a digital recorder with a cracked screen. When I do, it's not uncommon for my interview subject to suggest I get a new one. "They're so inexpensive these days," said the last guy giving advice.

"But it works fine," I always reply, bristling at the idea that I'm cheapskate who doesn't want to spend $50 on a device that looks better but performs the same as the one I already have.

It raises the question, though: should professionals who want to get ahead make sure they have the latest and greatest technology so as to make a positive impression on others?

Maybe so.

Is Your Phone Old or New?

According to uSell.com, a New York-based buyer of used smartphones and tablets, your phone, in particular, says a lot about you--not unlike how your choice of clothing or hairstyle communicates something about you. The company recently surveyed about 1,000 business people asking them how they perceive others based upon the devices they bring into a business meeting.

Sixty percent of women and half the men surveyed admitted to judging someone based on their phone model and condition, with 55 percent of respondents confessing that if a person pulls out a damaged or old cell phone it negatively affects their impression of him or her. What's more, more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they judge a person to be "frugal," "not tech savvy," or "old" if they carry an older phone. Thirty five percent judge someone to be "poor" if they use an older phone.

Platform Matters

If these findings resonate with you, there are even more ways you can put work associates into stereotypical little boxes. Earlier this year the U.K. company Talk Talk Mobile conducted a survey asking iPhone, Android and Blackberry users questions about their lifestyles and determined that each operating system attracts certain kinds of people. Take these with as much salt as you like:

iPhone users might be vainer than the other two groups. They rated themselves most attractive, tend to think their bosses like them, and spend the most on clothing and grooming each year.

Many Android phone owners indicated they're polite and good at cooking, although they also watch the most TV and drink more booze than their counterparts on iPhones or BlackBerry.

And Talk Talk Mobile found that BlackBerry users make the most money and tend to work in finance, property, and health fields. They also drink the most coffee and tea and have more long-term relationships than iPhone or Android fans.

Computers Judge You, Too

The correlation between personality and phone usage actually has the potential to be a gold mine or a minefield, depending on your perspective.

Florida-based PrawfsBlawg, a website that features content written by law professors, points to a paper titled Mining Large Scale Smart-Phone Data for Personality Studies (PDF) which presents results from a study in which researchers administered personality tests to 117 smartphone users then tracked how they used their phones for 17 months. They correlated certain types of activities with "Big Five" personality traits, namely: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

"[The] co-authors brilliantly show that it is straightforward to mine data from smartphones in an automated way so as to identify particular "Five Factor" personality types in a large population of users," writes Lior Strahilevitz, a professor at the University of Chicago law school. "For example, extraverts communicated with more people and spent more time on the phone, highly conscientious people sent more email messages from their smartphones, and users of non-standard ringtones tended to be those who psychologists would categorize as open to new experiences."

In essence, the researchers show how easy it is to use big data to try to peg people's personalities based on how they use their phone.

It's an interesting exercise, for sure, but big data profiling can also have negative consequences. For example, what about trying to use algorithms to predict the likelihood that someone will get sick and therefore pay more for health insurance, commit a crime and possibly get arrested, or fail to repay a loan and be refused financing?

What do you think, readers? Do companies have too much data for their own good?

IMAGE: Joe Wilcox/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 17, 2013

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.
@salubriousdish




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