Computer Mice: Still a Thing

More than 60 percent of respondents to our survey said they used a mouse on the day they answered. And yet: a subset of people have now completely abandoned the formerly essential input device.
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Total number of respondents: 298. (Alexis Madrigal)

For decades, the mouse was a key component of how one interacted with a computer. Invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1963, the pointing device was the key to more accessible interfaces. As Apple and IBM-compatible PCs took off in the 1980s, the mouse became an indispensable way of doing most things.

But now, the shift to mobile computing is underway—and mobile phones and tablets, like laptops before them, don't require that their users plug in a mouse. 

Based on my own habits, I started to wonder: how often do people still use mice? I work on a laptop and haven't touched one in months.

So I conducted an informal survey about mouse usage. These results are not methodologically rigorous, but they're interesting. There were 298 people who answered the question—"when did you last use a mouse?"—and a full 76 percent of them had used a mouse on the day they took the survey or in the week beforehand. 

On the other hand, more than a third of respondents had not used a mouse on the day they responded. And it had been longer than six months for about 15 percent of respondents, including more than 8 percent who couldn't remember when the last time was because it had been so long ago. 

Interestingly, the group of people who said they hadn't used a mouse for more than six months had a higher mean age (37) than those who said they'd used one in the last month or more frequently (35).

Of course, the respondents had an average age of 35, so that probably masks the cohort (kids under 22) who are said to be mobile-first users. The sample was also skewed almost entirely to the United States. (And—I'm guessing—to relatively sophisticated users.)

So, how do we reconcile the irrefutable rise in mobile usage with the persistence of the mouse's popularity? 

The office. Mice are for doing work at the office, where many still have desktop computers. Of the 189 people who said they used a mouse on the day they took the survey, fully 102 of them specifically noted that they'd done so at work/the office. 

Perhaps what's most interesting about this survey is that, even though almost two-thirds of respondents use a mouse every day, the mouse-cord cutters can exist happily in the current computing world.

The use of a mouse has gone from being essential for all computing to optional for many tasks. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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