What your computer says about you
The way icons are distributed across the desktop can also uncover subconscious traits. A desktop configured with icons spread evenly on each side suggests the owner values balance and proportion, tends to keep a cool head under pressure and will be well organised, according to the Microsoft report.
And although too many icons can betray disorganisation, if they’re all used regularly they reveal an active personality that wants everything to hand and one that likes to be in control. Alternatively, they could simply be a sign that people don’t know how to add or delete desktop icons.
Some people’s desktops are a study in minimalism: a plain-blue screen with only the Recycle Bin on display. Apart from revealing that you’re perhaps private or introverted, there’s another explanation: people with barren start screens might simply prefer a list-based way of navigating their computers, claim experts, particularly those who are less inclined to “openness of experience” and prefer consistency over curiosity.
“Graphical interfaces are very visual and there’s this idea of the right-brain being more visual, big picture, and the left-brain being linguistic and analytical,” said Stewart. “We’re all quite good at recognising visual patterns, which is why GUIs are popular, but there are some people who are language-orientated, who would prefer to have an alphabetical list of things.”
The way we deal with files extends this organisational insight, with a growing dichotomy between the original ideals of a logical, almost regimented, filing system conceived by computer scientists, and a more user-friendly, icon-based environment.
Untidy desktop, untidy mind. A file system that’s poorly indexed and poorly maintained could show a care-free attitude that lacks focus and self-discipline, but can also reflect openness to new ideas and inventiveness. Creative use of search tools keeps files accessible.
“Folders are an organisational tool invented by computer engineers who have different thinking patterns to non-engineers,” said Graham Jones, a consultant internet psychologist. “So the folder solution works very well for people who think in a logical, orderly, contextual way.”
“Some people with terribly untidy, shambolic offices know where every last scrap of information is located. Then in comes some ‘de-clutter’ expert who tidies it all up and the hapless worker can’t find things at all. It’s the same on computers; what is logical to one person isn’t at all sensible to another.”
It’s a concept that’s exemplified by early computer systems, where hierarchical file structures suffered from a cognitive mismatch.
“Somebody would set up a filing system based around their understanding of the area and their own personal categories, but it wouldn’t match up with the categories of people using it,” said Furner. “If you make a decision at a high level on a deep structure to turn left, it locks out a raft of options. If your understanding of category boundaries is different from the person who set it up, you might never find the files you’re looking for.”