The figure was even higher for certain products. Almost a quarter of cell phone users said they never managed to get their device fixed. And among those who did resolve an issue, a higher percentage either corrected the problem themselves or sought help from friends or relatives rather than call customer service.
"That 15 percent of technology users are sort of throwing up their hands was surprising for us," said John Horrigan, the author of the study. "You're talking about close to one in four cell phone users and one in five computer users saying, `Hey I can't cope with this any longer, I'm done."'
The survey covered computers, Internet service, music players, cell phones and their higher-end siblings known as "smart" phones. And while the results are no conclusive verdict on the state of customer care in the digital age, analysts say the figures indicate the growing complexity of technology.
Zachary McGeary, an analyst with Jupiter Research, noted that gadgetry now involves an "increasingly integrated ecosystem of devices." In other words, it isn't enough anymore for cell phones and computers to simply work on their own. They also have to get along with each other, and swap video and pictures.
As providing technical support becomes more complicated, some companies have started tapping online communities to offer help, taking advantage of tech-savvy customers who enjoy trading tips online. This method can be best for solving problems that involve multiple devices made by different companies, said Lyle Fong, chief executive of Lithium Technologies Inc., which sets up such customer forums for businesses.
For example, imagine you're trying to get one manufacturer's laptop to work with another company's printer. "Which company do you call for issues like this?" Fong said.
However, for all the talk about online communities, the Pew survey showed only about 2 percent of people solved their technology problem online.
About 38 percent of respondents called customer service, 28 percent fixed the problem themselves and 15 percent got help from friends or relatives.
The rest - about 15 percent - gave up.
Horrigan said that reflected a common thread in the survey: that most people still don't understand the technology they use in their daily lives. For instance, about half of adults who use cell phones or the Internet usually needed someone to show them how to use it or set it up.
Once they were up and running, not all was fine: Nearly 40 percent of computer users said their machine stopped working properly at some point in the past year. Almost 30 percent of cell phone users said the same.
Horrigan argues these statistics should sway technology providers to focus harder on making their products more user-friendly.
Ask Avery Griffin, who switched to an Apple Inc. computer a few years ago for its audio recording software. The 24-year-old musician said his new machine wouldn't stop freezing up and crashing. But he said all he heard from Apple was, "At least it's not a PC."
The PC he uses now works just fine, he said.