It’s the kind of question researchers love to ask: if you could take only three things to a desert island from a list that included a mobile phone, digital camera and cable TV, what would you bring?

Stumped? Most people aren’t. We recently conducted a multi-faceted study into consumers’ digital wants and needs across the Asia-Pacific region. I’ll talk about some of the findings in future blogs. But in Australia, we also added the desert island question. The answers came back fast and furious, with men and women having pronounced differences.

In fact, it seems there’s no agreeing between the sexes on what to pack even if the destination is an imaginary desert island – unless it’s a PC connected to the internet. That’s what the vast majority of respondents would take with them as their 1st item.

But from there men and women diverged widely on the ‘toys’ to bring along. For example, 60% of women of all ages would take a mobile phone with them to keep in touch compared to just 46% of men.

Being more interested in capturing the moment, women were also more likely to bring a digital camera (28%) along in sharp contrast to 19% of men. And in keeping with the spirit that boys just want to have fun, younger men were keen to have access to Foxtel TV (26% compared to 16% of women) and their games consoles (14% vs. a mere 9% of women).

We also asked about daily newspapers and, perhaps not surprisingly in the internet age, interest was low with only 16% of respondents from both sexes interested in having access to the scribes, except for a lofty 32% of men aged over 45.

While the island was imaginary, the consumer sentiments that were expressed were very real. With a full-on recession happening in the United States and one hovering over Australia, our question may uncover some home truths: if consumers are going to take a harder look at what they really need to have, what will they prioritise? Will it be it their internet connection, landline or mobile phones, cable TV, or that shiny new digital camera? There may well be scrutiny of those monthly subscription bills now rolling in and some cost cutting to be worked out to keep household budgets under control.

In the USA, thousands already have cancelled their cable TV subscriptions, a first for the TV-hungry nation whose denizens had stubbornly hung on to their precious cable throughout previous boom and bust cycles. The Americans are also, in many cases, getting rid of their landlines and turning to their mobile phone as their primary contact source which is fairly radical behaviour in a market conditioned to free local calls. Will the same happen here? Cable TV has never taken off in quite the same way in Australia and Australians were amongst the earliest adopters and fans of the mobile phone.

Looking at our study, the computer with broadband connection is likely to be the keeper for most Australians. It polled top spot thanks to its versatility. As one respondent noted, computer and broadband substitutes for many other devices. With just one device, you can access movies and TV programs plus other forms of paid content, allows access to phone services like Skype as well as online versions of books, newspapers and magazines amongst other things. People won’t mind paying for one thing if they can get all this and more for free.

In contrast, the digital tools that may lose out include landline phones as people reject the expense of keeping both landline and mobile – and Cable TV – seen as low on the totem pole by all age groups except for young men who like their sports. Undoubtedly this is why we are seeing such aggressive pricing from Foxtel right now.

In addition, newspaper circulations may continue to decline as people turn to more online print publications for their daily dose of news and gossip. Our survey certainly reflected that with such low interest in the scribes except among older men.

What will be interesting is watching how consumers struggle to decide what to keep and what to jettison in economically challenged times. You can be sure that marketers will have a busy time assessing this fall out.