Ask Deemable Tech: Why Don't Touchscreens Respond To My Touch?

Nov 21, 2013

Britt writes, "So, I have kind of a weird problem. Touchscreen phones don’t work very well for me. When I touch the screen of a smartphone, it often doesn’t recognize that I’ve touched it. The strange thing is my mom has the same problem with touchscreens. We’ve always figured it had something to do with our circulation or something, but neither of us has cold or clammy hands. Why don’t touchscreens like us?"

Credit Wikipedia

Good question, Britt! For starters, please know that most touchscreens don’t really work the way you’re describing them. Virtually all smartphones now have capacitive touchscreens. Basically that means that when your finger makes contact with the screen, or even just gets near it, it creates a tiny electrical disturbance on the surface of the screen that sends signals to the phone. That’s why you can’t operate most touchscreen phones while wearing gloves. So, don’t worry, it has nothing to do with poor circulation or clammy skin.

Now, Britt, you’ll be relieved to hear that you and your mother aren’t the only people in the world that suffer from this problem. We did a little research, and we found out that it’s so common that some people have actually taken to referring to this condition as “zombie fingers”. There aren’t really any official diagnoses of what causes “zombie fingers,” but there are few possibilities.

One is how you touch the screen. Most people use their index finger to touch phone screens, but based on the length of your other fingers they might also be dragging on the screen. As we hinted at earlier, you don’t actually have to touch a capacitive touchscreen to get it to react; you just have to get really close. So if your other fingers are close to the screen while you’re interacting with it, that could cause it to think it’s being touched when it’s not.

But what if you are just touching the screen with one finger and it’s still not working? Well, it may have to do with what you do for a living or even what your hobbies are.

We don’t know for sure (and let us know if we’re wrong), but we’re guessing that you may be a musician or in a profession where you work with your hands a lot. Why? Because another possible cause are calluses. As you know, calluses are dead skin, which means that they aren’t very electrically conductive. So when your calloused fingers touch the surface of the screen, it can’t detect the tiny disturbance in its electrical field that it needs to operate. You could try using a different, maybe less calloused finger and see if that makes a difference. If it doesn’t, you do have other options.

One really out-there suggestion we’ve heard is to use a piece of cold sausage to operate your touchscreen. We haven’t tried this, and we aren’t really recommending it (unless you want your phone to smell like sausage).

A more practical solution might be to purchase a capacitive stylus. Now, it has to be a capacitive stylus because they have a special nub on the tip that carries the electrical charge from your whole hand down to the screen. You can buy one online for cheap and operate any touchscreen phone with it. They actually work really well, although keeping track of one might be inconvenient.

Basically, Britt, don’t let a mysterious case of “zombie fingers” stop you from enjoying a nice new smartphone. 

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