Because of my work, I often bring my laptop with me to show stuff to other people. The problem is that a lot of people end up touching my screen to point to things on it. One developer I worked with would always touch my screen with his finger. From the beginning I told him as nicely as I could not to touch the screen as it left fingerprints, but old habits die hard and he would do it again. I told him again but he looked at me like I was a monster. Since then, many other people (not just coworkers but friends or anyone I show anything to on my laptop) have put their fingers on my screen. Sometimes I tell them after they've touched it, but the damage has already been done and they've added their fingerpints on it.

Ideally, I would like to find a way to stop people from touching my screen before they've touched it.

  • 2
    Very related question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/54312/…. That question might offer you some answers that don't focus on Interpersonal Skills as well :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 12:35
  • Thank you @Tinkeringbell. I will check it out. I think the details of my questions focus too much on work, but even friends and school mates will often touch my screen. Basically anyone I show it to.
    – user3178
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 12:37

3 Answers 3


In a touch-screen age, unfortunately you're fighting against a natural and expected behavior. On a display, people expect to be able to point at, activate, and swipe around things with their finger.

You can, of course, tell them in advance, "Please don't touch my screen," but this might come across as slightly neurotic behavior, since they may have had no intention of touching your screen. Also (as you have discovered with the developer) they might forget and do it by habit.

To counter this, be ready by bringing two objects to every meeting:

  1. A piece of paper (any paper)
  2. A pointing device (like a pen)

Have the paper in one hand. If you see someone about to touch your screen, quickly hold up the paper between their finger and the screen, and say something like

Please don't touch the screen, as it leaves marks. Use this (handing them the pointer) instead

then move the paper away. Repeat as as necessary.

This creates what the Neuro-Linguistic Programming people call a pattern interrupt, basically just a mental trick used to break habitual behaviors by inserting something unexpected into a familiar process. The next time your developer reaches toward your screen he might remember the piece of paper in the way, and stop himself before you need to do anything.

This also has the benefit of being non-invasive, in that you don't have to physically touch him or restrain him in any way. You just put up a barrier -- a boundary around your stuff -- so that, even if he touches the screen through the paper, at least it won't leave a mark.

Final note: Make sure you get your pointer back, or (better yet) use something you don't mind giving away, something cheap and disposable like a coffee stirrer or a popsicle stick.

  • 5
    I don't think this has anything to do with touchscreens as I witnessed the exact same behaviour already 20 years ago. I would even say that in a worl of touchscreens, people might get even more attentive not to touch the screen just to show something as it could trigger an action, while a few decades ago you were sure it would only trigger the action of the owner having to clean his monitor :-)
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 14:08
  • I get your point that in the world of tactile interaction with screens, people tend to touch the devices. What strikes me as inappropriate (let odd) is touching devices of others'. If a friend tells me something stuck between my teeth and then verbally guides me to where exactly, I would be very shocked if they actually tried to physically touch it. Is it different because it's an electronic device? I actually just asked such a question about my phone... Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 10:06

Sometimes I tell them after they've touched it, but the damage has already been done

Ok you know what comes now, tell them before they look at the screen. Like "here let's look at that on my laptop but please don't touch it as I have to clean it too often". That is a reasonable reason and telling before doesn't leave them feeling guilty.

Annoying things burn into mind more than varying things. If they touch again, say the same phrase again. To make it even more annoying you could take out some towel/handkerchief and clean the screen before you continue. Say "It's better to remove it when fresh" if you like.
Of course you shouldn't make yourself too creepy doing so ;-) They should know it's not you to annoy the situation but them.

Practical help: Give them something else to point that doesn't scratch the screen. Or connect a mouse and tell them to use the mouse to point, put the screen a little farther away from them. This might avoid the finger going on it's way at all.


I try to place my laptop at a distance so that it's not naturally convenient to reach for the screen.

In my case, it's not the fingerprints I'm considered by but the pen marks. My colleagues tend to have a marker or a pen that they take notes with. Then, they point at the screen and, sooner or later, boom! there's a dot on my screen. It's hard to remove those and once, I actually damaged my screen for good, while trying to wipe off a permanent marker dotted in the middle of the screen.

I had told the woman to cap the pen. She replied that oh, no, nothing's gonna happen, I'm not an idiot. Well, ten minutes later, at least one of those statements was falsified...

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