The Touch-Screen article in The Atlantic

The Touch-Screen Generation. On the cover of the paper edition, actually.  Hannah Rosin (a prominent, occasionally contrarian journalist at The Atlantic, Slate, and elsewhere) has a 7-page piece about young children and touch screen devices such as tablets and smartphones. Two points of interest caught my eye.

First, a Montessori reference in the second paragraph. At a children’s app developers conference, she reports that several developers

paraphrased a famous saying of Maria Montessori’s … “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

It’s not clear from the article whether the developers were citing Montessori themselves, or their words put Rosin in mind of the quote (from The Absorbent Mind, as it happens).  She goes on to contrast poking fingers in the sand with tapping a screen, asking “what Maria Montessori would have made of the scene.” She also mentions the developer of an app which “teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling,” which seems a bit of a stretch in that the Montessori method is distinctively analog.

But, even with the prominent mention of Montessori, with an essentially representative slant, the article left me unsatisfied.  The takeaway seems to be, “the digital transition has taken place, there’s no escaping it, and interactive apps are almost like interacting with the real world, so just go with it.”  Read the piece for yourself, by all means, but in my view she doesn’t really end up anywhere.

Look, I get it, I’m old, and it’s already happened, and the technology is just going to get more interactive and sophisticated, and intertwined with our lives.  But I just can’t bring myself to believe that we’re going to improve on the interaction between the brain, the body, and the real world as the appropriate developmental activity for young children. Plenty of time for virtual interactions later, when the foundation has been laid down.

11 responses to “The Touch-Screen article in The Atlantic

  1. Dr. Montessori said “hands”, not “tips of the fingers”!


  2. And Dr. Montessori said, “The hand is the prehensile organ of the mind.” Prehensile implies holding or grasping, not just tapping. I think we have to look at the quality of the movements to have a meaningful conversation…


  3. I posted a link to The Full Montessori’s blog on the subject of the natural mind and technology in the comments on the NPR Facebook page. There was an interview with Ms Rosin Sunday morning with Rachel Martin. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an interview with a Montessorian as a follow up?


  4. Pingback: The Touch-Screen Generation | The VisionHelp Blog

  5. There is no question real analog experience is the only/best way to reach full development of the child. There is no escaping our analog selves and the analog world, no matter how shiny and new the technology is. Montessori would cringe at the thought that we can somehow do without real interaction. As a developmental optometrist, I see this all the time: Children who play physically are much less likely to show developmental and reading concerns. For example, children who regularly interact physically with the environment, including manual play, spinning, and climbing, will have much more accurate visuomotor skills. We, as a society of technologically advanced people, are quickly moving away from providing the foundation our children need. Our world needs more Montessori-like programming, and less iTechnology.


  6. There is no question that children who are allowed to experience varied analog (read ‘real’) directed play, such as in Montessori-like programs, are better suited to succeed academically. We are by design analog creatures need real experience for full development. I am a developmental optometrist and have found through clinical research and experience that those children who spend more time in a sedentary digital environment (using computers, video games, handheld devices for extended periods) will, as a rule, show limited visuomotor skills that are often interpreted as dyslexia and other behavior concerns. It’s a mistake to move away from structured play in favor of a more computer based instructional model: It is simply NOT the way we were designed to learn. See:


  7. This Scientific American article discusses how our brains process text as physical objects connected to structure, terrain, and topography. The studies cited here indicate that the sensorial and geographic aspects of reading books are lost when we read on digital devices, and our comprehension suffers.

    “As far as our brains are concerned…text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit.”

    “Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s