According to data from digital analysts at GSMA Intelligence https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/, tablets, smartphones, and quasi-smartphones are multiplying five times faster than we are. The number of active mobile devices worldwide currently exceeds 7 billion. That’s a lot of eyes on display screens. And many say, a reason for concern.
One-Third of Americans Suffer Eyestrain
Digital eyestrain, or computer vision syndrome, can cause headaches, itchy eyes, increased light sensitivity, blurred vision and “dry eye.” But the greater concern lies in the long-term impact of this type of eyestrain. As we grow increasingly dependent on digital devices for work and play, the problems of eyestrain are expected to increase. The Vision Council https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/content/digital-eye-strain revealed that 31% of Americans experienced digital eyestrain, understandable since 87% of participants spent two hours or more viewing digital screens on a daily basis. This has resulted in a condition known as Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), which can affect empathy, self-awareness, creativity, and one’s ability to focus.
Computer vision expert and CTO of IRYStec Software, Tara Akhavan notes that displays are now virtually everywhere. On average, we spend more than five hours per day in front of different displays. The result in most cases is eyestrain. One reason for this is that in the dark, our eyes operate differently than in normal room lighting or a bright environment. Yet most displays don’t account for this fact; they’re designed for adults in room-lit conditions.
Young Are Most Vulnerable
What’s most alarming is how these devices affect our young. Eleven years ago, Apple introduced their first smartphone. Today, many parents give their children smartphones and tablets as early as two years old. Which means many children are viewing these devices with as yet undeveloped eyes. Screen time is creating subtle damage even in children subjected to normal exposure.
According to Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, Integrative Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, today’s average child spends 5 to 7 hours a day viewing screen devices. She notes that we’re seeing the rapidly escalating use of screens in school, both in class and for homework. Children are at highest risk for excessive screen time. The problem is that bright screens must be processed by the developing brain. And that screen light tends to be intense with a lot of blue and white tones, which suppresses melatonin, a chemical that regulates the body’s clock, brain chemistry, and hormones.
In a recent position statement to physicians, the Canadian Pediatric Society noted that screen time for children under two is not recommended since there are no documented benefits. Children three to five years of age should limit screen time to less than one hour per day. All the more reason to develop devices that reduce eyestrain and other problems associated with prolonged smartphone use.
The End of the One-Size-Fits-All Device
Dr. Michael Rich Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard underscores the need to design devices and applications for our most vulnerable mobile device users. New devices and apps must be created that are sensitive to the needs of the developing child. A one-size-fits-all device should be replaced with one that easily customized to the specific needs, abilities, and vulnerabilities of a young person. The device operating system for a 30-year-old should not be the same as that used for a 3-year-old. If children, in most cases, are being given these devices at such an early age—both at home and in school—it only makes sense to mitigate the health risks of these devices by improving their design. As one observer put it: We’re not all 25-year-olds sitting in room lighting.
Make Devices Less Stressful to Use
Clearly, the solution is not to eliminate mobile devices from our daily lives but to make their use less stressful to our eyes.
Two of Apple’s major investors have already asked the company to develop a more socially conscious product. As more founders of big tech companies begin to acknowledge this, the days of simply throwing out technology and washing your hands of the potential impact are over. Companies should care about eyestrain on younger generations and all users in general.
Physiologists need to team up with technologists to arrive at solutions. The fact is, today’s displays fail to account for environment lighting. What’s more, individuals, adults and children each have unique visual systems—based on age, gender, culture, background—all of which affect how we see things. For example, 10 percent of men are color blind and women see more shades of color.
Some Early Responders
Some companies have already responded to feedback on how to reduce eyestrain through better product design. Dr. Tyler Ohde, optometrist and eye-care expert notes, for example, the benefits of IRYStec’s unique solution.
“IRYStec’s eye-friendly approach to improving display readability in bright and dark lighting conditions as well as reducing eye strain will benefit everyone. IRYStec is helping display device manufacturers develop healthier displays,” notes Ohde.
Helge Seetzen, Founder and CEO of BrightSide and TandemLaunch agrees that some companies have answered the call in developing displays that are less stressful to the human eye.
“The world of displays has seen massive advancements in the last decade including the introduction of HDR technology first developed by BrightSide,” says Seetzen. “IRYStec is leading the next phase of that evolution towards human-optimized displays. I anticipate that the vast majority of displays in the near future will be perceptually smart by taking advantage of IRYStec’s Perceptual Display Platform to improve readability, reduce eye strain and reduce power.”
We can’t abandon our use of digital devices. We’ve simply become too dependent on them. What we can hope for is that tech companies will become increasingly more socially responsible in designing devices that are less stressful to use and kinder to people, including our most vulnerable of users.