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Look Up | Are We Seeing Less Because of Our Screens?

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Ah, the great gift of vision. It’s one of the most incredible senses. We’d quite literally be lost without our eyesight, but in the digital age, we are beginning to take it for granted. We are swapping out the world around us for the images on our phone screens. In fact 95% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind an 77% own a smartphone. Our screens have started to take over hours and hours of what we see in a day. With the average American spending approximately four hours a day on their phone alone, we’re spending large chunks of our lives looking down at our devices rather than taking in the real world around us. Whether you know it or not this is taking a toll on your vision in some way.

Our Eyesight Is Literally Becoming Impaired

As much as our phone screens disrupt our vision while we’re physically looking at them they also have lasting effects on how well we see when we’re not. The images projected by our phones move at a much higher rate than those in real life. The amount of information and content we process within seconds of scrolling through Instagram is more than our eyes would ever experience in those same seconds looking around the real world. This also has something to do with the fact that when we are looking at a screen we tend to blink less. This can lead to more regular irritation and eventually more serious issues.

A study found that those who spent more time looking at screens were prone to dry-eye disease. The condition is classified when the eyes cease to produce enough moisture making the surface of the eye easily irritated or infected. Digital Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome is another condition caused by looking at our screens for too long. Those with this syndrome will experience headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, neck pain, and dry eye.

Besides flashing our eyes with a barrage of information to process, the blue light emitted from our phones can cause damage to the area of the eye where images are formed, our retinas. Although it takes a huge amount of blue light exposure to destroy our eyesight, it is a fact that overexposure to it overtime can damage our vision.

Perhaps the largest issue with the dangers that smartphones and screens have on our eyesight is the number of articles online trying to disprove its dangers. The capacity in which we’re interacting with screens now is larger than ever before. Screens are all around us whether we realize it or not, hanging in our living room, in the back of taxi cabs, in our hands, on our desks, in department stores, in airports. They are quite literally EVERYWHERE. Research is often inconclusive because not enough years have passed to evaluate their effects on the generations who have grown up surrounded by them. But evidence is there for the short term effects of too much screen time and so far it’s not looking good.

long exposure to screens is harmful to our vision; man sitting at his desktop computer

Attention Spans and the Way We Process Information

Because of our fast moving screens and the way we process information on them our attention spans have been significantly reduced. Switching our focus between various screens has become second nature and the images constantly stimulating our brains has made attentiveness to one task extremely difficult.  Older generations have more capacity for deeper work and longer spans of concentration. This is partly because they grew up without the distraction of screens and smartphones and are less prone to spending extended periods of time on them.

This is bad news for younger generations as staring at a whiteboard in a classroom or reading a book has become exceedingly more difficult. The inability to unplug is the leading reason for distraction. A study proved that 40% of American smartphone consumers admitted to checking their phones within five minutes of waking up as well as touching their smartphones over 2,000 times a day. In a study at Boston College, people in a room with a TV and a computer switched their eyes back and forth 120 times in 27.5 minutes. Paying attention and seeing go hand in hand. The thing’s we end up missing because of our inability to focus is shocking. In a study conducted in Chicago, 94% of pedestrians on their smartphones failed to notice money hanging in a tree just about their line of vision. And even when we’re not using them they are distracting from what’s going on in the real world around us.

Perhaps the only good news about our attention and smartphones is that it’s more dependant on how we use them rather than if we use them at all. Older generations also I have screen time, they just use them less frequently than the generations who have been raised with them. Younger groups seem to have more dependency on their smartphones and computers, possibly because they were raised using them.

Social Media and How We View the World

Issues with body image, self-esteem, and depression have clogged our view of the world around us. Our standards for ourselves and others are higher than ever because of social media. Our screens, or more importantly what we view on them, have created expectations that are nearly impossible to reach in the real world. The number of times I’ve heard a friend say, “you should see her in real life!” when referring to an Instagram personality, a mutual friend, or most notably their ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. I won’t and I don’t.

Unfortunately, in the age of FaceTune and Photoshop, it’s hard to decipher what’s real and what’s fake, as well as keeping up the image we present online in the real world. It’s so easy for our views on the world to be skewed when we are constantly looking at a perfect patchwork of photos online. Enhanced lighting and filters can make the world around us feel dull, but looking up and engaging with it rather than staring at a screen is the cure. We need to keep reminding ourselves that what we see on our phones and computers is nothing more than a loose representation of reality.

How Do We Fix It

Awareness is the answer. Smartphones and screens can lead to far more than impaired vision. This includes mental health issues, accidents, and addiction.  Fortunately, there are tools you can use to become more aware of the time you spend on your screens. When it comes to vision the 20-20-20 rule comes in handy. This means 20 minutes on screen, 20 minutes off, 20 minutes on and so on. Apps like BOLDFISH (or others) can also help in moderating the amount of time you spend on certain apps and serve as reminders to get off our phones. Giving your eyes the break they need is important in avoiding screen related health issues.

For our attention spans, putting the screen down while you’re walking, driving, chatting, or really doing anything that requires your undivided attention keep us focused. Swapping out the hour you spend browsing the internet at night for a good book or getting your news from the paper or a magazine, aids in improving your focus and maintaining your vision. Bear in mind that reading can often have similar effects as screens because we tend to blink less, but if you’re reading from a book the con of blue light exposure is absent.

Everything in moderation is usually the best answer to digital health issues and the same goes for our vision. If you have a smartphone and use it regularly you probably won’t go blind on account of it, but be mindful of the health risks too much time on screens can cause and you’ll surely avoid them.

Related Articles On BOLDFISH

That Text Can Wait | The Dangers of Distracted Driving

Best Ways To Reduce Your Screentime At Work

All the Things We’d Give Up For Our Phones

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