I wanted this to be an easy question. About the relationship between looking at a screen and strain on the eyes. Of course, it’s not that simple. As always, enough is a hard thing to gauge.
In 1896, at one of the very earliest screenings of a motion picture, the French Lumière brothers showed the 50-second long “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat” (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat). As legend has it, probably exaggerated with time, people ran terrified from the room. More likely, the audience was severely impacted by the oversize image of a train coming at them, and some, seeing images on a screen for the first time, might have been unable to appreciate that the train on the screen was not real. Or at least not physically present in the room with them. I suppose it was real after all—the original train, as well as the moving images. In fact, perhaps the images were more real, or at least more lasting since they, but not the train itself, are still around.
In today’s world, as we move further into surround environments, augmented reality, and virtual reality, we are again faced with these dilemmas. Some people won’t go to a theatre since they find the experience overly intense, as the latest high resolution and high frame rate images along with Dolby Surround overwhelm the senses. Nonetheless, many of us are adapted to many hours looking at screens of various sizes, and for various purposes.
SCREEN TIME AND EYE STRAIN
The question of “how much is enough screen time” breaks into three very different ideas.
The first one is the easy one that I had hoped to ask….what is the effect of looking at a screen on eye strain or overall eye health? Here, legend and parental concern seems to outweigh the evidence. Just using the term “screen time” brings up images of children with square eyes popping out of their heads, unable to focus on objects in the real world followed by a lifetime spent suffering from poor eye sight. Control studies to support this idea, however, are scarce at best. In fact, after decades of watching TV, cinema and now digital screens, consistent serious eyesight problems that can be directly attributed to watching a screen have not emerged.
This is not to say that eye strain might not be a problem.
However, what we mean by eye strain, and whether looking at a screen is any worse than other long-term activities, be it up close work with our hands, far-off scanning over long periods of time, under low light conditions or high light conditions, indoors or outdoors, all requires more investigation. Obviously, if screen time is causing tension headaches, dry eye, or other short-term symptoms, then the time should be reduced, and eyes should be rested.
One recommendation is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at least 20 feet off in the distance.
SCREEN TIME AND THE SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE
The second question brings in a trade-off, a long-standing one that clearly has consequences; in fact, very deep consequences. Most of the time, while we’re looking at a screen, we’re either seated, reclined, or fully laying down. Occasionally, we’re standing, and we’re almost never walking or running or moving our own body, although we might be in a moving vehicle. This trade-off is nothing new. It started in earnest with the television age of the 1950’s and has continued on a steady curve of increasing screen-time and decreasing physical activity.
And time spent watching screens has been shown to correlate with increased obesity, probably due to lower activity levels.
However, blaming the screen might not solve the problem
See How Much is enough Physical Activity) and screen-time is also probably good for us:
SCREEN TIME AND OUR BRAINS
The final question is social-psychological-behavioral-mental and more. This is probably the hardest one. It has to do with WHAT is on the screen. There must be a difference between the effect of time spent playing a first person shooter game, and time spent watching educational science videos. Not that the one precludes the other, and most of, in today’s media-rich world, spend time doing looking and interacting with a wide variety of different kinds of content on the screen. Some evidence suggests that screen time does lead to poor behavior, problems in the classroom and poor educational results
And many argue that the supposed benefits far outweigh the risks and that’s imperative to avoid those arguments and simply reduce kids screen time.
And of course it’s not only the effect of WHAT you’re watching, but who you are watching and sharing it with. Although our screens have become increasingly small and personal, we have probably also become increasing social about sharing what we watch, either in person or through digital networks. And without a doubt, the way something is shared, and what the other we interact with think of it, influences how we respond. A horror movie, for some, is a cautionary tale, something to be truly frightened of. Others just love the sheer fear. And others find them amusing, a feeble attempt to scare us despite our better sensibilities. In this regard, perhaps what is available in the digital world is not that different from what is around us in the physical world. Access to both positive and negative influences, and the way we process those influences, are risky no matter what the medium.
I choose to leave the larger mind-behavior-society question open with that thought. It is certainly fertile ground for further enough questions: How much interaction with our kids is enough? How much digital interaction, versus “real-world” interaction is enough? How mu;ch social networking is enough? How much gossip is enough? How much time gaming is enough? How much education is enough?
Please respond with a comment essay. Your essay should be a well-thought-out and rational article. Your essay, which should be a few paragraphs long, should address all of the following:
- A point of view–what is your answer to the question of how much screen time is enough? This might, probably should, be a detailed answer that gets into the details of types of screen time and its physical versus mental and other effects.
- What is the evidence that supports your point of view? Use at least two of the references above, and one additional outside reference. Give your references as URL’s that are embedded in your essay.
- How do you believe we should promote your point of view, or convince people to do what you recommend?
- I recommend writing your essay in a Word document, and then copy it into the Comment box below so that you don’t lose your work and you keep a copy for yourself. Be sure to put a title at the top of your response, and your name in the “by” line.
Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the class, and the whole world, to read.
This is worth 5 points extra credit towards your final lecture grade.