By Elaine Zhu
Moving into the tenth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have settled into a mundane routine that centers around technology. As a university student, my weekday schedule revolves around online Zoom classes, and even outside of academics, I notice myself spending quite a lot of time on various social media apps. Within the past few months, my phone screen time counter has noticeably increased and I have definitely found my eyes becoming drier and redder at the end of the day. With schools and workplaces transitioning to an online format, the popular online video calling platform, Zoom, jumped 100 million users over just 21 days, which just goes to show how many people are reliant on online software for communication and work. Furthermore, a recent survey reported that there was around a 500 percent increase in online screen time for children. With the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic and no end in sight, this increased use of technology is straining our eyes, bodies, and overall health.
Both students and working adults are now stuck to their computers as they work hours on end. Nadeem Rob, one of the leading optometrists in London, says that too much time looking at screens can cause fatigue, eye strain, and dry eyes. Other signs of too much screen time can also include blurred or double vision, headaches, and neck pain. He also states that while screen fatigue is still a “controversial issue” among optometrists, it is well accepted in the optometry community that increased screen time adds an “unnecessary stress.” Because our computer screens project images that are made up of tiny pixels of colors, our eyes have to work a lot harder to keep the images in focus. Furthermore, due to the close proximity our phone and computer screens, our eyes are constantly focusing on images nearer to us rather than objects farther away, which also strains our eyes. UCLA’s Stein Eye Institute states that humans blink half the usual amount of time when looking at computer or mobile screens. Blinking covers our eyes with a thin layer of tear film which allows our eyes to focus better, and conversely, a decrease in blinking can lead to dry eyes and blurry vision. In the long term, extended screen time can also be bad for our overall health, as sitting for long periods of time can increase the risks of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. These effects and symptoms are unanticipated consequences of our digitized world living through a global pandemic.
While it seems like Zoom meetings are here to stay, there are specific measures that we can take to lessen the burden on our eyes and bodies. In order to reduce the amount of eyestrain from screen fatigue, experts from the Stein Eye Institute suggest following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for around 20 seconds. Other recommendations include turning down the brightness of the screens to reduce the glare, sitting around two feet away from computer screens, and putting a reminder on your computer to blink often. With the world becoming more reliant on technology and computers, it is becoming increasingly necessary to take measures to protect our eyes.