Five Tips for Preventing Eye Strain While Using Mobile Devices

While there have been no studies published in the United States yet, two studies in Japan have recently linked extensive use of mobile devices to dry eyes, eye strain and even permanent eye damage. On an anecdotal basis, you can yourself speak with any ophthalmologist and they’ll tell you that they are seeing people in their early 20s and 30s come in with far-sightedness problems (difficulty reading without glasses) – a full TEN years before they would normally see such patients.

In my opinion, we don’t know how much we don’t know about what iPhone and Blackberry power users may be doing to their eyes as they squint to read web pages on Blackberry’s horrible web browser or attempt to view HTML email in a tiny, microscopic font. We don’t know how much we don’t know about what continuous mobile screen use does to our eyes.

My prediction is that at some point US research will make a direct link, but that research study will likely be buried by the mobile ISPs and hardware manufacturers, because nobody wants to hear that something that makes billions of dollars and is useful and fun could possibly cause permanent, irreversible damage to your eyes. Even if such a study were published, my sense is that few would listen to it because mobile devices have become so engrained in the DNA of our culture. The reality is that too much of anything is bad for you.

If you or your children use a mobile device extensively, here are Five Tips for Preventing Eye Strain While Using Mobile Devices:

Business professionals may not be as invested in XBox games or MP3′s (OK-maybe some are), but they do spend an increasingly greater amount of time staring into a desktop monitor, notebooks, netbooks, and smartphones.

All of that time engrossed in backlit liquid crystal displays of some type or another can put a tremendous strain on your vision, and have lasting consequences for your long-term eye health. Thankfully, you don’t have to live a Luddite existence and simply abandon technology.

Here are five tips from Dr. Anshel to help you maintain your vision health and avoid “digital eye”:

1. 3 B’s: Blink, Breathe, and Break. When looking at a computer or handheld digital device you blink two to three times less than you normally would. This can often lead to “dry eye”. That may seem like something inconsequential, but in reality–for power digital users–can lead to permanent vision damage.

2. The 20/20/20 Rule. While working on the computer, reading your iPad, Kindle, etc., every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to allow your eyes to refocus.

3. Consult your Doctor. Let your eye doctor know if you are a “power user” of handheld devices. Your eye doctor may provide you with a separate lens prescription for digital devices, to lower eye strain and avoid permanent damage. One pair of glasses or one prescription may not fit all.

4. Get an annual eye exam. The only way to gauge the impact of using an iPad, iPod or other handheld device is to get a year-over-year look at your eye health.

5. Monitor Lighting. Make sure you are in a well lit room, or outside. Eye strain is often a function of lighting. Glare, and low light can really hurt your eyes, and when you are looking at a digital device the back-lighting of the device combined with the room’s lighting could be very detrimental.

Source: PC World: Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, noted optometrist and author of the upcoming book Smart Medicine for Your Eyes

So how prevalent is mobile?

RESTON, VA, October 20, 2011 – comScore, Inc. (NASDAQ: SCOR), a leader in measuring the digital world, today released results of a study on mobile social media usage based on data from its comScore MobiLens service, which showed that 72.2 million Americans accessed social networking sites or blogs on their mobile device in August 2011, an increase of 37 percent in the past year. The study also provided new insights into how mobile users interact with social media, finding that more than half read a post from an organization, brand or event while on their mobile device.

“Social media is one of the most popular and fastest growing mobile activities, reaching nearly one third of all U.S. mobile users,” said Mark Donovan, comScore senior vice president for mobile. “This behavior is even more prevalent among smartphone owners with three in five accessing social media each month, highlighting the importance of apps and the enhanced functionality of smartphones to social media usage on mobile devices.”

More than Half of Mobile Social Networkers Access Sites on a Near Daily Basis

In August 2011, more than 72.2 million people accessed social networking sites or blogs on their mobile device, an increase of 37 percent from the previous year. Nearly 40 million U.S. mobile users, more than half of the mobile social media audience, access these sites almost every day, demonstrating the importance of this activity to people’s daily routines.

Research also indicated that although more people accessed these sites via their mobile browser, the social networking app audience grew five times faster in the past year. While the mobile browsing social networking audience grew 24 percent to 42.3 million users in the past year, the mobile social networking app audience surged 126 percent to 38.5 million. /END QUOTE – Source: Comscore

In addition to Dr. Anshel’s tips, I’ll add my own tips:

1. Stop sending HTML email and set your email clients – both laptop and mobile devices – to send in Rich Text Format (Better) or Plain Text Format (Best)

Your email, my iPhone. If this is what you really want me to see, keep sending HTML...

I know, I know, Plain Text is just so BORING, but before you dismiss me, let me explain. If your company is one that uses Facebook icon links, graphics and other bells and whistles in your brand signature, that’s your decision as a brand. You may think that you’re getting value from it, until you look at what the other person is receiving from you on their Blackberry or iPhone and see that what you sent is completely unreadable, in a microscopic font size.

So, in the process of mandating that everyone in your company be on the same page and pimp your brand’s social media graphic links and logo to the world in their email signature, what may in actuality be happening is that, at a minimum, you’re causing eyestrain on those you send email to who happen to read your email on their mobile devices; and at a maximum, what you’re sending out is completely unreadable due to the font size or the fact that your text does not wrap on a mobile screen, causing the recipient to WORK by scrolling laterally to read your message. This is completely unnecessary and only results in what you’ve carefully crafted being unread or illegible, neither of which is beneficial to your brand.

“If what you’re communicating via a simple email message is creating eyestrain or is illegible on a mobile device to the people your company is doing business with, what you’re sending has a 99% chance of NOT being read. Why gamble? It’s hard enough just getting people to OPEN your email in the first place, let alone READ it. Check your format, use plain text or don’t send the email in the first place. Why send something that is unreadable or will never be read? It’s a waste of your time in writing it and your client’s time in trying to read it.”

If your CMO insists that everyone use an HTML email signature, at the very least have someone QA how what you’re sending out looks on all mobile devices before you make the brand decision to mandate that all employees use HTML email.

If I can’t read what you’re sending me, I’m not going to read it; so you may as well simply not send it to me in the first place. That will actually help me tremendously with my email load too. :)

If I can’t read your tiny font from a misconfigured HTML email message, I’m going to delete it until you learn how to use email more effectively and understand that better than 90% of the people you send to are likely reading your email on a mobile device, and whether it’s a Blackberry or an iPhone, neither loves a misconfigured HTML email message. So either check it, use Rich Text instead of HTML email or do as I do and use Plain Text. The settings are in the Preferences area of your email client.

2. Put down your mobile device when people are trying to talk with you

I’ve written here before on the importance of “Being present in the moment” and giving 100% of your attention. I was at a kids soccer game just the other day and saw a mother on her Blackberry after the game. Her 7 year old son was walking alongside her saying, “I did good, Mommy, right?”. He must have said it three or more times and she was hypnotized by her Blackberry. It was so sad.

What message is this sending to our children? You don’t need to be a psychologist to see it: “This is more important than you are, Johnny.” She didn’t have to SAY IT. Her actions did. And if this is you and you’re aware you’re doing it, STOP DOING IT.

3. Go Dark for an hour a day and Become Unreachable.

I’m pretty close to creating a black tee shirt with white letters that says, “It has a f^%&ing Off Switch…”

Really. Sometimes we all (myself included) need to remember that every mobile device we own HAS AN OFF SWITCH that WE can control! Holy Moses! Give yourself permission to let go for an hour a day. All the email, all the text messages, all the Angry Birds and Facebook statuses will (amazingly) still be there when you power back onto the grid.

4. Stop using your smart phone for web browsing and Facebook if you’re inside your home and your laptop or a larger device is sitting right next to you.

There’s no reason at all to voluntarily expose your eyes to permanent damage at a young age. It’s simply not worth it; and what’s more, it’s completely, 100% preventable!

5. Set the font size on your mobile device’s email client to the largest size possible.

My iPhone font size is set to “Giant”. This doesn’t mean that I’m old and can’t read it. I set it to a larger font size because larger type reduces eye strain. It’s common sense, not rocket science. If you don’t want to change the settings, consider going to the pharmacy to get a set of 1.5 or 1.75 reading glasses for use specifically with your smart phone. Even if you don’t need them and can see without them, all they do is magnify what you’re reading, which will reduce eye strain. $10 well spent.

If you found this article valuable, please share it internally at your organization or invite me to come speak to your group, department or company.

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About Adam Boettiger

Practicing digital minimalist living in Portland, Oregon. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with email. I write as often as I can, enjoy reading and also love to scuba and skydive. Content on this site is opinion only and subject to this site's Terms & Conditions. Twitter: @minimalism and @adamboettiger

  • Adam Boettiger

    I’m here listening!

  • MSI

    Can the eye strain cause dizziness?

  • Benjamin Saladus

    Googoo: ‘internet brain shrink.’ For more ‘swept under the rug’ hair raising.