The smartphone frenzy is in full swing. Every year, more and more Americans purchase smartphones and use them for longer and longer periods of time. 2014 was in some ways the watershed year for mobile devices. For the first time, Americans surveyed were found to have spent more time on their smartphones than on their computers.
Unsurprisingly, younger generations are the driving force behind the phenomenon. One survey, commissioned by a few independent opticians, found that sub 25-year-olds checked their phones an average of 32 times a day – a number that honestly seems a little low, if anything.
Yep, we’re clearly in love with our phones, but the question remains, is it an entirely healthy affair? Useful as smartphones are, overusing one does come with some fairly serious health risks. Your eyes, sadly, bear the brunt of these.
What’s the Worry?
As you might guess, the first problem associated with smartphone use has an awful lot to do with the incredible amount of time that we spent using them. Computer Vision Syndrome is a buzzword that refers to the collection of eye problems that arises after long-term use of a digital screen. Symptoms include dry eyes, eye strain, blurred vision, and other vision-related issues.
These occur because of the zombie-ish, prolonged gaze that often develops during computer use. Eyes dry out as we neglect to blink, and eye muscles, working to stay focused on near-field objects, eventually strain, becoming painful and irritated. Smartphone use, if anything, aggravates the risk. Smaller text and images require even greater focus from the eyes, and keeping your eyes on that little screen for too long can put you in a world of discomfort.
Another problem has everything to do with when we use our phones. The blue light emitted by a bright smartphone screen might make emails and games an awful lot easier to see, but it can play havoc with your sleep cycle. Using a phone before bed exposes you to the same type of light that your body is conditioned to associate with daytime. The result is a seriously crossed-up body and likely a few cranky mornings.
That same blue light might carry some other risks as well. Close-in exposure to blue light has been known to damage the retina, eventually leading to loss of central vision, though the effect hasn’t been proven to take place in smartphone users. A more tenuous link has also been suggested between blue light and cataracts, a link that’s likely to see more research in the coming years.
Adopting Positive Habits
The secret to correcting an awful lot of these issues is to simply take a step back. If excess smartphone use is the driving force behind so many health risks, then lowering usage can logically help.
Of course, it’s not always that easy.
We rely on smartphones in so many ways. They’re hubs for business communication; they’re the surest way to stay in touch socially; they’re one of the prime entertainment devices in our lives, given the vast array of games and apps available for download. They roll an enormous amount of functionality up into one package, and then make that package mobile – it’s not difficult to see why so many of us have trouble putting them down.
Nearly half of all young adults say that they would feel serious anxiety if they were separated from their phone for a week. Going cold-turkey on smartphone use just isn’t all that easy. Curbing the habit often requires smaller steps, each of which take you a bit closer to healthier usage.
Monitoring when you use your smartphone is often the first and most important step. The problems caused by low-light usage are serious. Look for activities to supplant night-time usage. Turn to books for a low-tech, more eye-friendly replacement (though be sure not to overcorrect and read in the dark). Even Kindles or other reading tablets are a decent choice, as they don’t emit the same levels of blue light.
Creating these spaces in which you avoid using your smartphone might seem a little disingenuous, but it really does work. Taking “predictable time off” can help improve focus and gives you some control over when you use your device. Choose appropriate times and places for smartphone use and you’ll be taking a large step toward a healthier digital life.
Turning off alerts for texts, emails, and social apps is also a major help. Buzzes and chirps are constant reminders to check our phones and eliminating them takes away a large part of a device’s ability to disrupt other tasks. Turning a phone to vibrate or silent can help, as can turning off push notifications. Doing so will cause email and apps to update only when you check them, instead of shoving notifications as they come in; it’s also a good way to conserve battery power.
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Of course, there are a few other changes you can make to your phone itself to help eye-proof it. Toning down blue light for dim areas is a great place to start. If you’re an Android user, then you’ve got the pick of a couple of helpful apps, including the famous f.lux. This app will filter out blue light to match environmental conditions outside.
While working with an orange screen can take some getting used to, the end result is a device that’s much, much easier on the eyes. Apple users are in a slightly tougher position. No f.lux-like apps are currently available; however, it is possible to put your phone in a gentler low-light mode by following these steps.
If you’re just looking for a way to tone down usage in general, then the app store is again your friend. The ios app DISconnect allows people to set up no-phone periods, in which users will mutually agree not to check their devices for a set period of time. Cheat and the app rats you out.
Other options, such as Thumb Tied, can lock your device during times that you probably shouldn’t be using it anyway. In the case of Thumb Tied, getting on the road is enough to shut your phone down, ensuring that you drive distraction-free.