In today’s increasingly digital world, interactions with printed media are becoming less common every day. Between smart phones, handheld game systems, high definition televisions and computer monitors, more and more people are spending their time looking at screens, rather than pages.
What effect is this having on our eyesight?
It’s becoming common knowledge that these screens cause our eyes to work in different ways than print does. With the rise in recognized cases of Computer Vision Syndrome (or CVS, a condition that arises from frequently looking at a computer monitor, without giving your eyes the requisite breaks), worrying about the effects that eReaders, such as the Kindle and Nook, have on your vision is certainly warranted.
Let’s get started.
You might think, after reading about CVS, that similar problems would arise from eReaders. After all, digital screens are all one and the same, right? That’s not necessarily the case.
Computer Vision Syndrome is caused by several different factors that combine to form a nasty set of issues. Partially, this is related to the way computer monitors display images.
Rather than showing one full image, pictures and text on a monitor are drawn in tiny little pieces called ‘pixels’. This causes the eye to focus a little bit harder while looking at images on a monitor, and can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision, if you don’t give your eyes a rest from time to time.
While CVS is a possible concern when reading on an iPad or other tablet, as they use pixels for their screens as well, it probably isn’t an issue for most eReaders.
Two of the most popular dedicated eReaders, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, use a different type of display, called eInk. This display type more closely mimics the look of printed paper, and has shown a reduced tendency to cause eye problems, as compared to other digital screens.
There has also been research showing that newer LCD screens, with their faster refresh times and higher resolutions, cause many fewer problems with eyesight than older screens. It’s likely that, as technology continues to advance and screens become better, CVS will cease to be a problem entirely.
Reading a printed page has its own set of issues. Reading is much more involved than simply looking at an object. Experts have said that, when reading, the muscles in your eyes move around 10,000 times an hour. So even when picking a book up from the shelf, eyestrain is a risk.
Avid readers should try and take a break every 10 minutes to prevent any problems from arising.
Light sources are another concern. Digital media can come with backlighting, allowing for higher contrast even in the darkest of environments. Regular, printed books don’t have that option, so consideration must be given to the places you plan to read.
So, if eyestrain is a risk with digital media as well as plain old printed books, which is the right choice? Experts say it largely comes down to personal choice, although those with already lower eyesight might be better served by the digital version.
A recent study, performed by researchers at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and reported on by Time Magazine, has shown that, depending on your own particular situation, you might be better suited for one or the other reading medium.
The study in question had 100 different participants reading passages on three different mediums: the traditional printed form, on a Kindle, and on an iPad. Their words-per-minute for each were calculated, and then compared.
The results were startlingly clear.
People with poor eyesight could read better on a backlit screen. Even the Kindle used for the study, an older version that didn’t have the newer lighted screen, showed an increase in reading speed for those with worse vision.
The researchers believe that the digital mediums’ increased background contrast was the root cause of the improvement. Individuals with good eyesight preferred the traditional printed book.
So, the answer to the eReader versus printed book debate seems to be, whatever works best for you. Take into account the lighting conditions where you’ll be reading most of the time, your own particular level of vision, and your budget (since eReaders and tablets can be pricey), and get to reading. Although, regardless of the medium, make sure you rest your eyes often.