No doubt about it, we’re well into the digital age. More people than ever have computers, smartphones and tablets. And, because of that, more people than ever report having vision problems related to too much screen time. Nearly all are connected to the internet. In many ways, this is a positive development. Computers can increase connectivity and productivity, they allow people to communicate more easily than ever. They put an enormous amount of creative freedom in the hands of artists and designers.
However, this unprecedented rate of digital device usage has its downsides as well. All that screen time can cause a wide range of health problems, many of which we’re only just starting to see emerge. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is becoming increasingly problematic for Americans. As time passes, these trends are only likely to increase, despite being at earth-shattering levels right now. Today, we’ll run through a few of the more mind-blowing statistics and maybe make you think twice about how much time you spend with digital devices.
Digital Devices Are Everywhere
The 2016 government census, issued in August 2018, shed some light on just how many of us have computers. It stated 89 percent of households had a computer of some kind (including desktops and laptops), while 76 percent had a handheld device (including smartphones). Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider the fact that Americans over 65 have a lower relative rate of ownership. Among surveyed households headed by people aged 15-44, the percentage of computer ownership is 96 percent. Among households headed by people over 65, it’s 76 percent.
And, a staggering number of those computers can connect to the internet. Over 80 percent of households had some form of internet, either broadband or another internet subscription service. It’s not exactly shocking to see dial-up usage nearly extinct.
Compare those numbers to those taken just 19 years prior in 1997. The census taken that year found that only 18 percent of Americans had home computers. The incredible growth necessary to reach modern numbers gives some insight into just how quick Americans have been to embrace computers, tablets and now smartphones.
We Use Them More Than Ever Before
Today, computers dominate our economy, as many people consider the internet integral to their work. Early in the decade, complaints of Computer Vision Syndrome were just starting to be heard. Already at that time, a high percentage of the population used digital devices in at least some capacity at work. And the number only continues to grow. Clearly, unless you’ve managed to find a job completely off the grid, you’re going to be using the internet at work.
And that’s just work. Consider that your average American now uses a computer for work, socialization, entertainment and even education. Basically, every facet of life can now take place at least in part on the web. Even television, that last bastion of non-computer leisure time, is falling. Although video streaming is on the rise.
Recent estimates have found that the average American adult spends roughly nine hours per day staring at a digital device. And if anything, that number is on the low end. If the estimates are narrowed to focus on younger, more consistently online users, they’d likely find that screen time only increases.
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Smartphones Hit the Scene
If you think those numbers are dramatic, they’re nothing compared to what we’ve learned about how the average American uses mobile technology. A few years ago, a report by the Pew Institute found that 58 percent of all Americans would have a smartphone by January 2014. As of 2018, 77 percent of Americans have a smartphone.
Inside that larger percentage are some much quirkier ones. Pew found that “67 percent of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls – even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.” Phantom text syndrome has also entered our lexicon, occurring when consistent phone users feel vibrations from an alert that hasn’t actually arrived.
Even more telling, 29 percent of respondents in Pew’s study said that they would describe their phones as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Today, one in five Americans rely on their smartphone for internet use instead of a computer.
Effects of Screen Time on Eyes
Of course, there are some consequences to all this time spent gazing at digital devices. A 2018 study by BMJ Open Ophthalmology targeted at digital device users found that over 50 percent of respondents reported feeling eye strain. The effect is even more common in younger users, with more millennials reporting symptoms of digital eye strain than baby boomers and gen x-ers.
The prominence of eye strain is one of the telltale signs of a nation suffering from chronic Computer Vision Syndrome. CVS is a frequent bugbear for computer users. It manifests in strained, dry eyes, dizziness, fatigue and headache. It’s disruptive and incredibly widespread, and estimates show that over 50 percent of all consistent computer users experience symptoms. This adds up to some enormous costs to the working nation, with approximately 10 million eye exams being scheduled for reasons related to Computer Vision Syndrome.
Smartphones have also added some new problems to the roster. Not only do they exacerbate problems already caused by CVS, but they have some of their own unique challenges. Smaller screens encourage closer viewing distances, which in turn are more likely to strain eye muscles. While research has yet to establish links between usage and concrete eye disorders, the above study points out that 65 percent of surveyed users felt that their own vision was affected by high rates of smartphone use.
Moving forward, it’s also important to realize that these problems aren’t about to go away. Quite the opposite since more Americans continue to buy new smartphones and mobile devices every day. Understanding the effects of these changes on vision health represents a great challenge to the U.S. at large. Stay tuned, there’s sure to be more information on the subject soon.
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