There’s a social experiment in the works, here. It all started with a conversation at the local liquor store. During the latest transaction, the proprietor motioned toward my glasses and mentioned that her daughter had poor eyesight, but she could see 20/20 herself. Why is that, she asked? We discussed the issue at hand, reasoning that perhaps tech was to blame. I promised her I would investigate this matter further, and here I present my findings as provided partly by my own experiences with nearsightedness (myopia) and myriad articles I found online (via tech, of course, further subjecting myself to the further propagation of this perpetual problem.)
To find out why people believe that new generations of humans will have exponentially bad eyesight
Muscles typically used for long-distance vision atrophy as today’s technologically-centric humans train their eyes to focus on objects 6-12″ away.
- “Children today have grown up with technology always at their fingertips. It seems as if kids learn how to use a smartphone or tablet before they learn to walk. Whether it’s playing the latest game or doing homework, technology permeates a child’s life and does so at a young age. Because this is a new phenomenon, not much is known about the long-term impact of computers or other digital gadgets on pediatric eyes. However, eye care providers have reported seeing an increase in cases of myopia, or nearsightedness. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 34 million Americans suffer with myopia, a number that is projected to rise to nearly 40 million by 2030.ix Although there is no one specific cause for the increase, scientists point to a mix of genetic and environmental factors, including increasing near-range activities such as the use of digital devices, and decreasing exposure to natural light through outdoor activities.x Digital eye strain can also affect children and teens, whose eyes may fatigue after long periods of use. Computers and smartphones are often tied to every facet of a young person’s life—from school to socializing, there is little respite from the constant use of technology. ” (via The Vision Council)
- “Single-vision minus lenses for full-time use produce accommodative insufficiency associated with additional symptoms until the patient gets used to the lens. This is usually accompanied by a further increase in myopia and the cycle begins anew.” – Martin H Birnbaum (1973), Review of Optometry (via Improve Vision Naturally)
- “Modern living has sparked something of a myopia epidemic. Our children are spending more of their free time indoors watching TV and playing video games than generations of the past, and their long distance vision is suffering.
In China, a massive 76% of lower middle school students are already nearsighted. Education officials now see to it that Chinese students perform eye exercises twice a day in order to tackle the myopia epidemic.
In contrast, countries whose cultures place more emphasis on sports and outdoor living – such as Australia and New Zealand – have among the lowest occurrence of nearsightedness in the world. The solution, then, is to spend more time outdoors and actually using your long distance vision.
Like any muscle – even like your brain – if you stop using your eyes they can become weak. If you’re nearsighted, you probably spend a lot of time indoors performing close-up tasks and your long distance vision has become weak. You can correct this by enjoying the great outdoors more frequently and focusing in the long distance.” – Improve Vision Naturally
Studies show that myopia may passed down genetically, or it may be caused by a steady decline in eyesight, due to external environmental factors. In my case, both my mother and father have almost perfect eyesight. They’re parents also had perfect eyesight. And my great grandparents? I’ve never seen them wear glasses, either. I’ve thought this over, long and hard, and the first implication of the onset of my condition is enmeshed in a memory from the age of 2-years-old or so, when I walked outside, taking a breather from the otherworldly confusion ensuing from the TV as my older sister watched Munsters with her friend on TV. I found myself staring at the sun. What pretty colors there were to be found there. After staring at the TV screen, almost believing the world to consist of the grey-scale palette featured on the show, I saw hues of purple interchanged with blue and red and yellow and the whole UV spectrum seemed to open up to me. Who knows how long I let my retina erode at such an early age. You wouldn’t know it to recognize me today, as we have the most fashionable eyeglasses currently in creation (See: Warby Parker, my chosen frames and contacts, of course) but I have myopia. I actually have astigmatism, which means that instead of seeing the horizon as a flat plane, my eyes actually tilt flat planes into 45 degree diagonals. The average human being may see a little fuzziness around the edges, but I see double. Call me four-eyes, if you will, but when I look at the sun today, the glaring heat giant in the sky looks to be 10 times its size, as my eyes blur the multiple versions of the same object into one, without definition, disproportionate in scale.
After reading a few articles on the subject, I can’t help but think that while part of our brains have evolved over the centuries (See: Multi-tasking abilities, problem-solving skills, overall sense of urgency and a need for productivity) while another crucial part of our anatomy has devolved (See: Paleolithic-era hunters, scanning the horizon for enemies).
The future generations of humans will focus ever more closely to objects within a foot from their faces, and quite frankly (and this is the sci-fi part of me speaking to you, now) we won’t even have to strain our eyes that far, because we’ll probably have contacts within the internet embedded right in the soft faux-factory-induced-plastic material we’ve voluntarily subsumed into our ocular anatomy by the 22nd century.
There’s also somewhat of a spiritual-awakening trend taking place as we speak. Something about seeing what’s right in front of you… “living in the moment”. These messages are secretly seeping into our subconscious. Why worry about the future when you should focus on the here-and-now? Likewise, that object in the distance? Don’t look at that. It’s not important. Focus on the task at hand. The task! Complete it. Now.
To roll with my childhood intuition (or abhorrence toward wearing glasses), I’ll go two days without glasses or contacts and register the time it takes for me to register a headache, and I’ll use the pinhole method (the natural equivalent to using a pair of binoculars to focus on one object at a time) in favor of letting my otherwise lazy eyes strain themselves to focus on objects close up while I’m wearing glasses strategically engineered to sharpen objects at a distance (counter-intuitive, perpetuating the cycle mentioned in Improve Vision Naturally article.)
On Day 1:
I will read from a book (close-at-hand) and after 20 minutes, will stare out the window for 20 minutes, training my eyes to adjust from their natural (or unnatural, at this point?) nearsighted tendencies to focusing on objects at a distance.
On Day 2:
I should be able to focus on objects farther than 20 feet away, without incurring an immediate headache. I should become comfortable looking into the distance, without immediately finding myself fighting the instinct to grab for my glasses. Reading from a book less than a foot in front of my face should feel as natural as focusing on a rabbit running across the pavement on the street below, more than 20 feet away from the window.
This is a hard one. How can someone measure their ability to focus on objects in the distance, when they have made the habit of assuming said objects are out-of-focus? I suppose it’s all about comfort, yeah? I will go a weekend without corrective lenses, and exercise my eye muscles to focus on objects in the distance. Meanwhile, I will record my observations. Success will be measured by my comfort level at Day 1 versus Day 2. I know this is not a lot of time for such an extravagant endeavor, but I believe that by Day 2, I can train my brain to receive light signals off in the distance, instead of turning on all of the lights in the house so that I may focus on a single object close at hand. The method of measurement will be comfort. I will rate my level of comfort using an eye-strain, pain threshold such as 1 equals “little to no pain” and 5 equals “total annihilation of the senses, beginning with the eyes.”
I will share the results of this experiment on my Twitter page. Just a short, little, 140-character snippet of my findings.
Featured image via Little Four Eyes