Blue light is a hot topic. Reports about blue light are popping up in the news and at various vision conferences. Like many of you, I spend my waking hours bathed in blue light. It’s hard to avoid because we are constantly surrounded by screens – computer screens, tablets, smartphones – they are everywhere, all the time. Is this a problem? No and yes. The answer is complicated, in part, because it’s difficult to separate the effects of blue light from the effects of gazing intently at screens for extended periods of time.
No: the blue light from your electronic devices is not harming your vision. The good news is that there is a growing body of scientific evidence which shows there is no need to worry about the blue light from your screens. It is harmless, especially when compared to the natural blue light that you are exposed to outside. For example, continuously staring at a clear blue sky does not present any risks to your vision. In comparison, the blue light that comes from your screens is substantially less powerful than the blue light from the sky. However, much of this scientific research is quite recent. Indeed, Dr. John O’Hagan’s recent study titled “Low-energy light bulbs, computers, tablets and the blue light hazard” was inspired by people asking if too much screen time should be considered a public health concern. The short answer is that blue light exposure from screen time is not a public health concern. Some eye care professionals are not aware of these recent studies and are raising concerns about the potential harmful effects of blue light. There is still a substantial lack of scientific evidence to warrant this concern. However, it might still be true that screens seem to be impacting your vision, but blue light is not the culprit.
Yes: too much screen time might be harming your vision (and your ability to communicate). Spending the majority of our waking hours staring at screens is a problem. First, it’s a problem because you need to shift your focus in order to prevent eye strain. Second, it’s a problem because we are not sedentary creatures. We are active, social animals. There is compelling research that shows our overall mental and physical health thrives when we unplug from the screens and electronic devices that we are so tightly tethered to. Dr. Sherry Turkle leads a research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is exploring the powerful ways that technology is shaping our lives and our broader culture. Her research suggests that the recent smartphone communication revolution has negatively impacted the quality of human relationships. Her work shines a light on troubling vignettes: families staring at their phones as they sit around the dinner table; social gatherings where friends are staring at their phones; and classrooms where teachers attempt to reach distracted students. Of course, there is a flip side to this story. We often share stories with our community about how smartphones have transformed the experiences of people who are blind and low vision. Smartphones and tablets are life-changing technologies for people living with vision loss.
How are smartphones, tablets and computers affecting your vision? How will they affect it in the long-term? The jury is still out. And, lots of people are watching closely to learn more about the effects of screen time on our health.
We will continue to follow research on blue light closely and we will keep you posted as new studies are published. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Jacob Weisberg’s provocative article We Are Hopelessly Hooked which reviews Dr. Turkle’s research and asks hard questions about our relationships with smartphones and other online communication technologies.