Saving Your Eyes from Tech Drain

Michele Warg
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With the rise of computerization, office work has revealed some surprising weaknesses in human physiology. Efforts have been made to improve employee health with more ergonomically correct workstations, but eyestrain remains as a persistent issue for many office workers. The problem has always been a lack of eye protection for people who have to stare at a computer screen all day long, and who might finish the day by watching another screen (TV, phone, or tablet computer) for several hours more. Given that computer displays are optimized for clarity and power consumption, not for preventing eyestrain, some kind of eye protection had to be developed for people whose lives are spent in front of a glowing screen. Fortunately, you have options.

The strain caused by hours of screen watching has surprisingly little to do with the brightness of the image. Headaches, sore muscles, and sleep disruptions occur even when monitors are kept on their lowest brightness settings. Indeed, this can make the problem worse as office workers will find themselves unconsciously straining to see dim images clearly.

The real problem here is color temperature. Most LCD screens are shifted toward the blue end of the visible spectrum to make viewing easier during the daylight hours and under the fluorescent lights of an office. This puts the screen's temperature (colors are often measured in Kelvin, for reasons having to do with the physics of light emission) at somewhere around 5,000 to 6,500 K, which is great for clear pictures and color-sensitive work with images but not so good for reading in bed. Basically, the bright temperatures are tricking your body into thinking it’s midday and disrupting sleep patterns.

Eye protection for computer users has to focus on bringing down the color temperature without making seriously affecting image quality. Enter F.lux. F.lux is an extremely clever program that can manage your screen's settings for you based on your time zone and the approximate time for local sunset. Simply download it to your computer, tablet, or phone, tell it where you live so it can monitor the time of day, and let it manage your color display.

F.lux will bring your color temperature down to as low as 1,200 K, which the program labels “amber,” and red shifts everything on the screen to leave it readable without strain. It can operate independently or be overridden manually. It’s even possible (in the new beta version) to fine-tune color settings to grant eye protection under variable office lighting. The only drawback is that the color shift generally distorts images and renders video unwatchable. Fortunately, the program can be suspended for a few hours to allow you to watch a movie without distortion.

F.lux is serious eye protection for frequent computer users. Dimming the color temperature of your screen saves strain, prevents many of the symptoms of tech drain, and can help you reestablish a normal sleep pattern. While it isn’t a total solution—tech drain is best prevented by avoiding excessive computer use in the first place—it does grant a modicum of eye protection to the most at-risk users.


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