Concerned about the 35 % rise in nearsightedness in the United Kingdom relative to the use of smartphones, Dr. David Allamby warns that there is a risk of permanent damage to vision, and the problem could increase by 50 % within the next 10 years.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearsightedness – or myopia – is a condition that develops when light entering the eye is focused incorrectly, and the eye focuses on images in front of the retina, rather than on the retina, which then results in blurred images.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Allamby refers to this phenomenon as ‘screen sightedness,’ and considers it to be of ‘epidemic’ proportion given the statistics, since about half of Britons spend an average of two hours a day using their smartphones, and additional time in front of a computer screen.
Researchers found that smartphone users hold them about 7 to 12 inches away, as compared to newspapers, magazines or books, usually held 15 to 16 inches away. Given the popularity of tablets, e-readers and other hand-held devices, even those ‘old-fashioned’ formats may soon be included in the same cautionary category as the hand-held devices.
The theoretical basis for Dr. Allamby’s concern about this phenomenon is that excessive screen watching at close proximity continues to activate the genes that control myopia beyond the usual age when short-sightedness stop developing – around age 21 – but now has been observed continuing throughout the 20s, 30s, and even 40s.
In her book, “Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing,” Harvard neurobiologist Dr. Margaret S. Silverstone provides a comprehensive discussion of what it is to be able to see; and in his Forward to that book, Nobel prize-winner David Hubel (author of “Brain and Visual Perception”) describes how Professor Silverstone very lucidly explains how the eye and brain are able to collaborate to “translate different wavelengths of light” into the colors and forms of the world around us.
She then turns to art and explains the science underlying various phenomena in painting, using many examples-from the mystery of the allure of the Mona Lisa to the amazing atmospheric effects of the Impressionists-to illustrate her points. Her book will arm artists with new techniques that they can use in their own craft and thrill any reader with an interest in the biology of human vision.
For the present, pending any further developments in theory or practice, there are a few things one might keep in mind, including the exercise of restraint with respect to decisions about when to allow children to spend time in close proximity to screens like these, generally; and reconsidering for ourselves decisions about how closely we hold these devices and -- as someone suggested -- just giving them a rest.