Look outside for a couple of minutes. Unless you’re trapped in a workspace run by some mongrel that has a poor understanding of what contributes to office productivity and employee health, you’ll most likely see a view outside of nature, or a parking lot where that friendly hobo Jim likes to pound 16 oz cans of Miller High Life. If you’re one of the majority of lucky individual in America, you’re probably seeing this view without the aid of vision correction, but if you’re a high school student in ShangHai, 86% of you lot need glasses. Why is that? Well, in the same article previously cited, it really comes as no surprise that students addicted to Angry Birds using computer monitors, or any sort of electronic screen for homework are seen as the reason for this myopic epidemic.
That begs the question. If computer screens and staying indoors are considered a large facet of the underlying cause of a growing near-sighted demographic, is our growing tech market here in America going to unleash the next public health crisis? Okay, I’ll confess. I added the “crisis” bit to that question just to pique some interest. Buzzfeed has effectively taught me that all noteworthy information must be framed as a problem with no answer to garner attention. There is no evidence that near-sightedness directly links to a shorter lifespan, though experts from left and right say that a sedentary (the sitting kind) lifestyle could increase chance of death by 61% in the most extreme case (7+ hours per day of just sitting). But let’s get back to the issue at hand.
In America, we like having an institute for just about everything. We have a National Institute of Health, we have a department of Health and Human services, heck, your city probably has a division solely dedicated to dealing with septic tanks underground. Therefore, it came as no surprise when I discovered the National Eye Institute. Aside from having a title indicative of how little thought our federal sub-committees put into naming scientific institutions, they noticed that the rate of growth of our myopic epidemic (I dub thee, myopidemic) has grown by 17% within the last 30 years. That’s not 17% more people in our population, that is a 17% GROWTH of the incident. If you’re bad at logarithmic math like me, the latter is a bigger deal than the former.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to us right? After all, the IT crowd is the one slotted to see the biggest growth in US companies all across the board. UK? Same. Canada? Yep. I mean come on! Even Canada! And they are all usually busy chugging beer, eating poutine, and actually playing outdoor hockey because their climates allow it. You get the picture, this growth is a global sensation despite my innate laziness to link you to the BBC and Aljazeerah to have them tell you the same thing. But go ahead and google it. I’ll wait.
Here’s where this issue gets a bit anecdotal, but I’ll be willing to bet my bottom dollar that what follows is true. We have a growing Silicon Valley, increased computer use (video conferencing & etc) in the workplace, heck even 77 million of us Americans used freaking library computers at a higher rate than ever before. Those things can barely load your facebook account and people still use them! Oh did I say this was going to be anecdotal? I lied. Well, not entirely. Use of computers and screen-based tech is growing, both in time spent, and in access, and most sources don’t even bother putting hard figures on them. The rate of growth is so fast, that really only the library computer statistics had a proper sample size (typically you’ll see a meager thousand or so) in their surveys. Thus if we follow the breadcrumbs, more computer use -> more eye problems -> now what?
We have now arrived at a point where even the modern media outlets can’t ignore eye strain. 70-75% of computer workers report that they have eye problems, and with all the mounting evidence of tech growth, that number doesn’t seem to have any chance of slowing down. A CDC based study made this issue even worse by noting that 40% of sampled Americans have been skipping eye exams altogether. Its worth noting however, that lack of coverage was a large part of this issue alongside simple negligence. Furthermore, Americans over 40 have a laundry list of eye issues, millions of them per issue.
But let me slow down here a bit and come clean. This issue is not really fatal. As a culture, we’re far more obsessed with cancer and quite frankly there just really isn’t an eye cancer problem. You want to know how many people died from cancer this year? 270. A number that no Ferguson police officer would boast about around the water cooler. The point of all this is simply to bring about an increase of the awareness of the issue. After all, a university degree is basically a much fancier way of showing your proficiency at Microsoft word and google search, and I’ll be damned if most white collar positions don’t list that as a requirement. Facing a computer at work is pretty unavoidable, but outside of it? Where you spend most of your time? That’s completely manageable. I’ll urge more people to use that sweet depth perception gifted to us from millions of years of evolution. Look outside that window more often and rest your eyes. And while you’re at it. Give Jim another can of Miller HighLife will you? It’s the “Champagne of Beers”. Cheers.