AN EYE ON THE PROBLEM
The Associated Press has a good story (via the Baltimore Sun) on a topic that's been on my mind in recent years as I spend over half the day reading content off screens large and small. Although the article focuses on PDAs triggering eyestrain, it also covers our increasing reading screens off PCs, laptops, cell phones and iPods. Some excerpts:
"As use of portable hand-held gadgets soars, Americans are becoming a nation of squinters who spend hours hunched over gadgets such as PDAs, cell phones, game devices and iPods, straining to read small text everywhere from dimly lighted restaurants to sunny park benches.
With mobile technology growing increasingly sophisticated -- allowing people to surf the Web, build PowerPoint presentations and watch "The Daily Show" on screens barely larger than a postage stamp -- many users say they are experiencing eyestrain..."
"Many of the factors known to cause eyestrain on larger computers -- such as low-contrast screens and fonts smaller than 11 points -- are especially common on mobile devices. Moreover, to conserve battery life, hand-helds usually have dimmer displays than do desktop computers.
Some opticians say the tiny fonts on the gadgets are leading a wave of younger people to seek reading glasses."
Vendors are aware of the problem and are focused on solutions:
"To address vision concerns, technology companies are studying the science of "readability" -- and looking for ways to make hand-held computing easier on the eyes. Microsoft Corp. has adapted a line of fonts specifically for hand-held screens, such as "Frutiger Linotype," which features simple, open letters with lots of white space so the typeface does not look cramped.
This font has been used in some PocketPC software. Microsoft has also developed a technology called ClearType, which helps smooth the jagged edges of letters on the screen and increases the sharpness of text displays."
As I've mentioned in a post last year, ClearType is one of the first things I turn on when I get a new PC or a laptop. That solution doesn't extent of course to cell phones and PDAs.
In a post earlier this week, I commented on a new Sony Reader product that offers a crisper display than today's handhelds. The article elaborates on this further:
"Other companies, including Sony Corp. are looking for ways to make reading off the small screen more like reading from paper. Most hand-helds have liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, containing hundreds of pixels that are lit from behind. That means users are looking directly into a light source.
To eliminate the glare this creates, Sony's new electronic-book device -- the Sony Reader -- does not have an LCD screen or any internal light source. Instead, the high-contrast screen relies on reflective light, just the way a piece of paper does. That means it can be viewed at any angle and does not get washed out in direct sunlight. Unlike a regular hand-held, it cannot be read in the dark because there is no internal light."
There's a lot more in the article on this important topic, and I recommend reading it in it's entirety. It's a good mainstream primer on the subject.
It also offers good simple advice on how to mitigate some of the negative impact of reading off computer screens:
"The most comfortable screens feature black letters on a white background, according to experts."
See, aren't you glad you're a regular reader of a blog that cares about your eyes?