Technology that may be actually killing you

  • Rajiv Makhni
  • Updated: Mar 19, 2016 19:58 IST
While blue light enhances attention and mood, its prolonged use can be disruptive.

Scaremongering BY using tech headlines is as old as time itself. We see it around us every day. The death beams of radiation emitting from our phones, irreversible addiction to our digital devices, how online friendships are destroying real relationships and how artificial intelligence mated with robotics will soon make humans redundant. It’s always a smattering of facts mixed up with a sprinkling of exaggeration – and voila! a fantastic tech-based headline that sends a shiver down our spine is ready. Unfortunately, this column and its headline isn’t one of those. This one is very real.

The dark world of blue light

All our devices emit a certain blue light. Since almost all our devices have backlighting and are much bigger now, the amount of blue light that hits our eyes and our body has increased manifold. This blue light is at a HEV (High Energy Visible) wavelength that directly enters the eye and also creates more flicker and glare than any other light. It’s also the main reason for eye strain, headaches as well as physical and mental fatigue.

Have you been rubbing your eyes more often as they feel very dry? Been waking up in the morning and feeling like you could go back to sleep for another two days? Well, it may just be the killer blue light at play!

If it looks like the devil...

Before we vilify Mr Blue Light completely and an aandolan is launched to demand ‘Azaadi from Blue Light’, let me put things in perspective. This same blue light during the day is very beneficial to us. Till the time we didn’t invent artificial lighting and devices, the sun was pretty much the only thing that would light up our lives. When it went down in the evening, we set up our beds too. That set up our body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm for the sticklers who love jargon) perfectly.

That’s not the case anymore. Now, when the sun goes down, all kinds of light-emitting technology gets switched on – throwing all those perfectly evolved body systems completely out of whack.

Colour matters

Studies over the years have shown that bright, cool blue wave-length-based lights in work environments boost attention, reaction times and lift your mood. This trick is now used by almost everybody in the corporate world. Unfortunately, the very same blue light shining into our eyes all through the day and continuing long into the night can become disruptive. Prolonged exposure to blue light can cause retinal damage and sight degeneration, which can lead to a permanent loss of vision.

A recent study cited evidence that half the world’s population will be myopic by 2050. Harvard researchers have also linked this blue light to lowering the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. It also has close links to several types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and an increased risk of depression. Well, I did start by saying this wasn’t a scare-mongering column – only much worse!

The killer’s killer

This is an important topic to bring into mainstream awareness. We all seem to have taken to a lifestyle where excessive usage of electronics has become a factor for bragging rights. Working late into the night with emails, web browsing or reading a book on an electronic screen just before sleeping, binge-watching a TV show on a large screen in absolute darkness, playing games for long hours without a single break – these are all accepted as a part of our new-found digital lifestyle. Well, it’s time to wake up from the self-delusion that there isn’t much we can do about it.

The Google Play books showcase blue-light reduction at different times

Help is at hand

The first part towards change is being mindful. Be aware that there is a harmful blue light beaming into your eyes, face and body every time you crank up a device. Reduce it as much as you can. You don’t really have to check your phone or turn on your tablet every few minutes out of sheer habit. Break the habit.

The second critical factor is to reduce the difference between the brightness of the screen and your environment. Reduce bright areas by using a dark theme such as white-on-black. Never use a device in total darkness and reduce the brightness on the screen to as low as possible (you’ll be surprised at how your eye adapts within seconds).

Blue-light reducing glasses make on-screen colours look a bit warped

There are some apps and blue-light-reducing glasses that can make the colours on your screen look warped. The only real way to truly battle this blue-light issue is to force device manufacturers to step up.

Acer’s laptops have Blue-light shield technolog

There are companies such as BenQ with their low-blue-light Eyegonomic monitors that do a fantastic job at reducing bluelight harm. Acer has a series of laptop screen with their Bluelightshield technology that also does the same. If we give our business to companies such as these, we could force other manufacturers to also come up with blue-light reduction on all our devices. The technology is out there: we just have to demand it!

Ben Q has Eyegonomic monitors

The blue-light nexus

It’s time to break the blue-light manufacturers nexus. It is time we penned a new tech headline for the future: The end of blue light in technology! We may one day be proud that we all started that right here.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, March 20, 2016

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