From pixels to patterns: the unprecedented surge in screen time

With the rise of remote work and online learning, our screen time has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels.Technology has transformed our personal relationships by making communication more accessible than ever before. But, are we implementing best practices to ensure a positive and sustainable relationship with our technological devices? In today’s digital age, screens have become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones and tablets to laptops and televisions, we are surrounded by screens at every turn. With the rise of remote work and online learning, our screen time has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels.

While practicing, I’ve witnessed an increase of dry eyes, eyestrain, and changing vision in my patients. However, traditional eyecare did not quite catch up with our modern day lives, which is why we should now focus on preventative modalities and proactive therapies. But what are the consequences of this relentless exposure to screens? How is it shaping our behaviour, our relationships, and our overall well-being?

A recent study by in February of 2024 showed that 56 percent of eLearning college students use a tablet or smartphone to complete their online course-related activities, and an article by Exploding Topics shows that, of employees who use technology as part of their job, 97% regularly use either a desktop or laptop device, and 66% use smartphones for work. Tablets have significant usage too, with over 24 percent of employees reporting using them on a regular basis. Yet, as we continue to immerse ourselves deeper in digital content, we’re inadvertently exposing ourselves to increased risk of eye fatigue, which can lead to even worse issues in the long term.

An unconscious exposure to harmful blue light is part of the issue. Spending more time glued to screens doesn’t just strain our attention spans; it takes a toll on our eyes too. According to the American Optometric Association, using phones, computers and other devices requires specific, but particularly demanding, “skills” of our eyes, including ocular mobility, coordinating moving from one position to the next; accommodation, the ability to switch focus from one distance to the next; and vergence, aiming the eyes toward the nose and away from the nose, depending on distance.

Excessive screen time can leave our eyes feeling dry, irritated, strained. Such a marathon workout can lead to discomfort, headaches, and even trouble focusing. The blue light emitted by digital screens can even interfere with our circadian rhythms, leading to difficulty sleeping, further impacting our eyes. Moreover, the side effects of prolonged screen time have been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.


Setting limits

Our eyes are precious assets, and we must protect them. And while it may be challenging to completely avoid blue light exposure with digital screens everywhere we look, there are steps that everyone can take to mitigate its effects. These tips fall into two categories: healthier habits and better tools.

To help form healthier habits, it’s important to set screen time limits. Designate certain areas in your home, such as the bedroom or dining room, as screen-free zones to encourage unplugged interactions and relaxation. Establishing a screen-free bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Encourage users to avoid using electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime to promote better sleep hygiene. Additionally, be sure to take regular breaks – give your eyes a rest by following the 20-20-20 rule. This involves looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, which can help alleviate eye strain and reduce blue light exposure. Lastly, look to optimize your desk setup. Keeping screens at arm?s length, slightly below eye level, and using larger screens are ways to maintain comfortable viewing distance. This can minimize the need to squint or strain your eyes, which can lead to discomfort and fatigue over time.

In addition to these lifestyle changes, there are a variety of technology tools to help mitigate the effects of blue light exposure. Many smartphones, tablets, and computers offer built-in blue light filter settings that can reduce the amount of blue light emitted by the screen. Users can enable these filters, especially during the evening hours, to minimize exposure before bedtime. There are also specialized glasses with blue light-blocking lenses that help reduce blue light exposure and minimize eye strain. Users who spend significant time in front of screens may benefit from wearing these glasses, especially during extended screen time sessions. Screen filters and advanced settings help, but power users should consider looking at enhanced technology solutions specifically developed for a more natural viewing experience. One of the best examples is NXTPAPER from TCL. This technology uses software and hardware to reduce blue light emission to mitigate eye fatigue and enhance viewing comfort of phones and tablets.

The unprecedented surge in screen time represents a double-edged sword. While screens have undoubtedly revolutionized the way we work, learn, and connect with others, their pervasive presence in our lives comes with significant consequences. By implementing technologies like NXTPAPER and adopting healthy screen habits, we prioritize the well-being of our eyes and reduce the risk of experiencing discomfort or adverse effects.


Getting the balance right

Striking a balance is the key to all relationships, including the ones we have with our tech. Just like our personal relationships, being mindful of how spend time together is as important as the amount of time. We have bonded with our screens; they are truly part of daily life. Now, we must consciously prioritize activities that nourish our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

By setting boundaries, taking time away, and diversifying our activities, we create space for rest, reflection, and connection with the world around us. In doing so, we not only mitigate the potential negative effects of excessive screen time but also cultivate a healthier relationship with technology—one that enhances our lives rather than detracts from them. This balanced approach allows us to harness the numerous benefits that technology offers while safeguarding our health and well- being in an increasingly digital world.

Our relationship with screens is shaping the fabric of our lives – it’s up to us to ensure that it’s a positive and sustainable one.