Is it Time to Teach Tech-Usage Skills?

My new glasses are in the making. However, thanks to the nonsense of 2020, it’s going to take a bit longer for the lenses to arrive so my optician can do his magic. Consequently, I am operating with old glasses and new vision needs. I need to pay stricter attention to the 20-20-20 rule. My optometrist said: Get a timer! There must be one on my desktop, no?

Graphic of the 20-20-20 rule to avoid digital eye strain.

But what else should I do?

The “what else to do” falls under the heading of Vision Hygiene. Of course I ran the word hygiene through the site; it’s my favorite site for learning about words. The spelling of hygiene comes from French; the origin of word is Greek.

1670s, from French hygiène, ultimately from Greek hygieine techne “the healthful art,” from hygies “healthy, sound, hearty,” literally “living well” (personified as the goddess Hygieia)

So now I understand the recent use of adjectives with the word hygiene: sleep hygiene, sports hygiene, vision hygiene. I decided to do a self-assessment of my vision hygiene needs with the help of Google!

There are plenty of suggestions out there about vision hygiene–how best to take care of one’s eyes. This one from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago made me laugh given it’s first suggestion was: Remove Your Makeup Nightly. Funny because, is anyone wearing makeup right now? And two, that’s the number one priority?!

More interesting, and helpful, was the list from the Virginia Vision Therapy Center.

There is a close relationship between posture, working distance, desk surface and lenses.  The pioneering experiments by Dr. Darrell Boyd Harmon . . . clearly prove a reduction of stress and improved performance when conditions are arranged properly for near-point visual activities such as reading and writing.

Okay, down the research hole we go. Who is Dr. Darrell Boyd Harmon? Well, he did a lot of work on vision and learning, and the best way to attend to those tasks. His biggest contribution is called The Harmon Distance. His research is fascinating since he focused on children and learning. See more here and here.

 [Harmon] is the distance between the elbow and the tip of the thumb. This distance is variable throughout the students’ lives, as they grow the distance grows. . . . About any activity carried out without respecting the distance Harmon is an effort greater than the visual system can effectively hold.

So essentially, one should sit no closer than a Harmon Distance from a computer. This is illustration shows the end point as the knuckle of the middle finger; it’s an easier measure to visualize and is equivalent to the tip of the thumb.

Apparently, in addition to sitting on my computer for longer than 20 minutes at a time, I am also sitting too close as per the Harmon rule. I need my chair to be higher so as to be looking at my desktop at an angle, not straight on. My knees are not at the correct angle. No wonder my shoulders ache!

Optometrist Gary Williams wrote an excellent blog piece about this topic titled: Visual Hygiene in an Era of Increased Screen Time

It has been recognized for decades that prolonged visual stress can cause lasting problems in comfort and function, similar to repetitive stress injuries. The power and efficiency of computers and electronic devices enable us to work without taking our eyes off the screen, getting out of our chair, or interacting with others in person which is a mixed blessing.

Dr. Gary J. Williams,

I have work to do! (And I bet many of you do too!)

But the bigger concern for me is this: What’s happening at home with students on remote learning?

I suspect the answer is: It depends. And it depends on the savvy and knowledge of the adults at home with those students. Districts ensure equity by handing out laptops; but, if parents, guardians, students, etc. aren’t taught how to correctly sit at and use the laptop, districts are creating problems.

And, while many people in education believe they can fully re-open schools soon, from the research I am reading, I’m thinking that’s not going to happen before 2021. So it is incumbent upon school districts to do some tech-use teaching now.

Districts should consider creating educational videos which incorporate the lessons of vision hygiene–adjusting screen brightness; how far to sit from the screen; how to position the screen; how to take breaks from the screen and for how long. And encourage students to use the laptops and not cell phones for their work!

This from Dr. Williams:

The average person looks at their phone over 150 times a day and these statistics are from prior to the pandemic. Eyestrain from phone use may go unnoticed because the phones and their programs are designed to be enticing and addictive. Many people are now using their phones as computers, causing additional constraints to natural eye movements.

Dr. Gary J. Williams,

And hey, if students need to snack at the laptop, let’s encourage carrots!

Picture of Bugs Bunny eating a carrot.
Bugs Bunny, Warner Brothers

We’re all on a big learning curve thanks to this pandemic. Lots of information and need-to-change our habits is coming at us from many different directions. However, let’s not ignore, nor take for granted, two of our greatest assets as humans: our eyes and our brain; we need both the see.

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