Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Does Digital Reading Endanger Your Health?

We all spend an extraordinary amount of time fixed looking into screens, with mobiles attached to the side of our brains, surrounded by WiFi and of course its all safe. Some will even play the ‘green card’ in support of digital reading.

Some interesting facts have again surfaced to show our addiction to the digital fix. The Mobile Data Association claim that in 2009, users of mobile phone in the UK sent some 265 million short message texts on average per day. In total around 97 billion text messages were sent over the year and some 600 million picture messages exchanged. This is represents an increase of 22 billion between 2007 and 20087 and 18 billion between 2008 and 2009. Whatever, it means a lot of thumbwork and staring at small screens!

A study by US welfare institute the Kaiser Family Foundation claims some children are now spending up to 10 hours a day between iPods, mobiles and computer games. 10 Hours is ironically the same time as the battery life of the new iPad. The research also found that much of this was multitasking and is an increase of some 1hour and 17 minutes over its findings in 2004.

Michele Elliott, a child psychologist and founder of the child welfare charity Kidscape, says, “When children are using these devices they are not communicating or interacting with anyone else [in person]. They may be very good at texting but how do they do when they have to meet someone face to face?”

Finally we have the battle between backlit LCD and eInk and the claims and counter claims on the health effect of screen technology. The recent Taipei International Book Exhibition saw several companies promoting LCD devices aimed at schoolchildren. We have already seen many initiatives to ditch textbooks and go digital in education. LCD screens are less expensive than e-paper screens and obviously offer full colour and multimedia and the new iPad also has an LCD screen. The American Optometric Association finds the tie between eye strain, blurred vision, headaches and neck pain and LCD inconclusive and based on current evidence it is 'unlikely that the use of VDTs (video display terminals) causes permanent changes or damage to the eyes or visual system.'

Taiwan's Delta Electronics promoted their colour e-paper screens and new 13.1” e-readers made with e-paper technology from Bridgestone the tyre manufacturers we reported on last year. There was many eInk ‘lookie likie’ ebook readers on show as well as the usual netbooks, laptops, smartphones and tablet PCs. Then we have OLED screens.

So as usage increases and our usage spreads to more devices the question remains, Is reading, texting and digital go or bad for your health?

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