Eyes (too) wide open

Eye strainJeff’s a junkie, Mary’s an alkie and Angela has something called a smartphone addiction.

Seems like everybody out there has an addiction of one kind or another so I’ll join the crowd and announce mine. It’s not anywhere near as interesting as say, sex addiction, but millions around the world share it. It’s Computer Vision Syndrome.

In America where they never do things by half, the American Optometric Association reported ten million visits to eye doctors for this syndrome in 2014.

How did mine begin. Easy – with the same mutually pleasurable symptoms shared by all addicts. It starts with firing up our love toy first thing in the morning, staring as intently into its welcoming glow as we might to that someone special. And you keep on doing it day in day out.

And why not? It’s our magic carpet to the world and so what if you get sore eyes from time to time. You write, you plunder the Net or research. All the while you tell yourself you’re taking the recommended breaks, (though more often than not you dodge them because this addiction defies commonsense).

Your eyes hurt more, and then finally you have to see a doctor. She listens with studied patience, then before Google could have given you the definition of photo-phobia, she says you have it. She means extremely sore eyes, eyes which need a complete rest and avoidance of light. That means no more early morning trysts, no smartfones with their anaemic print – and no TV – which in New Zealand is a blessing.

You flounder around wearing heavily polarised sunnies, trying to find things to do; things which don’t relate to all the toys which the doctor has removed for the good of your eyes.

Withdrawal makes you grumpy – okay, make that more grumpy than usual. You realise that in a world awash with communications, you are the odd one out. No man is an island and all that. Your world shrinks, becomes so… so manual. You wash the car, mow the already cropped lawn a few more times, cut hedges, go for walks, do all the things which don’t involve eyes.

It’s hell for the first few days but then you realise that the man washed up on an island has the right idea. It’s all those others, thrashing their eyes who are crazy. You’re got the answer because you remember that this was how we lived before computers and tablets and all the other toys usurped our social sphere.

Manual. That’s the story. So you reward that old typewriter you’ve had sitting on the library shelf with a ribbon. Before long you’re writing again. You don’t hear birds singing, but you do hear the long forgotten tinkle of the bell as the carriage returns.

This is great… no screens, just you and the keyboard and it goes on like this for a while until…. Until you realise that whatever you write has to be copied to that screen, the one attached to the computer which in turn found the American Optometric Association data; news that Tom Hanks was returning to his typewriter; and stories about the development of typewriters with USB sticks.

You’re a little wiser, but hooked just the same though this time take breaks seriously: use a timer to enforce them – and have the eyedrops handy.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.