I used dark mode all the time. In fact, the only time I don’t use dark mode is in the mornings, when I weaponize light mode against myself as a way to truly wake up. But recently, dark mode has come to the spotlight. All your favorite apps have it and if they don’t, they’re getting it soon. That got me questioning whether or not it’s actually better for you. Spoiler alert, it might not be. What mode is the default setting on most computers? But it wasn’t always that way. We actually started off in dark mode. Early computer technology from the circuitry to the displays can only illuminate one color at a time. In the 60s and 70s, cathode ray tubes used phosphorous illuminated by electrons to display text and info. The background was inevitably a default black whatever you were displaying would be backlit by one color. Fast forward to the late 70s and the debut of the Apple to, the Xerox Alto, and many other computers that were the first to be optimized to produce color. This was revolutionary and the companies quickly moved away from the monochromatic displays of the past to the color displays of the future because color is just better and with color, came the first light modes. This is clear from the menus in the UI, but it’s most obvious when you look at the shift in the style of word processing software like WordPerfect. This change is probably due to skeumorphism. The idea that we wanted to make things look like their real life counterparts. For Word processing, that meant dark text on white background. Since he made the switch to color displays, we’ve been living in light mode land and it didn’t bother us as most users weren’t on computers all day. But now, we’re on our computers all the time. Americans spend about seven hours a day on average looking at their computer or digital devices. Nearly 60 percent of all adults experience what they call digital artistry. That was Dr. Sam Pierce. I am the president of the American Optometrists Association. Most people, including me, have loved dark mode because it saves on battery life and it’s claimed by many to be better for our eyes. Now, the battery life thing is somewhat obvious. If your phone screens are putting less light, that means you could turn off a huge chunk of pixels and that means it can save energy, but better for our eyes. Now, that is a pretty big question to answer. But, we can narrow it down pretty easily. With dark mode, images and videos stay the same, while backgrounds and text inverted from the regular scheme. This is the biggest difference between dark mode and light. Consequently, dark mode reading is also the future with the greatest impact on our eyes. I noticed that because I use dark mode to read every day at work, and while I’ve loved it, I have recognized some bumps in the road. I think light mode is far better with respect to being able to comfortably read and use digital device for a long period of time and I think there are enough studies to back that up. There are indeed a bunch of studies to back this up. The consensus is that our eyes are roughly 26 percent worse at reading when it comes to dark mode. The biggest scientific factors for this are focus, light scatter, and contrast. Let’s use a camera lens to explain the first one. Focusing is largely affected by how much light is coming into our eyes and how we focus that light. If a lot of light is coming in like when using light modes, eye pupils contract allowing less light in, creating a wide depth of field. Meaning, everything is in focus. If this is inverted, less light coming in, that causes our pupils to dilate and that creates a shallower plain of focus, meaning our eyes have to put more effort into focusing on individual objects. When it comes to reading, you want everything to be in focus. You need that light background for the pupil to work appropriately to minimize amount of light coming in. It also increases your depth of the focus, the eye just works better more comfortably. Then, there is light scattering. White on black text as a sort of a halo effect where the light from each letter casts light around it making it difficult and more time consuming to read. This is the complete opposite of light mode, where the black text fully stands out without any lights. Think about light text messages. On my smartphone, it’s quiet letters on either blue or green backgrounds. Very easy to look at and read, but I don’t look at text messages for seven hours a day. That’s an example of a dark mode feature over a long term. I think the opposite is easier to look at and more comfortable to look at. Then, there’s also color contrast. The contrast is I think as important or even more important than whether or not you’re talking about light mode versus dark mode. So even in dark mode, for it to be successful, the contrast has to be great enough that is not creating a strain. You want contrast like white letters on a dark blue background. Notice that Dr. Pierce mentions light text on a dark blue background. That’s because white text on a black background is considered to have too much contrasts. This is one of the trickier things to design for. You ask the designers try to combat this by using slightly grey text or using backgrounds that aren’t fully black, though that last one has caused a lot of backlash for dark modes that aren’t dark enough. I think it’s important to note here however that all of this doesn’t mean that dark mode is bad, and neither is light mode necessarily when it comes to eye strain over a long period of time. These symptoms are not debilitating, they’re not permanent, they don’t host permanent long term damage, they typically fade once you move away from the activity. The long term effects of looking at digital devices should be studied more to see if there is a more lasting effect and damage. But right now, it would be very hard to say that there’s any damage done long term from looking at computers. Dark mode like everything else is a tool and not every tool is made for every circumstance. We all just need some time to learn how to use dark mode better, both from a design perspective and from a user perspective. That might mean using light mode when reading and then switching to dark mode when watching YouTube or playing games. Or it might mean succumbing to dark modes that aren’t dark enough to save our eyes from straining when we do want to read. Now, I’m still forever and always going to be a member of the dark side, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate the positive attributes of light mode, especially when it comes to prolonged periods of reading and writing. If you’re interested in learning more about the best practices for keeping your eyes safe and untrained while browsing the web, check out the American off Metric Association Web site. They have a great list of dos and don’ts that are catered to all your purposes. You are about the darkside, hashtag Darksideforever. If you like what you see here, like and subscribe. It’s cheddar. You know us. We’re the cheese guys. Hit that notification bell. It’s around here somewhere. Let us know what you think. Tell me what you think on my face. Peace out.