How Dark Mode Really Affects Us

There are a lot of concerns about how the technology we use affects us physically and emotionally. Too much time at a computer can lead to eye strain, back problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Using smartphones, tablets, and other blue-light emitting screens can disrupt our sleep cycles. Even time spent on social media can lead to feelings of negative self-worth. Then there’s Dark Mode… Over the last few years, everyone’s been talking about Dark Mode. It’s said to boost productivity and focus while reducing eye strain. It’s also supposed to be better for your battery life. But is that the whole story? Research into the matter suggests that Dark Mode might not be so healthy for us after all. Today, I want to take a look at what the data suggests and how you can use this information to determine how and when Dark Mode should be used. Dark Mode is everywhere: Twitter has it; Slack does, too; Mac users can get it; Sketch has a Dark Mode; Atom comes with it out of the box; and Chrome allows its users to choose what kind of dark mode they use. Like I said, it’s in a lot of places where we work. The question is, though, is it a good idea to use it? Here’s what we know:   1. Polarity Affects Legibility Polarity, in web design, refers to the contrast between the typography and the background it sits on. Positive polarity is when black text appears on a white background and negative polarity is when white text appears on a black background. A number of studies in recent years prove that positive polarity is best for legibility. Study #1: In 2013, researchers set out to determine how polarity affected the act of proofreading. What they found was that positive polarity provided an easier reading experience, especially with smaller font sizes (they tested fonts between 8 and 14 pts). They attribute this enhanced legibility to the brighter luminance of the white background. Study #2: In 2014, researchers wanted to test whether or not it really was luminance that affected legibility. To determine this, they studied subjects’ pupil sizes as they read positive polarity and negative polarity texts. Those who read positive polarity text had smaller pupils. And because smaller pupils sharpen one’s ability to perceive finer details, the study proved that positive polarity leads to a better, more accurate reading experience. Study #3: In 2016, further research was done into the matter. This time, their focus was on glance-like conditions (like while driving a car or, say, glancing at a line of code you just wrote). The results of the study showed that negative polarity in a dark ambient environment made it the most difficult to read. Only the positive polarity environments (in both dark and brightly illuminated areas) were ideal. Bottom Line Black text on a white background provides the optimal reading experience. If for some reason you prefer the Dark Mode interface, only use it when you don’t have much reading to do and accuracy isn’t an absolute must.   2. Some Medical Professionals Don’t Believe It Has Any Effect It’s not just researchers that have taken an interest in the validity of Dark Mode’s health benefits. Medical professionals are getting in on the conversation, too. Ophthalmologist Dr. Euna Koo spoke to CNN Business about this subject and said: I do not think dark mode affects eye health in any way given the data that is out there in the literature. The duration of use is likely much more important than the mode or the intensity of the…

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