Madeleine Crutchley is transfixed by her glowing screen, while investigating the issues of increased screen time during the long period of remote learning.
The University of Auckland shifted to remote learning mode on the 30th of March, directly following a full ‘Teaching Free Week’ during which teaching staff prepared to move all classes online. This means students have been off campus since the 23rd of March, with only a few study spaces reopened during the last few weeks of level 2. All lectures, group tutorials, practical assignments, labs, office hours and group assignments have required students to work online with their own devices. By the time we get back to campus, we’ll be walking around with square eyes, just like our parents foretold.
The average full-time uni week requires about 40 hours study, 10 for each undergraduate class. Speaking from personal experience, postgraduate study works out to about 20 hours per class, so many of us are in the same boat. But, obviously, many students don’t solely attend university; they also work part-time jobs to keep up with the steep costs of Auckland living. For some, this means work would also have shifted online. A quick calculation of my own schedule shows that I have approximately 57 hours of work to complete every week. Fear not, for the hypnotic allure of screen time does not end with the long working week. Because, of course, we live in a #digital #age. Endless tweets, stories, shows, movies and messages require us to stay on top of our cultural capital, so we are sucked back into the void in our little free time. TikTok is the devil. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. For the first time in my working life I really enjoy the work I do, and it’s my choice to spend part of my free time online. However, my eyesight has been slowly decreasing since I was about 12 years old, and I can’t say that staring into the endless abyss of blue light is doing my corneas any favours.
If you follow any of your uni friends on Instagram, it’s very likely that you saw a few of them sporting some transparent blue light glasses last year. Proven to increase selfies taken during study sessions by 300% (no shade, I’m scrolling past them while I’m supposed to be writing essays… You look good boo!). There has always been some concern over the potential side effects of the mysterious blue light emitted from our devices. While the science supplied to sell those blue light glasses is patchy at best, there are some physical ails that come with spending too much time on a laptop. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also known as Digital Eye Strain, refers to the common physical reactions that come with time spent in front of screens. The list of symptoms includes eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain. These issues aren’t just brought on by the screen itself; they can be irritated by uncorrected vision, bad posture and repetitive eye movements. The top tips for relieving CVS include:
- Check that the lighting in the room isn’t too low, causing your eyes to become transfixed by the glare from your screen.
- Elevate your screen so your neck and head don’t sit at an awkward angle while working. You can find cheap laptop stands online, or for the budget-friendly version, you can raise your laptop up to eye level by placing a stack of books underneath.
- Swap out your chair if it’s causing you to shift and fidget, get some cushioning for support.
- Focus on improving your posture, straightening your back, pushing your shoulders down and back and typing with your elbows at a 90 degree angle.
- Take breaks as often as possible. Stretch out while you’re making a cup of tea and look out of a window for five minutes.
Extended screen time isn’t totally unfamiliar to uni students. Pre-COVID time, many professors had already ruled out the submission of assignment paper copies, shifted weekly quizzes and tests online and used readings with only digital access. However, during a normal semester students have access to campus. Attention is demanded in a physical and tangible space, with more movement required between lectures, tutorials, study spaces. Students get face to face contact with their lecturers, tutors, group members and friends. Being able to interact with your uni community and support system does a lot to keep your mind calm during crunch season. With all that stripped away in the process of remote learning, it’s hard to find variety in your work. For the first time in my life, I’m actually missing the Human Sciences Building.
The lack of a commute seems to be another aspect of this shift really affecting me. Usually I would complain about my distance from uni campus, dreading the hour it usually takes for me to get to campus. However, being locked to a laptop screen has given me a new appreciation for the ride into town. I hadn’t realised that my daily bus ride had become a lovely break from the intense hours of study. It gave me the opportunity to listen to a podcast guilt-free, adjust my Spotify playlists or simply zone out while looking out the window. Having little separation from my workspace (which is less than a metre away from my bed) can make it a little tricky to actually switch off and relax. To try to overcome that mental block I’ve been rigorously scheduling out my days, indulging in lunch dates over Facetime and giving myself things to look forward to in the evenings. Even though the Netflix dates have been helping, I’m very keen to get back to campus and break the staring contest with my laptop screen.
The major shift in workspace is another reason why the grade boost petitioned by AUSA is so important. Outside of the financial pressures and anxiety caused by COVID-19, the disruption to our regular study environment qualifies us for some academic compensation. It’s been a great relief to hear that our pleas for empathy have been heard and our efforts for a decent GPA won’t be in vain.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go look at a tree or something. My eyes are starting to hurt. At this rate, it’s quite likely that I’ll become a walking cyborg by next semester. It’s the final symptom of CVS… Beware.