I soon realised that experiencing several seasons in one day was playing havoc with my eyes and computer screen. Although I was using a large and modern screen, I noticed that the combination of different lights within the office, and the changing light from outside was creating an inconsistent display, with bright and dark areas, reflections and sections with faded colour. My eyes simply couldn’t cope.
When I mentioned this to a colleague, he just nodded sagely, rubbed his own bloodshot eyes and suggested that I should try using one of the desk lamps in the office. He claimed that if my screen was lit with help from other light source, it would be less affected by the changing light levels in the office. I decided to give it a try but at the same time I had a quick browse of the internet to see if there was a better solution out there.
It didn’t browse for long before I established I was suffering from ‘glare’. In simple terms, my sore eyes and headaches were a result of ‘direct’ glare, which is when light sources shine directly into your eyes and ‘indirect’ glare, which is caused by the reflection of light sources from surrounding surfaces. The best advice I could find online was to firstly reduce all sources of direct and indirect glare and secondly to ‘equalise brightness levels’ so the brightness of my display source (e.g. my computer screen) was the same as the brightness levels of external light sources (e.g. the office lighting and the ambient light through the window). Sadly, understanding the problem is not the same as solving it…
The first desk lamp I tried cast an intense, bright white light that wasn’t wide enough to illuminate my whole screen. It shone so bright as to create direct glare – and at the same time it reflected off other surfaces on my desk and computer and created indirect glare, too! Apparently, bare light bulbs are to be avoided and light sources need to be diffused (i.e. scattered or softened by some type of filter or shade). Clearly I needed to try a different lamp but it was difficult to find anything in the office that would evenly illuminate an area as large as the size of my screen.
Desperate to resolve the problem, I looked for alternative ways of dealing with the changing light source. Unfortunately, the majority of so-called ‘solutions’ involved some rather intensive refurnishing of the office! I suggested to my colleagues that maybe they could buy me a new desk and screen (with less glossy, reflective surfaces), put up some window blinds (to reduce the effect of the changeable British weather) and perhaps quickly repaint the walls in a less reflective, light absorbing shade… Whilst remaining ever-so polite as only the English can be, they nevertheless encouraged me to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the problems with the office décor and instead focus on my work… by which point I was starting to feel like I would have two blind eyes and be unable to focus on anything at all! They did offer some more practical solutions though – I tried a screen ‘hood’ to shade my screen from the light glare overhead, I moved my desk a little so it was 90° to the window (to stop the outside light shining directly on the screen or in my eyes) and I tried a filter on my screen to reduce the reflections.
I thankfully escaped the UK with my vision intact and a new-found appreciation of the British obsession with the weather. I’ve since continued my quest to find some way of reducing glare for the next time I’m in such a situation but there are few simple solutions. Most smartphones have ambient light sensors that help by adjusting the display brightness to suit ambient light levels but that’s of little help for those suffering from glare when using computer screens and e-readers. It also doesn’t effectively deal with low ambient light levels, when screens appear excessively bright and actually become a source of direct glare into our eyes. Ideally, our desk lamps and other lights should be adjusting light levels so that our display technology doesn’t have to. They should also be providing adequate ambient light when it gets darker so screens are consistently illuminated. Whether there’s a smart lighting solution out there that could keep pace with the British weather remains to be seen.