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f.lux: Technology Accounting for Human Biology

Posted by Dillon MacInnis on Thu, Aug 13, 2015

rainbowStaring at a display monitor has become a standard in the American work environment. Few industries allow any of its workers to avoid the use of a computer altogether, and those workers who do not have to spend their workday managing tasks and exchanging information using a computer often use a portion of their free time to navigate their mobile devices, tablets, or personal home computers. Nonetheless, it is no secret that humans are spending more and more of their time using computing devices, but it is important to notice the mandatory nature of this phenomenon. Although businesses and scientists alike are constantly discovering new ways to improve the capabilities of these computers and devices, less time is invested into decreasing the negative effects of spending so much of our time looking at these screens and living virtually. Recently gaining momentum, however, is a computer software called f.lux that acknowledges one of the problems with fixating our eyes on displays that is regularly ignored. While we are becoming more careful about adjusting our brightness to match our environment, there is no built-in setting in our operating systems that allows us to manage the color temperature of our screens. f.lux resolves this concern.

Color temperature is not necessarily an issue that will damage our eyes, but it may significantly affect our ability to sleep. Computer display monitors emit a blue light that our brains associate with daylight. Retinal ganglion cells called melanopsin in our eye anatomy detect blue light and determine the secretion of melatonin (hormone that prepares us for sleep) by the pineal gland, which is an endocrine organ located in the brain. When these cells recognize blue light as daylight, less melatonin will be released, and we will be more likely to struggle to fall asleep. Additionally, melatonin plays an important role in regulating our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms. Because these circadian rhythms (stimulus-responding regulatory processes) manage our metabolism, sleep cycles, and body temperature, their interference should be limited. The lights in our home emit an orange-reddish glow that our retinas do not confuse for sunlight, but the same does not hold true for computer monitors.

In order to reduce our eye’s tendency to confuse the light emitted from our computer screens with daylight, f.lux transitions the color temperature of a laptop or personal computer to match that which is appropriate for the time of day. The software is compatible for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but it has yet to make a powerful movement towards tablet and mobile support where it may be equally essential. As we are used to blue light being emitted from our screens, f.lux’s halogens settings require us to be patient until our eyes adjust to new circumstances. The color temperature can also affect the accuracy of the display’s color reproduction. Still, the f.lux software does not ignore the adjustment to new conditions as it includes the options of temporarily turning off its features, setting the change in color temperature to be slow and progressive, and selecting an option for when users are watching movies that attempts to balance reasonable color temperature with accurate color reproduction. This program does not solve all display-related eye concerns. It is still important to make sure that we are regularly focusing our eyes on distant objects and keeping our brightness at a reasonable setting. Regardless, f.lux provides momentum to the development of computing devices that better accommodate the needs of the human body.

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Tags: Technology Improvements

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