Joining the Dark (Mode) Side

After a great many years of resisting, it has finally happened.  I have joined the dark side.

I find your lack of faith disturbing...

I had heard for years (mostly from my teammates) that dark mode helped reduce "eye strain" and that sounded pretty good to me.  But partially due to stubbornness and partially to laziness I refused to budge, refused to try out this cool new thing that all my teammates were raving about.  That lasted until earlier this year.

For four months now, I've done everything in dark mode if it is available.  Visual Studio, Chrome and Firefox, various web sites, my email client, the Ghost editor pages; if it has a dark or night mode, I'm turning that puppy on and relishing the relief it gives my poor eyes. I'm looking forward to the new Dark Mode in iOS 13; my phone is the other device I'm staring at most often and I'm sure Dark Mode will help reduce my headaches even further.

Oh, did I not mention that?  I didn't switch because it was the cool trendy thing to do, no, I switched because I getting headaches so frequently I thought I must be bursting out of my skull.  At one point I would develop a splitting headache almost daily, whenever I had been staring at my screen for most of the day.  I tried several things (both external and internal, ergonomic and medicinal) to get my headaches under control, and while many of those helped, one thing seemed to do the most good: switching all of my applications to dark mode.

I can literally feel the difference.  Reading dark text on a bright background now feels like burning my retinas out.  Sites which don't offer a dark mode are sites that I leave as quickly as possible.  It shouldn't make this much difference, but it does, and I'm surprised at how much I can feel it.

Programming
Photo by Jefferson Santos / Unsplash

In short, dark mode on my devices has helped me get my headaches under control for several months now.  I'm a total believer in how dark mode helps reduce eye strain, as it certainly has for me.  I'm living proof that dark mode provides tangible benefits. Problem is: tangible benefits for whom?

What I found surprising while doing some Googling about this topic is that there's no scientific consensus that dark mode is better for your eyes.  Optics is a finicky science, and what's good for one person doesn't make it good for another. The only real consensus I could find is that it is contrast, not color, that provides the biggest difference in readability and strain.  Black-on-white and white-on-black provide very high contrast, hence why they are the default.  

I am no longer surprised as to why my teammates were raving about dark mode years ago.  It works for me, and it's definitely helped ease my headaches.  I appear to be one of the people for whom dark mode is a benefit, and I am grateful for it.  But as with any new fad, it isn't some universal panacea for all people who suffer from eye strain, as much as I (and the companies issuing their own dark modes) want you to believe it is.

But, and hear me out, it is worth trying.  I didn't because I figured my headaches had some other root cause, like my posture, and so I missed out on years of less pain and distraction.  Don't be like me.  Try out dark mode, and if it works for you, keep using it.  If it doesn't, go right back to light mode.  There's no downside.

I am eagerly awaiting the time where "dark mode vs light mode" becomes the next silly flame war topic, right after "tabs vs spaces", "command line vs GUI", and my perennial favorite "real programmers use X".  

(And as soon as I can, I'm going to have to figure out a dark mode for this blog, one that doesn't completely undo the design.)

Happy Coding!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

I'm a husband, father, developer, speaker, blogger, lots of things!

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Joining the Dark (Mode) Side
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