LCD Backlit Screens Are Taking Over, Help Me

Poltergeist GirlDigital screens are taking over the world.

Specifically, LCD backlit screens are taking over the world.

In my home, we have an old Sony Dash Internet appliance in our kitchen, which we use to stream Flickr photos, Pandora and Netflix movies.

In our theater room, we have an old Android Droid smartphone we use as a streaming radio player, and a Roku television remote control. Of course, we also have our big LCD movie screen.

We also have a few tablets around the house.

I have a couple Macbooks and a PC notebook, between work and home.

In each of our two cars, we have GPS screens.

Finally, I have my Android smartphone, an HTC Evo.

I’m probably missing a few screens I encounter intimately each day.

You may say “no big deal,” but I have a problem with them.

They’re subtly encroaching on our lives. Without a doubt, there are two to three times as many digital LCD screens in my home and daily personal life as there were two years ago. And ubiquity is happening because backlit LCD screens are landing not only on devices whose sole purpose is viewing, but on devices that clearly don’t need them — like household appliances, for example.

My beef with the growing presence of LCD backlit screens is that each one of them glows and clamors for my attention. Moreover, if one does get my attention, each one of them has a wealth of programming and functionality to hold my attention. If you can’t learn to filter out screens, their shallow blinking stimuli and hyperlinking mazes will erode your productivity and focus.

Heck, it’s a fact that sitting in front of LCD screens all day makes you fat and unhealthy. Long durations of focus on LCD screens ruin your eyes. Parents who spend too much time with their screens — versus speaking with their infants — disadvantage their kids’ verbal development. LCD backlit screens are certainly most intrusive in the bedroom — where the purpose is sleep (or some other things adults do that don’t need LCD backlit distraction). I’m not sure we understand the full health impact of LCD backlit screens and devices. But their presence continues to grow, as does their not-yet-understood health impact.

There’s one screen I purposefully omitted from the list above: my Kindle Touch with its E-Ink display.

The Kindle content functionality aside, I find the E Ink display with white- and-black pigments and no backlighting to be not only easier on my eyes, but easier on my brain. I’m not a psychologist and I’ve not researched this topic extensively, though here’s how I explain it: Compared to a backlit LCD screen that attempts to grab my brain’s attention, over-stimulate and create anxiety, the E Ink displays words and pictures in a subtle fashion that lends itself to more relaxed and focused cognition.

The Kindle is the one electronics device I really want my kids to engage deeply with.

As such, it would be great to see electronics manufacturers emphasize E Ink displays and forego the backlit LCD ones. Most devices and appliances are best if they simply do what they’re supposed to do, and don’t distract. If a device does require viewing attention, it would be far better off by demanding attention in a more subtle way that induces calming focus, like an E Ink display.

My prediction. There will be an LCD screen backlash within the next 10 years, resulting in a screen purging trend. While commoditization and technology is making them inexpensive and disposable, people will throw extraneous ones out and not welcome them back. Devices and appliance manufacturers will gravitate to simpler, smarter designs that are more sophisticated, without the obnoxious attention-grabbing LCD screens.

This post also appeared in MediaPost.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. My household is exactly the same —screens everywhere.

    It’s interesting you mention the kindle device. Black and white displays are
    superior in many ways, ergonomically speaking, because they closely resemble
    the experience of reading from a paper book or newspaper.
    The key design elements at work here are contrast and proportion: sufficient contrast between the text and page background; setting text and visual content at reasonably legible sizes to minimize eye strain over long periods of reading and use.

    Strangely though, 2 concepts that run completely amuck in the world of conventional Web and digital design.

    1. With so many gadgets, we long for primitive simplicity. If a black-and-white display satisfies that longing more than backlit LCD, it would seem to be a competitive advantage for device makers that absolutely must contain an electronic display. I don’t know much about the economics, so I’m not sure how feasible this is. But economically feasible, would less flashy displays be able to compete against the cocaine-like LCD backlit ones that do satisfy addiction to constant stimuli? Perhaps the seduction of LCD backlit displays means that if a device doesn’t have one, it risks being forgotten or ignored?

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