Photo: Niklas Hamann/Unsplash

University was always an exciting place to go, especially as a student. As journalism students, we would often spend our time laughing in the communications faculty lab while eating mediocre takeout food from Wyckham House and sharing stories with friends of what happened that previous weekend. It has now been a little over a year since other students and I have felt this engagement and interaction, and it is truly something that is desperately missed.

I now spend 30 or more hours per week on the computer, glossy-eyed and unsure of the true meaning that lies behind the concepts taught in our daily lectures. I have now created a  home office, only three feet away from my bed, in my downstairs bedroom. Everyday has now begun to blend together, as I am stuck on the same routine, constantly waking up, hovering over the computer, then doing it all over again. This has left me feeling defeated, almost as if online school is a monster that continues to get the best of me. Regardless of the challenges, I try to find times to smile while behind my computer screen. 

Photo: Keanna Rapin

In class, I have the opportunity to reminisce with other students about the good times before COVID-19 while in a breakout room in an online lecture. We take time to share stories of when everyone was once able to cram into the newsroom with our professors, the funny jokes that were told in class, and how we were once able to work side by side on previous stories. It has been difficult now that in-person interaction no longer exists, as we have made the transition to a fully online school program protecting us from the pandemic. The screen fatigue I have faced this past year has led to an overall lack of motivation and increased anxiety.

The Deeper Effects

Despite my lack of motivation, I knew I was not the only person feeling drained, alone and completely stuck with nowhere to go for help. This led me to find the Comparative Learning Performance and Mental Involvement in Collaborative Inquiry Learning, a study where the cognitive load of students were researched and calculated to understand the task involvement based on different teaching methods. It was noted that students who do not have the opportunity to collaborate with their peers often have a lower performance than ones who would have worked in a group. I was now beginning to understand why my feelings were surfacing.

The level of screen fatigue I have has led me to feel exhausted, resulting in less school work getting done. At its worst, it is truly something I will never be able to run from because if I decide to give up now, there will be worse consequences in the future. The fear of failing school, or even dropping out, is an excessive fear.

Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
Nadine Furtado stresses the importance of getting your eyes checked after prolonged computer use. 

Dr. Nadine Furtado, associate clinical professor and head of the ocular disease and imaging at the University of Waterloo school of optometry and vision science, discussed digital eye strain due to the increased demand placed on individuals’ visual systems. 

“We know that children who spend extended periods of time doing near visual tasks like reading or working on a computer are more likely to develop myopia or nearsightedness,” she says.  

Not Alone

Alongside problems with eye strain, the connection with screen fatigue and mental health is important. Statistics Canada reported in July 2020  that 68.5 per cent of men and 65.7 per cent of women said they did not have excellent mental health with the increase in daily screen time and internet usage. This data was collected a few months after the transition to online in 2020 due to the unforseen circumstances of the pandemic. This brought me a connection with others during these uncertain times and showed me that I am truly not alone. 

Georgia Baldock, a bachelor of business administration student at Bissett school of business, at Mount Royal University, specializing in supply chain management, shares her struggle with the transition to online school.  She relates to other students and shares the negative consequences she is faced with daily due to her increased screen time and lack of social interaction.

Photo: Georgia Baldock

“My eyesight feels like it is deteriorating and always getting worse,” Baldock says. “I’m constantly staring at the computer for live lectures and working from home.” 

Baldock shares how these experiences have left her feeling completely overwhelmed, especially this semester. She acknowledges that doing school online does not allow her to have the same disconnect from technology that she once had.

“I never leave my room, everything is in my room,” she says. “Even when I am at home laying in bed, I am staring at my computer. I have no opportunity to actually just relax.” 

Learning to Navigate

Although I have come to understand the negative consequences of screen fatigue and how it has made me feel tired all of the time, I am becoming more able to cope with the problem. Having the opportunity to talk with other students and relate with them provides me with hope, and helps lift the burden of being alone. 

To help battle the negative effects, it has been noted that it is best to keep a schedule to avoid prolonged exposure, resulting in chronic fatigue and muscle strain of the eyes.  Dr. Furtado shares how alleviating digital eye strain can be done easily if individuals take breaks following the 20-20-20 rule. 

“For every 20 minutes of computer work, take a twenty second break and look at something at least 20 feet away,” Furtado says. 

The best advice I received from Dr. Furtado was the importance of  seeking help when experiencing any symptoms of digital eye strain. 

“Seeing your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam allows the exact cause to be identified,” she says. “This allows for the appropriate treatment [to be] initiated.”  

I have now been able to create an environment with friends who face the same struggles and also have anxiety of being at the same desk all day; this has made me feel a bit better. There has been an opportunity to meet at a social distance with  friends with the lift of the current restrictions, allowing for face-to-face interaction to occur. Before these restrictions were lifted, online platforms such as Google Meets and Zoom were the only way to meet with friends. 

I look forward to the day when screen time reduces, and we are all able to interact face to face. I now know that I will never take personal connection for granted again.