That the Victorians were worried that reading would make you go blind had, I’m sure, more to do with the lighting conditions available at that time rather than any special problem with the mechanics of reading. Just see young Abe trying to read by firelight. Fast Company’s cautionary story of reading’s toll on the eyes comes to us via Kathy Sandler’s blog Publishing.Technology. Innovation.

When I was in school, a place by and large built during the Victorian era and thus in spots rather sparingly lighted, we were constantly being warned about blindness, but generally for more earthy reasons. Reading was definitely encouraged, and teenage boys are the last group to have concerns about loss of eyesight, or anything else that might be said to be bad for you.

Of course as long ago as Socrates we were being warned of the dangers of reading and writing. There’s always a reliable group of misery-guts lurking about eager to tell us that anything we like doing is liable to be bad for us. Remember just a few years ago how it was ebooks that were going to destroy our eyesight, especially that bright light boring into our eyes in the dark if we were rash enough to read in bed with the lights off. The Best of Health tells us that no real research has been done on this issue, and then goes on to warn us against close detailed work, lack of daylight, and even too much education: “studies have suggested a correlation between higher rates of short-sightedness and long hours spent studying at school. For example, as many as 80-90% of school-leavers have short-sightedness in certain parts of East and South East Asia.” Dr Ghosheh warns us about Computer Vision Syndrome, but does allow that you can also damage your eyes reading a printed book too. Clearly ignorance really is bliss; though some of us may prefer informed and short-sighted to ignorant and eagle-eyed.*

On the other hand though reading is meant to be good for your health. What is a concerned citizen to do?


*Vision Source suggests that “you should follow the 20/20/20 rule. When reading, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.” Also useful to stop and think about what you’ve been reading.

While I’m writing this I do stop from time to time to stare at the cliffs of the Palisades on the other side of the Hudson. Unfortunately the leaves are all gone now.