On Wednesday, facebook made an unannounced tweak to its home page design, shrinking the font size that appears on users' "news feeds" of their friends' activity across the site. Facebook, in a statement, said it's "constantly testing new ways to make the site more efficient for people.
But reactions across the social Web ranged from "I feel like I'll go blind from reading its updates" to "" There were even accusations of ageism, considering that the over-55 demographic is one of the fastest-growing on Facebook and that older eyes could have trouble reading smaller print.
if your eyes are hurting from the text on Facebook's home page, they were probably already subject to eye strain--the term for the discomfort, dryness, redness, and other unpleasant symptoms that can result from focusing on a computer screen or other object for too long. Eye care professionals say the smaller font size is unlikely to affect users' vision or eye health any more than its larger-type brethren. Eye strain, too, is temporary and very preventable.
"Making the font smaller doesn't necessarily increase eye strain for most people, especially with newer monitors that have better contrast," said Dr. Jody May, an ophthalmologist at the York, Penn.-based . "The fonts are much better than they used to be, and refresh rates on the LCD monitors are now adequate on anything you can buy."
And the activity that causes eye strain--looking at something like a computer screen for a long time without taking time to give your eyes a rest--will happen whether the font on the screen is big or small. "If you concentrate and spend a long time looking at something like a Facebook page, whether the font is big or little, you can run into the same symptoms," explained Dr. Richard Bensinger, a clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "When you're trying to focus, you're blinking a lot less.” If you look at somebody, and you just talk with them casually, they're blinking about 16 blinks a minute, and if they concentrate looking at a computer or reading, the blink rate drops to 5 or 6 times a minute. And then the eyes dry out."
As for the critics accusing Facebook of ageism by putting a smaller font onscreen, May said that, yes, older computer users are going to experience worse eye strain than younger ones. This is due more to the fact that it's significantly harder for their eyes to focus.
"The biggest problem comes when people start to develop presbyopia, that is, the inability to focus to read," May explained. "Once you've passed age 50, and you're looking at smaller text on a monitor, you're going to have eye strain. The way around it is to wear reading glasses for that distance, or get a larger monitor where the font is bigger just because the monitor's bigger." Real trouble reading small print might also be an indication that corrective eyewear is needed.
The only advice I can give is to consciously avoid behaviors that will cause and prolong eye strain. Or, just press Ctrl and +. It’s just that simple.