What effects does programming have on society?

The digital society - implications for health, education and society

Loads on the visual system in the multimedia world
by Dr. Michaela Friedrich,

Tablets, computers, smartphones, etc. - digital devices that have become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Especially in the current time of Corona, attempts are being made to cope with a lot digitally. What many people do not know, however, is that the use of digital end devices is associated with a permanent burden that demands maximum performance from our organism, especially from the visual system. The following article deals critically and from an interdisciplinary perspective with the effects of the digital society on health, in particular on the visual system, as well as on education and society[13223]

Term "digital society"

Digital devices mark progress and our modern "digital life", our everyday life is "multimedia". We live in the digital society - but what exactly is it? This term is used e.g. B. used by the Thuringian Ministry for a department called the “Thuringian Ministry for Economy, Science and Digital Society”. There are a variety of projects here that promote digitization. To this end, the Ministry of Economic Affairs presented a digital strategy in January 2017, the "Thuringian Strategy for the Digital Society" (Thuringian Ministry for Economy, Science and Digital Society 2017). This is essentially about the basis for a comprehensive development process. It formulates concrete measures for digital development for Thuringian cities and rural areas, which are to be implemented in the context of education, research and business in the next few years.

There is also an association called "Digital Society", whose commitment is in the area of ​​fundamental rights and freedoms in order to enable "an open knowledge culture as well as extensive transparency and opportunities to participate in political decision-making processes"Digital society 2019).

Digital end devices in the professional and private sector

Initially, digital devices were only used in the professional area and were used exclusively to acquire knowledge and information. Today they are widely used for communication and interaction, i. H. for the exchange and cooperation between people in different places. And not only in the professional area, but increasingly also in the private sector. This is shown by the worldwide increase in daily usage times. Communication is also in the foreground here. In addition to e-mails, it is primarily communication platforms such as Facebook that enable global interaction. In addition, the gathering of information is still used, e.g. B. for weather forecasting or reading recipes or books (e-books).

The use of digital end devices in professional and private areas, often due to the use of the same devices, results in a mixture of work and private life. This means that digital end devices have a direct impact on privacy. Above all, this plays a role in that digitalization is changing the way people interact with one another around the world and is thus having an impact on society. If you met z. B. in the past in a real place with friends, digitization now enables fictitious meetings with friends on the Internet.

It can be clearly stated: digital devices are used in all age groups - from very young children to old age - essentially for exchange. There are now sections of the population who use digital devices exclusively in the private sector - these include children, young people and senior citizens. As a result, the use of digital devices is ubiquitous in all age groups. H. The devices are used anytime and anywhere, often throughout the day: from getting up to going to bed, e. B. to wake you up, during breaks and meal times, on the way to work (on foot and in transport), before, during and after work and in your free time.

The increasing frequency and duration of use, the enormous worldwide distribution and the associated networking affects more and more people in their professional and private lives. In the current situation with Corona, digital devices are often the only way to get in touch with other people without having to have direct contact. In addition, there are more and more digital devices that use artificial intelligence, e.g. B. Alexa to listen to music or news.

Very few people think of the health risks associated with using digital devices when they use it. In the following, the effects of the use of digital devices on the human organism, in particular on health, education and society, will be presented critically and from an interdisciplinary perspective. The aspects relate to the claim that digital media harm our health and the education of our children and pose a threat to our (democratic and social) society.

Effects of digital devices on health

Our modern world is fast, always and everywhere - too much pressure to perform, too much consumption and too much digital media have a variety of effects on health.

Actually, digital devices should make work easier. In many cases they do that too, especially for things that can be implemented digitally on the basis of simple programming, e.g. B. saving documents in a folder. But in many cases they make things more complex because we have to keep a lot more information in mind, e.g. B. where we have saved what and under what name - over the years. There used to be a sheet of paper that was put in a folder - it was visible and tangible. Today, in many cases, the data is available virtually (cloud); it is no longer real.

Many people always want to be up to date, always deliver top performance and not lose touch and are always available. But not all of them are up to today's requirements. More and more people are now feeling an inner turmoil. Initially there are only restrictions on the quality of life - as a study already showed in 2012, people who live in highly developed countries have severe restrictions on the quality of life (Eichinger & Hoffman 2012 pp. 10/11). Disorders and increasingly more illnesses develop from these restrictions, which is evident from the increasing number of mental illnesses. The DAK Psychoreport for 2019 shows specific figures for this: every 18th employee in Germany was absent from work in 2019 due to a mental illness - that's around 2.2 million. The number of days absent has more than tripled since 1997. Most often, workers diagnosed with depression are absent. Days absent due to adjustment disorders have risen particularly significantly in recent years (DAK psychoreport).

The constant availability and the associated need for immediate reaction make it clear that there is no standstill. We are challenged all the time. There is little to no time to think about it. This aspect is worrying because the results and values ​​in Germany are essentially achieved through thinking, because we live in a knowledge society.

Due to the constant availability, many people have increasing demands on their personal performance, because they consider it "normal" to participate in the "trend" and to survive. But very few people know the neuronal patterns of the brain on which this “trend” is based. From a neurophysiological point of view, our human brain still roughly corresponds to that of a Stone Age person, at least in terms of its basic structures. The human brain is genetically programmed in such a way that it is interested in new stimuli, can absorb and select them. But stimuli one after the other and at certain intervals, but not several at the same time and almost without a time lag and 24 hours a day. Variety is generally good, but interruptions during a task are not, because they lead to restlessness. Constant interruptions arise z. E.g. when using several digital devices at the same time - doing work on the screen and suddenly looking at the smartphone because a message comes in. Working in a focused manner, sticking to a task and being able to deepen yourself from time to time - this is no longer so easy these days. Because distraction and distraction come primarily from digital devices.

The human brain is not suitable for multitasking (neither for women nor for men) and so the constant interruptions lead to reduced mental performance and ultimately to "digital burnout" (Markowetz 2015). Amazingly, the smartphone is also distracting when it is just lying there without being used. To Spitzner Smartphones reduce the ability to think and the IQ (Spitzner 2018 p. 31).

Habits are based on pronounced neural connections or links in the brain. When looking at the smartphone, the reward system (the nucleus accumbens) is activated and happiness hormones such as B. dopamine, released. To resist this means to consciously muster the strength to withstand the impulse that lets us take the device in hand. But that is exactly what many people find very difficult, so that holiday destinations without a smartphone are not really in demand these days.

Causes and effects of disruptions from digital end devices

A wide range of health complaints are related to activities on screens and displays, e.g. B. Pain in the back, shoulders, arms, legs or even in the eyes. Pain is always at the beginning of a change before there is a structural change in the organism. The question arises: Is the pain the first step in adapting to the “modern way of life”? Yes, you read that right: we have to ask ourselves what causes in our modern everyday life lead to our having such physical effects? The main causes and malfunctions are briefly described below.

Sedentary lifestyle is probably the main reason: By nature, humans are designed for exercise in the open air at around 20 to 30 km per day. However, the average office worker spends most of his everyday life in the room and covers less than 1 km a day. Muscle shortening occurs. Even an hour of exercise a week does not help much as a balance, especially since less than half of Germans do sport at all. This was shown by a study by Techniker Krankenkasse as early as 2013: Only 46 percent of those surveyed said they were active in sports. And that with an average of seven hours of sitting a day. This means that two thirds of Germans no longer even manage to move an hour a day (Techniker Krankenkasse 2013). Why? - no time? No desire?

Furthermore, the lack of exercise leads to Obesity and Cardiovascular diseases as Metabolic diseases. “Sitting is therefore the new smoking”.

In addition to the lack of exercise, there is often a poor or no ergonomic one Office / workplace equipment This is because many people do not know that the workplace equipment has a significant influence on the basic symptoms associated with work on screens and displays. And home office usually has nothing to do with a physiologically furnished workplace, but is just the name for another place where work is done on the screen or display - the conditions under which work is often open, e.g. B. Laptop on your knees on the sofa.

Attention deficit are no longer uncommon today and cannot be grouped under the term attention deficit disorder (ADHD) in children. They arise in children, but also in adults, often due to the many impressions that the brain has to process at the same time, through multi-tasking.

As already described, are mental illness rising and meanwhile the second most common reason for incapacity for work in Germany. The pressure is increasing, there are hardly any opportunities to evade the demands - a problem that now affects society as a whole.

Internet and social media addiction: Especially among younger people, the number of mental disorders is increasing, often accompanied by depression and ultimately suicide. The everyday use of digital media is already implemented in infancy. The cause often lies in the behavior of the parents. Excessive use of digital devices in general and especially when dealing with children leads to babies Feeding and sleep disorders, in toddlers too Language development disorders and motor hyperactivity and with school children too Difficulty concentrating (BLIKK study Media consumption 2017).

Causes and effects of disruptions in the visual system from digital end devices

Various factors such as permanent close-up work, long working hours or intensive use of digital devices can put a permanent strain on the entire organism, in particular on the visual system. The effects are expressed individually in different symptoms. Various aspects are discussed in more detail below.

  • Close-up work as an evolutionary change

The ability to see clearly up close has evolved in humans. The upright gait developed hand-eye coordination, which basically required (good) vision in the vicinity. Nature developed the mechanism of accommodation that enabled sufficiently good vision at close range. Although accommodation has become a highly developed human function through evolutionary requirements, it has not, however, been trained for permanent suture activity or reading in particular (from books or electronic media). The close work that has to be done every day in today's life situation does not correspond to the physiological abilities of the person for which the accommodation was originally developed. In principle, accommodation is possible and necessary for good hand-eye coordination. However, for physiological reasons, accommodation is not designed for permanent close work.

Due to the neural plasticity, the brain can adapt to changed situations. Reading represented such a changed situation for humans. Reading, however, was not made possible by the formation of new brain areas, but rather by changing existing brain areas that have taken on this task. In principle, it can therefore be assumed that reading can be mastered well due to the automation of the reading process by the human brain. As a result, the brain has the ability to adapt to changes and thus also to cope with the demands of the modern world. The demands of the multimedia world today, however, are no longer the same situation that existed 150 to 200 years ago: At that time, reading was only accessible to a limited proportion of the population and permanent, especially professional reading or reading work was more likely the exception than the rule. Today it is indispensable, in most cases it is the basis for professional and private existence.

  • Influence of the autonomic nervous system on the visual system

Many of the visual symptoms due to prolonged suture activity can be explained by the autonomic nervous system. A prerequisite for close work is an (unconscious) parasympathetic innervation of the autonomic nervous system. Since stressful situations bring about an innervation of the sympathetic nervous system, this counteracts the parasympathetic innervation necessary for close work. Close-up work is thus made significantly more difficult in (permanent) stressful and stressful situations and is an additional burden. In the stressful situation, there can be a significant reduction in accommodation, since less accommodation is made available vegetatively. In order to continue to see clearly, the visual system must give up the accommodation-convergence coupling. Blurring and / or diplopia are the result. A permanent load or stress situation results in an adaptation of functions and ultimately also structures of the visual system, which can be measured over a longer period of time as a visual disturbance in the refraction or binocular status.

  • Loads on the visual system in the multimedia world

The multimedia world places high demands on the visual system. The "use" of the visual system has changed dramatically, both in terms of time and the type of use, due to the use of digital end devices in the last 20 years. This applies to professional, social and private aspects such as lifestyle and leisure activities.With increasing worldwide spread, it is becoming more and more difficult to evade permanent use (of the visual system) on digital end devices. Often associated changes are not viewed as a consequence of the adjustment. The question remains whether the permanent suture activity or the overstimulation or both components are the cause (s) for the symptoms and ultimately the development of disorders. In Table 1, examples are given for situations in which the organism is subjected to constant stress and this can lead to excessive stress and the associated symptoms of the visual system.

situationroot causeSymptoms
Environmental conditionsheated, air-conditioned roomsDisorders of the eyelid, conjunctiva and cornea
Insufficient fluid intake per dayunstable tear film, dry eye
permanent close work and screen work (professional and / or private)


static accommodation and vergence adjustment on the screen level


Eye movement disorders, accommodation and vergence


Tab. 1: Examples of long-term causes and symptoms caused by close and screen work

  • Visual symptoms of constant exposure and stress through permanent activities on screens as well as tablets and smartphones etc.

In the modern world, the majority of communication takes place using digital media. Direct eye contact is no longer necessary, just the use of a suitable device. This changes the visual behavior away from "natural, physiological" to "static, non-physiological" vision.

In addition to the close-up situation, there are very high demands on the visual system when working on digital end devices at shortened distances and with a reduced representation on the screen, display, tablet, smartphone, etc. Compared to classic reading of a book or classic screen activity (work while sitting) digital devices have a different handling and application. Tablets and smartphones are often used while standing or running. The use of smartphones is associated with a shortened user distance (approx. 30 cm) and thus increased requirements for accommodation and vergence, as well as a greater inclination of the head and gaze due to the reduced display (Bababekova et al. 2011).

The effect (s) of permanent exposure and stress on the visual system are very diverse and range from slight to severe discomfort. Consequences or symptoms of (complete) visual overload include: Headache, eye fatigue, blurred vision, impaired perception, flickering and flickering in front of the eyes, or tunnel vision. In the meantime, it should be known, at least among experts, that stress-related visual symptoms can occur, even if they are often not directly related to the users of monitors and displays. In the specialist literature in connection with stress, inter alia. to find the following visual disturbances (Friedrich et al. 2020 pp. 320 - 331):

  • "Functional Vision Loss"
  • “Computer Vision Syndrome” (CVS) or technically correct “Computer Use Complex” (CUC) or digital eye strain
  • Streff Syndrome"
  • Functional myopia.

The topic of myopia or myopia progression is currently a hotly debated topic in optometry. In connection with digital media, myopia or myopia progression is also discussed as an adaptive reaction to changed environmental conditions (Friedrich et al. 2020 pp. 342 - 361).

Effects of digital media on education

Learning through movement

Learning takes place through movement. The first year of life consists essentially in learning to walk upright, i.e. H. it is about straightening up against gravity. For this, the child learns in different stages from lying down to crawling and ultimately to standing and walking. Child development in the first year of life therefore requires motor skills. In connection with motor development, the senses and their networking develop. Is there a child e.g. B. in the crawling phase, the accommodation and convergence is trained in the visual area when approaching an object and the disaccommodation and divergence when moving away from an object.

Learning empathy is only possible through direct human contact. The affection of caregivers enables social behavior. Empathy means contact with other people (emotional and cognitive components), being able to empathize with others. Empathy has to be learned like speaking, seeing or walking. Only the direct exchange of thoughts, feelings and experiences between people leads to emotions. The screen, keyboard, etc. are media; H. "The mediating". So exactly the opposite of immediacy. This results in the problem: The handling of social contacts via smartphones does not create empathy.

One study showed that adolescents' empathy for their parents and friends is less the more hours they spend in front of the PC every day (Richards, et al. 2010). How strongly these patterns are anchored in the brain is increasingly shown by behavior in accident situations: instead of calling the ambulance, videos of the accident are recorded and sent. The brain's urge to look at something new (the accident) predominates. No empathy is generated for the user in the accident situation, i. H. the situation is not put into context that someone is injured and the person is in pain and that a doctor must therefore be called.

Education through learning

Education is only possible through learning: however, there is no positive influence of computers or the Internet on education worldwide. In a 2015 study it was shown that the more money a country spent on infrastructure / digitization, the worse the performance of the students in that country (OECD 2015). For example, Finland was number 1 in the PISA comparison about 20 years ago. The government spent more money on digitization. Finland is now in the middle of the field.

Some countries (e.g. France since 2018) have now banned smartphones because, among other things, in the study of (Beland & Murthey 2015) it could be shown that students who were allowed to bring their smartphones to class experience less learning. Because, digital media distract attention, have been shown to damage learning and cause a lower level of education (Spitzner 2018 p. 34). And a lack of education has a direct impact on the judgment and manipulability of a person and thus ultimately on society.

Impact on society

Modern communication is shaped by impoverished reality. Real communication where two or more people sit face to face has become rare. Terms like “phubbing” have become established. This is understood to mean when you offend your counterpart with your smartphone, i.e. you prefer to use your smartphone rather than your partner. A study by Baylor University found that phubbing has a negative effect on the relationship and indirectly affects depression through satisfaction with the relationship and, in a further step, through general satisfaction (Windmillers 2017).

Another aspect is digital consumption. In the age before digitization, everyday necessities were bought in a real shop. Today we consume passively in many cases, e.g. B. when we let ourselves be filled with music. Digital consumption works without being on-site and without any physical activity. I. E. Digital consumption is another component that contributes to the physical inactivity caused by digital media.

The dissemination of information through digital media is faster than ever worldwide today. I. E. but not that the information is all correct. The falsity of information is also spreading rapidly around the world, among other things. by forwarding messages. The more we need media literacy, i. H. a targeted education for the sensible use of digital media.

Recommendations for action

We live in a time when the majority of humanity is increasingly distancing itself from the natural way of life. The unnatural attitude to life gives rise to a variety of disorders and threatening diseases. It is time to rethink and act.

The philosopher wrote as early as 1996 Enzensberger "In times of rampant consumption, it is not fast automobiles and gold wristwatches that are scarce, rare, expensive and desirable, but elementary life requirements such as peace, good water and enough space" - and that at a time when digitization was only slowly beginning to spread , because the Internet was not available to everyone for a long time, only a few books were sold on Amazon, Facebook did not yet exist and also no i-phone.

Digital devices are our everyday life, in times of Corona more than ever. We are facing major challenges in finding solutions for the negative aspects of using digital devices. I. E. not that we should eliminate digital devices from our everyday lives, but that we have to use them differently. If we want to reduce or avoid visual symptoms in the long term and want to live more as humans again, we have to observe a few principles in our life:

  • Moving around for at least half an hour a day, preferably outdoors, is a prerequisite for an intact metabolism.
  • Healthy nutrition as a prerequisite for providing energy in order to be able to cope with your daily requirements: drink at least 2 to 3 liters a day, avoid industrially produced sugar, avoid finished products, food supplements for missing ingredients in food.
  • Work-life balance according to Ernst Abbe: work 8 hours, sleep 8 hours (smartphone off at night, otherwise it would have a negative impact on the day-night rhythm) and be human for 8 hours (without digital media), i.e. H. Switch off the smartphone from time to time (trouble-free time, i.e. also the vibration alarm off, because vibration alarm is not immediately silent) and take time for yourself without digital end devices, e.g. B. on walks.
  • Let yourself drift away and not always feel driven.
  • Incorporate conscious breaks to find peace, strength and, above all, time for yourself.
  • Realistic daily planning with fixed times for small tasks, incorporating variety in everyday life and reducing or avoiding interruptions (e.g. by reading messages in between during work).
  • Consume less digitally.
  • Bundle work and dedicate yourself to only one task., D. H. do not multi-task.
  • Time for real and personal communication, e.g. B. real meeting of friends.
  • There are numerous references to the design of VDU workstations, e.g. B. "Relaxed on the screen - practical tips for computers, smartphones & Co" (Degle & Friedrich DOZ 2019)


Good vision nearby is of particular importance in the multimedia age. Although the basic function for close-up work was developed by nature in humans, it is not intended for intensive close-up work. Therefore, permanent close work while reading or working on monitors and displays can be accompanied by visual symptoms that can be traced back to adaptation mechanisms of the organism. For the optometrist they can be measured as visual disturbances. It is important to uncover this in the course of the optometric examination and to propose an adequate management.

In addition, the optometrist can include various aspects in advice on activities on screens and displays that can significantly relieve the visual system and create a different way of dealing with digital media in order to make life in the digital world a little more "human". Especially in the current situation with Corona, education for the sensible use of digital media is more important than ever.



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Dr. Michaela Friedrich works in Jena at the Ernst-Abbe-Hochschule / JenALL e.V. in the field of ophthalmic optics / optometry / vision science in teaching, research and organization. The standard work "Interdisciplinary Optometry" written by her was published in 2019 in the 2nd edition.




Contribution from eyebizz 4/5/2020


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