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>There’s an obvious caveat to the comment about the human eye preferring dark objects against a light background. Apart from a few exceptions like fire, lightning, and bioluminescent fireflies, almost nothing in the natural world emits light. In our modern world, however, screens do emit light, and quite a lot of it.

This for me is the crux of dark mode and is where this post falls flat: devices are just simply a different beast. They aren't newspapers or photographs, they are lamps with a color profile hotter than the Sun, and we should treat them differently. That's especially true of mobile devices, where being used before sunrise/after sunset is typical.

It's not the same, but it reminds me of how we think and talk about color (additive versus subtractive). Finger painting as a kid you learn that mixing the three colors — Red, Yellow, and Blue — makes black, but play with a computer and you'll learn that the three colors — Red, Green, and Blue — make white. It's a different system because, simply put, it's an entirely different system.

Agreed. This article is frustrating because, while yes I do in general like black text on white background, I definitely do not when the background emits hot white light into my eyes.

Strangely, the same can be true for plain old fashioned paper. The other day I was outside and had to look at a paper. Plain, white printed paper with black text. The bright hot sun reflected off of the paper and I couldn't see anything. A darker shaded advertisement however was easy to read.

So it's all relative. In my case I just prefer not to feel bright light blinding me, so I spend most of my time in dark mode editors/etc. My biggest complaint is that websites don't let me choose. I really wish OSs would start enforcing full dark or light modes as an accessibility feature. As I wright this, my HN screen is quite bright. I frequently flip between my dark editor and my bright Slack work screen. Those bright flips kill me.

A lot of properly old fashioned paper is a very long way from white, and much more friendly for reading in the sun. Brilliant white bleached paper in even paperbacks seems quite recent, requiring use of sunglasses. Most of the books I remember from 70s and 80s - and I still have many - were much lower contrast, even in expensive hardbacks or heavy glossy art papers.

On desktop I prefer black on white, on phone white on black - but I would generally prefer tuning both down to lower contrast than either OS or websites want to let me. On my laptop I have the darkreader addon that lets me turn contrast down. My phone gets to stick in inverted accessibility mode as a part measure that is the nearest I can get. :( I've never yet had a smartphone that let me set display as I'd like - either on Android or Apple.

Has book paper actually tended more white recently than in the past? I have a lot of older paperbacks that are quite yellow these days, but I always assumed they started out that same brilliant white and yellowed over the years to their current state. Interesting to hear that they might have started out more yellow in the first place!

Like ajross mentions the cheapest paperbacks started out quite tan or greyish, had quite a rough texture, then faded to even more yellow quite quickly.

The nicer hardbacks and art stock were often more a milky or creamy white, occasionally a more neutral hint of grey. Definitely much whiter than paperbacks, but I think most would be a few steps from the hard brilliant white most often seen now.

Paperbacks have traditionally been published on unbleached, cheaper paper. That's where the term "pulp" fiction comes from. It starts as tan and yellows over time.

But broadly yes, until the advent of chemical bleaching in the 19th century basically all paper products were a light tan. Ditto for animal hide writing media

In Apple iBooks you might like the sepia paper option.

Have you tried turning down the brightness on your screen? If it's blinding you you've probably got it set way too high.

Yup. Though I still prefer dark mode.

But you touch on something that makes this worse; I prefer a brighter screen when in dark mode, and a darker screen when in light mode. Again, a relative thing. This is why I want consistency, above all else.

I think you hit the nail on the head. I prefer the look of dark mode, but because many UI elements don't support it, I stick to light mode across the board and lower brightness. There is no brightness level that is appropriate for a random mix of bright and dark mode, and trying to find one is worse than going all in on either.

Download Dark Reader. It's a god send for me. It's a browser plugin that turns everything into a dark pallet and doesn't look like hot garbage.

Check DarkReader add-on for your browser. It can force dark mode on any website.

> I really wish OSs would start enforcing full dark or light modes as an accessibility feature

Windows has had high contrast modes which do exactly this for decades. It permeates even web pages, though is no perfect there because--surprise!--few companies test with it.

There are browser extensions like Stylus which allow you to force dark mode on websites

On Firefox you can use the Dark background Light Text addon to tweak colors and contrast to Tour liking, i use it sich solarized.

the article tries to use scientific findings to promote preference. the facts stated are not to be denied, but the fact forgotten is that a lot of this kind of thing is personal experience and thus personal preference. which science can say nothing about.

for websites I can't recommend the browser add on stylus enough.

Slack not having a dark mode is also a thing I don't understand.

I feel like this is worth mentioning.


If I go looking for an extension called "Stylish", will I find the original? Is it trustworthy?

AFAIK, you should use Stylus (opensource clone) instead of Stylish (history-stealing original), like mentioned in GP.

Oh. The names are close so I accidentally conflated the two. Thanks!

There is a dark mode setting on the Android app. I'm looking at it right now.

Otherwise, you can customize the color profile to your liking.

If you can read something from paper, light got reflected from that paper. To the eye, it doesn't really make a difference if the paper was the original emitter of the light or not. With a newspaper or a photograph, you still see the light from a lamp, just reflected.

This is loose reasoning - it is true that photons are the same, but completely over simplifies the problem

Some addition things worth considering

Effective intensity of observed object (last I checked, paper isn't a mirror and doesn't reflect very well)

Frequency profile of the light being observed (cf light from the sun being imperfectly reflected vs lamp being reflected vs direct light source)

Ambient light around observed object which affects both stimulation profile of receptor region of eye AND pupil dilation

So yeah original emitter source isn't the only piece of this puzzle

You see light that comes from a lamp and is partly reflected, partly absorbed, and a bit scattered along the way to your retina. With screens, you're looking at the lamp.

Doesn't matter where you're looking at, only the intensity matters (and you can control that).

Whether you're looking "at the lamp" or at a newspaper that reflects light, the end result is the same: photons hit your eyes.

you can stare at the sun to be more productive when viewing the sun as well. /s

No, I don't buy the green screen argument, any more than the randomness of paper being somewhat white and ink being in contrast to that. Certainly white on black is useful in astronomy, the stuff you are interested in is lit. This article was such a wall of text, I don't know if it ever supported its conclusion very well, which is ironic for an article promoting "productivity".

>you can stare at the sun to be more productive when viewing the sun as well. /s

Not sure what this even means, sarcasm or not.

If the sun could be set in "low brightness", like a screen can (and ignoring infrared), then yes, you _could_ stare in the sun.

The light is very different in intensity and colour, though. Reading on a phone is more like reading a newspaper that's being held directly under a very bright light.

Every time I try to use a screen outside on a sunny day, the "intensity and colour" of the outside world seems to massively overpower it.

Agreed. I spend a lot of time working outdoors. Even in the shade in the summertime, I have a shell profile with larger fonts and a dark-on-light color scheme to make it easier.

Simply turn down the brightness. The intensity can't be the issue because you can adjust it. The colour could be though - even at the same perceived colour temperature, the white light of the screen is going to have a different spectrum to a piece of paper under a tungsten lamp.

Right, but then you're ignoring ambient light. Your statement isn't true in a dark room, where the very much does care.

But that's still not a fundamental property of screens, that's a property of a specific working environment.

Screens should not be brighter than ambient light as a rule of thumb, i.e. if you hold a piece of paper next to your screen, the screen should not brighten up the paper. If it does, reduce brightness of your screen and/or turn up the light in your room.

So, a dark room is not an ideal working environment anyway.

> it doesn't really make a difference if the paper was the original emitter of the light or not

I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Aside from power consumption, e-books and e-paper displays exist for this reason.

It's debatable whether the article falls flat because of the light source or because of its limited assessment of humans:

> Humans evolved outside, and we are generally active during the daytime and asleep when it’s dark.

The article is probably mostly right for some people.

> they are lamps with a color profile hotter than the Sun, and we should treat them differently. That's especially true of mobile devices, where being used before sunrise/after sunset is typical.

Well said! VLC (at least on Android) has a day-night theme that switches between dark/light modes at sunrise / sunset. I wish more applications did the same.

Lol. its the difference between pigments and light aka 6th grade science.

It doesnt mean "screens are an entirely different system"

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