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Is Dark Mode Such a Good Idea? (kevq.uk)
442 points by kdrag0n 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 537 comments

Wait. So. "Multiple studies show that light mode is better" trumps my actual experience, with my eyeballs, in my office environment?

No. No it doesn't.

1. I don't have that much faith in scientists. Someone trying to p-hack their way to a publishable result that's sensational enough to advance their career is not going to produce good advice for me.

2. Even if they were perfect scientists, they're not using my eyeballs. They're grading experiences on a bell curve and taking the median. We all experience things differently. This is the "fighter jet seat problem" - if you use the average then it fits no-one.

3. Even if I had average eyeballs (and I probably do), I doubt my situation is anything like the test subjects in the experiments. My home office isn't set up that well (I'm working on it).

4. My research, conducted using my eyeballs in my home office on my equipment, shows I prefer dark mode. I have tried both, and dark mode was the more comfortable experience. My experiment beats "multiple studies" for my situation. Yours may be different.

Science is not a faith based system. If you doubt about the rigor of some study, by all means point the errors you find. In the meantime, I will trust those scientific studies more than subjective opinions in hackernews comments.

The study referenced by his reference is not very good.[1]

They use full white and full black for all modes. As we know, dark theme is typically white on dark gray (or equivalent), not pure white on pure black. I can't think of any dark mode that uses pure black. (AOSP, IOS, macOS, etc.)

This alone invalidates the study, because it doesn't reflect the real world. Science is only as good as it is rigorous, and if it fails to model the real world, then it's not very good.

Science, these days, seems to have become a faith based system, because most people don't usually review the content of the studies.

That (and bad science, like this study) is a shame.

1: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001872081351550...

"Invalidates" might be a bit strong, since it still does show that white on black isn't a great choice. It just doesn't follow from the study that the average dark theme is worse than the average light theme.

> Science, these days, seems to have become a faith based system

> That (and bad science, like this study) is a shame.

Tangential, but this has indeed been a slow drift since the 1970s roughly. We are witnessing the consequences of that, now that entire generations of academics have been molded as such.

I think we need a vocal and principled reaffirmation of Positivism in science, to meaningfully move away from all the faith-based and broadly political conduct of scientific affairs at large (and the reporting thereof).

iOS is pure black in dark mode.

it is absolutely not. 90% of visible UI is dark grey painted over a black background. a lot of apps also use dark tones too, like dark blue or green.

90% is a gross exaggeration. The Mail app is pure black[0]. Apps that have grey on black like Messages have styles carried over from the light version of apps — they weren’t specifically optimized for dark mode to improve readability. Other apps that I’ve checked: Music, Phone, Photos, Files, Calendar, even Twitter.

[0] https://www.litmus.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/bildschirm...

I don't see any blacks in that screenshot?

If you bring the image into a photo editor you'll find that the background of Mail's dark mode is RGB #000000, the purest digital black there is.

It’s hard to have a discussion when you act in bad faith. The background is #000000.

Maybe you’re not looking at it on a screen capable of true black?

Blue on black/dark gray is horrible for visual acuity.

Blues exist along a range of brightness values and blues work great in dark terminals and editors all day every day for many many people. I'm typing into a browser window surrounded by probably about 4 or 5 terminal and editor windows peeking out of the background with somewhere between 5 and 10 different shades of blue on dark grey backgrounds and they look clear, bright, and amazing. The dark background makes the blues pop.

Blue is objectively the hardest color to see. Amber would be so much better in this scenario.

or green like the Hombebrew default scheme in Terminal. non-techy people I used to work with called me the matrix because my screen was stacked with multiple terminal windows with the green text on dark background color scheme

> point the errors you find

All of those studies are studies of how other people experienced dark mode vs. normal mode.

All of my studies are studies of how I experience dark mode vs. normal mode.

I feel that my sample more closely aligns to the population I'm trying to study.

Also it mentions spectrum-shifting software like 'night light' or f.lux or whatever Android and Windows call it when they do this by default.

And the thing about dark-on-white being more visible than white-on-dark is just blatantly wrong and the military anecdote makes no sense, camo against dark background in the dark is going to be low contrast because the camo you wear in the dark is dark, muted colours.

It's easy to be wrong even about your own perception. You might think you like the dark mode because it strains your eyes less, but in reality you just like how it looks and you strain your eyes more, being more fatigued at the end of the day without even noticing. Or the other direction.

This whole "those studies are studies of how other people experienced X" is a typical argumentation scheme of esoteric fields like homeopathy, where science, logic and data is completely rejected and replaced with pure faith. Real studies can be criticized without relying on that trap.

So you're telling me I'm wrong and I actually like bright mode more than dark mode?

We are literally discussing my subjective experiences here. And you're telling me I'm wrong. About my subjective experiences.


No. They were pointing out it's possible that you prefer dark mode, even though it may not have the benefits you believe it does. Your preference may be more about aesthetic taste than a physiological response - and that's okay.

That's actually a pretty fair point. What I like may not be measurably easier for me.

I'm gonna lean in to your side. I've noticed ever since switching to a dark theme in my code editor that at the end of the day my eyes feel less tired. BUT (and big one) on the glossy screen of my phone, dark mode feels more straining to the eyes... How can this be so?

My notebook has a matte screen and barely reflects ambient light(s) back at me. I say barely to avoid saying "none" because surely someone will nitpick that it is reflecting a small amount of light etc.

The phone has a glossy screen, and it reflects every single thing it can back my eyes. Dark mode makes it even more "mirror like". And while I prefer the colours (specially if you're using the phone at night, with no ambient lights to bother), I acknowledge that it is more straining during most of the day. Even at night when it autoswitches to dark mode, I'll have some ambient illumination unless I'm at the cinema (not for a couple of months since lockdown) or basically trying to sleep (and I know I shouldn't be checking the phone if I'm trying to sleep).

Another data point: reading PDFs of books and conference papers on my computer (black on white) is tiresome, whereas reading the same on a kindle feels amazing. But then again, the kindles have won this battle a long time ago and nobody should be trying to read books or other media made for plant-based-paper on a screen anyway (and here I give e-ink a bit of leeway and consider it more plant-paper-like than a screen).

I use the pc mostly for music making and video/ photo edit, when i do so i like to work in an almost completely dark rook just some indirect lights, all the software i use has dark grey backgrounds by default, if i need to check something quickly on the internet the browser opens with a blank page (then it switches to dark or theme), that feels in my eyes like being in the nuclear test field.

Pretty much the classic "waking up late night, oh my [relative/so/person you care about] texted me at night, let see what--MY EYES!" -- but on PC

The hidden assumption you make is discussed as the Preference Satisfaction Thesis in the philosophy of welfare economics, it's the idea that people (subjectively) prefer what is best for them. Almost everybody agrees that the thesis is generally speaking false, although some people would argue that you should accept the preference satisfaction thesis as a rule of thumb if you are an ethical anti-paternalists.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, you could be like the smoker who prefers to have another cigarette even though it's bad for him. Not only that, it's even possible to find examples of people being wrong about their own subjective experiences. For example, people sometimes have cyclic personal preferences and one of the arguments against them is that their subjective feelings are wrong.

> The hidden assumption you make is discussed as the Preference Satisfaction Thesis in the philosophy of welfare economics, it's the idea that people (subjectively) prefer what is best for them.

The hidden assumption in that framing is that there's an objective measure of "what is best for them" which somehow isn't based on what people subjectively prefer.

I think they were discussing the subject of, how our conscious estimation of our subjective experience can be way off. Which is a legitimate point?

Is it? I mean, serious question - aren't they they same thing? What IS our subjective experience if not our conscious estimation of how we experienced the thing? Is it possible to think you're enjoying something when really you're not, and if so then what the heck does that even mean?

You can enjoy what you want. The article we are discussing has measurable claims:

1. Easier to read

2. Eye Strain

3. Battery savings

Your subjective "studies" about that are irrelevant if you put them in contrast to proper scientific studies for those things - if you don't measure them properly. And that's not how you feel about it. That's what I was saying.

And it does not matter for that whether you like dark or bright mode, whether you follow the article or speak against it :) That might be part of the confusion.

Easier to read for whom?

I have pretty bad eye floaters, and they're more visible in bright light. Having crud bouncing around my entire field of vision does not make for an easy or strain-free reading experience, so I enable dark mode whenever it's an option. I found checking Zulip at work pretty unpleasant until I realized I could enable dark mode.

If you're running a scientific study and basing your conclusions on the average of all participants, you might not pick up on things like that. And if you're running a scientific study on people with normal vision, a sufficiently strict definition of "normal vision" guarantees that you won't pick up on that, although the studies in question probably didn't use so strict a definition.

Even if dark mode is "scientifically worse" for most people, whatever that means, it's a useful accommodation. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group article that this post links to argue against dark mode recommends dark mode as an accommodation for people with vision impairments.

Yes, I'm aware. A school friend of mine was almost blind and he enabled the Windows white on black accessibility setting to make using the PC easier. I'm not arguing against that.

Although we're far from figuring out the mind in general, much less specifically to certain individuals, there's growing evidence that minds are a collective of sub-units which vie for conscious attention but are nonetheless active in subconscious even if "you" don't know it.

As an example, one part of your mind could be extremely conditioned to want to please and be with someone who is (objectively) abusing you and so you think you're having a good time when they do show you attention, while another part of your mind hates them for hurting you. There are countless examples of how different parts of a single mind can be at odds with each other, and depending on when you think deeply about an experience, can both have enjoyed and not enjoyed an experience.

It's not unreasonable to think that similar mechanics are at play with more subtle, less social-based mechanics. Food (and drugs) have a lot of this going on too.

Well, eating at a restaurant with my wife, I said "This is really good!"

She looked askance, said "Well, its a little salty".

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"And not really very hot"

"Oh, yeah. Hm."

"And there no spice in it. Kinda plain."

"Dang, you're right"

So was I enjoying it? Or the experience of being out with the wife and not having to cook? Or just hungry and anything would do? And I'd mis-attributed what I was enjoying. Clearly my 'subjective experience' was not very, well, objective.

So when you first said "this is really good", was it?

Or did you just let your wife bully you into not liking something that you, personally, actually liked?

That's a little harsh. Entertaining new information is not really 'bullying', not when I recognized the truth in what she said.

Sure I was enjoying myself. This is kind of the point of this thread. Your enjoyment is not a real measure of what's good or bad.

Not saying you didn't change your assessment after new sensory input (which is fine), but did you truly, honestly, change how much you were enjoying the /exact same physical sensations/ based on how much your partner thought you should be enjoying them?

I changed because I attended to what I was eating, and it wasn't very good.

Or you changed because you were attending to what your wife was saying.

Were you actually happier after you changed your mind that the food wasn't as good? I'm struggling to see this as evidence that your experience improved based on that conversation.

To me that sounds like an orthogonal statement from the article. The article is talking about objective performance and efficiency of the two and you're talking about how they make you feel.

Feeling efficient and being efficient are both valid bases for choosing, but the point of the article is that they don't have high correlation.

You can be wrong about your perceptions, if you’ve read your Descartes.

Dark mode could be more aesthetically pleasing, and yet could also be less legible. I have personally experienced this. Dark mode is hard to read and find my place in compared to light mode. The white space helps me absorb the information and use it effectively. I say this while I still think dark mode looks better for many apps. I just choose light mode because of utility and usability.

I've never had issues with legibility in dark mode but then I apparently have very large pupils (to the point where when I got contact lenses the optician warned me about lens flares / halos) so maybe I don't get some of the benefits of day mode.

> Is it possible to think you're enjoying something when really you're not, and if so then what the heck does that even mean?

It's possible one can enjoy heroin, while it's simultaneously not beneficial for them to do so.

Just because something is subjectively positive, doesn't mean it's objectively positive.

What IS our subjective experience if not our conscious estimation of how we experienced the thing?

regardless of the sample population, the difference is asking about perception vs. designing an experiment that provides consistent measures and accounts for bias. That's the definition of science. What you're arguing is "I know what I know", i.e. faith.

Why not conduct your own experiment, using Science?

1. Start with a hypothesis, that "dark mode is less comfortable for me than light mode".

2. Design an experiment: find the sites that you use most. Use them for 10 minutes each in light mode and dark mode. Write down your impressions.

3. Build a conclusion: was your hypothesis correct? Was it partially correct for some sites?

Then you can adapt your behaviour according to your new, Scientifically-proven knowledge.

Science isn't faith-based, but there are a ton of problems with Academia and the way Science is practised and published at the moment. Science is also not connected with Academia - the scientific method doesn't need a university grant to work. You can literally conduct your own experiment in a couple of hours (as above) to get better information than any study. Not publishing it doesn't make it any less scientific.

It makes no sense to me to trust an unknown number of studies over my personal experience. I prefer dark mode. I'll stick with that. You do you.

Unfortunately your proposed study design does not control for biases. For example, say I'm an audiophile comparing two audio formats, x and y, and I hear y is remarkably better. If I compare them side by side, my own brain might fool me that y is better. The way to control that is to do a blind test, where I won't know which one is x or y.

Also, asking people their impressions can be helpful in the human aspect of the research, but quantitatively you need some sort of metric you can evaluate their experience on. For example, you'd assign a task and see how well people did comparing the two modes, while also making sure the difference is statistically significant (meaning it wasn't just as likely to be chance).

This is just the beginning of where good study design starts. You'd also do things like assigning the modes themselves randomly, so to go back to the audiophile example, I might notice if it's always x and then y, but not if it's scrambled. You'd could go further and try to stratify the groups, so for example making sure one group isn't all elderly people and the other young. It goes on and on...

So while the scientific method is nice, especially for introducing science in educational contexts, the methodology and rationale behind research is much more deliberate and involved. By all means they can try out things themselves, but no, they will not "get better information than any study".

But that's the point. I don't care about anyone else's preferences. I'm not trying to find the best option out of the two for anyone else but me. My biases are the thing I'm trying to measure here :)

In my experience, that kind of design would be bad. I prefer light themes, but whenever I've used some app in dark mode and switch to a light one, the experience is inevitably jarring, and completely faithful to all the sun-burns-my-eyes jokes made about light themes. But it's fine the next day.

One of the more important parts of the studies referenced in the NNGroup article the blog post in the OP is referring to is that they did experiments between people rather than subjecting people to different conditions consecutively. When the initial light-dark contrast isn't present, people's fatigue ratings were about equal for both modes.

Moreover, people perceived both modes equally hard to read, but were actually more efficient in reading lightmode text.

That advantage is driven largely by the sheer amount of light - some researchers did an experiment where they cranked up the brightness on a dark theme so the experienced brightness was the same and it was just as readable as a light theme. But then you're using a crapton of electricity since you're turning dark-hued pixels to be super bright.

>It makes no sense to me to trust an unknown number of studies over my personal experience

Your personal experience is incapable of judging your performance in visual-acuity tasks and proofreading tasks, or determining the level of eyestrain caused when using light or dark mode.

Meanwhile, the scientists aren't trying to change your mind over which one is "more comfortable." They are trying to determine why you find something more comfortable and how well your the various options perform.

This is not science.

why not?

While this commentator invested far less effort than the scientists in reaching his result about dark mode, he also has no benefits from you choosing to believe him or not. You are in fact choosing to see the brand "science" as something transcendental that doesn't concern any incentive structures, which if false and opens you to lots of manipulation.

I am just wondering does the author alao distrust science when it comes to medical treatments and the law of gravity, or does is his distrust highly selective.

pretty selective.

Maths has proofs. Logical reasoning from first arguments that a thing is true or not. It either is, or is not, proven. End of.

Physics as applied maths, pretty solid. We need to conduct experiments to verify that nature agrees with our mathematical constructs, but on the whole these are simple and unequivocal. e.g . gravity. Particle physics gets dodgy because of the vast range of collision results - statistics starts creeping in. Rather than being able to say that particle A collides with particle B to produce particles D an E, we now have a statistical chance that somethng might happen.

Chemistry as applied physics, again, pretty solid. Everything has to be tested by experiment, and experiment frequently throws up surprises, but if a reacts with B in Chicago, it probably does in Moscow too.

Biology as applied chemistry. Mostly solid. It gets massively complex, and so the temptation to resort to statistics is overwhelming and most biological papers start talking about statistical probabilities rather than actual results. But the basic biology is mostly the same for most subjects, and if the conclusion is simple (virology and the effectiveness of vaccines, for example) then we're all good.

Any social science as applied biology: not much. This is really dodgy territory where the experiment design totally dominates the result, and the result is statistical data that has to be massaged into a definitive statement. This is p-hacking territory, where experiments are largely unreproducible, very subject to bias, cultural references, and academia politics. E.g. whether creativity shares a limited resource pool with willpower - highly subjective, highly variable between individuals, hihgly suspect if your paper cites this as a proven result.

Not all science is worthy of the same level of trust. The scientific method is trustworthy. Academia is not.

The subject in question is not some fuzzy social science: this is a straightforward assessment of reading ability for a given color scheme. You access objective metrics like ability to detect errors, reading speed, accuracy, etc.

Arguing with this is like disputing the fact that high heels make for terrible running shoes. Research in question with be quite similar.

Medical treatments can be really faulty too.

> If you doubt about the rigor of some study, by all means point the errors you find.

Sampling. It probably feels good hand-waving away the problem of "does this study apply to everyone?" by introducing the "representative sample" construct, but it has its problems and I doubt they will be ever solved. You can't speak for everyone when you have several thousands samples -- out of ~8 billion people.

This is kind of akin to that artificially absurd example of "on average, every human on Earth has one testicle". (And don't get nitpicky here, please; it might be "median" or another term, and that's not the point.)

What your parent poster says is that this article is kind of hiding behind science to be able to claim a generalisation it makes is true. Which it still isn't. Most people I asked said they prefer dark mode. Some said they like light mode. This article changes none of that.

> This is kind of akin to that artificially absurd example of "on average, every human on Earth has one testicle".

No. If I claim everyone has 0.5 testicles, that's bad science. If I randomly choose a large enough number of subjects and report that approximately 50% have two testicles and approximately 50% have no testicles, with error bars, p-values, etc., saying that you don't trust this because I am trying to make a career and you prefer to follow your own experience, which after looking between your legs clearly shows that 100% of people have two testicles, would be quite stupid. If I chose only 3 people, or all of them are male or female, or I make any other mistake, point the mistake, but don't attack me personally, and much less science in general.

For example, I followed the link to the study by the Nielsen Norman Group and then the reference to the study of Piepenbrock. They explain well their sampling method, with different groups by age and depending on vision problems. You can clearly see the individual results and the variance, and it is obvious that generalizing to the 100% of population would be wrong, but there are some very clear trends. Calling these researchers "someone trying to p-hack their way to a publishable result that's sensational enough to advance their career" without any proof whatsoever is insulting.

To be clear, I do not intend that anyone changes habits because of these studies. I agree that this is subjective enough to make it a personal decision. But as a scientist trying to make a career, I found the above comment very disrespectful.

I apologise then. I didn't mean to insult scientists. I was more trying to point out the difference between The Scientific Method and Academic Practice.

Especially in the social sciences, there's been a whole discussion recently about how our current system of evaluating and rewarding scientists is not benefitting Science. There's even been high-profile commentators disputing whether the social sciences are actually Science at all.

As you're a scientist I won't bother explaining this to you. I'm sure you're aware of the problems here.

So my point is that for a study like this, there's lots of room for playing statistical games in order to achieve a more "sensational" result that is more publishable and more likely to get cited. We know this happens and we know this is especially rife in this area of study. So I have become much more sceptical of social-science studies showing broad generalised results about a subject applying to the whole human race. Especially if those studies contravene some commonly-held view about the subject. My default position has moved from "well, they know what they're doing so there must be something to it", to "I'm going to assume that they p-hacked their way to a sensational result until I have evidence to prove otherwise".

I might be wrong in taking that stance. I will change it if I have better evidence.

Fair enough, and apologies accepted. I agree that many social studies lack rigor. And, unfortunately, it also happens quite a lot with more technical topics in which it is much easier to be objective.

I get easily triggered when science is presented as a matter of faith, but in fact I totally agree with your skeptical point of view.

> by all means point the errors you find

That it's conducted on humans (a.k.a. very small sample, not generalizable, non-objective metrics, hard to remove observer bias etc.)? I think regardless of personal opinion, just based on a Bayesian / base rate mental model, you should default to disbelieving any published social studies (I refuse to call it "science") that haven't been rigorously replicated.

> If you doubt about the rigor of some study, by all means point the errors you find. In the meantime, I will trust those scientific studies more than subjective opinions in hackernews comments.

Maybe, but most published studies are close to pure garbage and even in clinical trials which is supposed to be the holy grail of Science there's cherry picking, improper design, and lack of repeatability across the board.

"Science" is only as good as the humans conducting it. Unfortunately us humans are pretty bad at doing Science.


Well, arguably science is just the superior faith-based system. Nothing is ever proven, but it contains a method to constantly find the theory most likely to deserve your faith.

That's my problem with science (and I am an atheist who is 100% for the scientific method and even have a PhD):

The "real" science has no absolutes. But the problem is that it is very difficult for humans to operationalize it that way. Take for example eggs and cholesterol. I remember in the late 80s, my father (also a scientist/biologist) stopped eating eggs because apparently Science said eggs are bad for you (due to some papers)... later in the mid/late 90s Science said that eggs are actually not bad, but good for you (because, even if they where high on cholesterol, it was the good cholesterol).

So, for people (even other scientists!) that are not experts in the subject, it becomes a matter of belief... believe in the papers some random team published, because it was published in Nature.

> Nothing is ever proven, but it contains a method to constantly find the theory most likely to deserve your faith.

I love this quote!

A method that one can choose to follow or to fake.

Science is faith based for the non-scientific. As you put it yourself, it is about trusting studies and the institutions that produced it (including whatever in them creates the incentives for p-hacking).

No scientist expects anyone to trust studies or the institutions producing them. So, that's wrong from the beginning. The expectation of refuting something is just a bit higher than "I don't believe it!", e.g. read the study and show flaws in it - or make a counter study which shows different results. Maybe combine both.

Comparing this to faith where from the start you cannot check anything doesn't make any sense (if you know that something is true or false it isn't faith anymore, that's the point).

That's not really true. Scientists do (and expect others to) respect "established" and "trusted" journals that group studies together in some kind of authentication process. Even open journals like Sci-Hub are like this.

Otherwise, you could believe any PDF you can find on Google and know it to be true and representative. What if someone wrote a net to generate 10,000,000 studies on the same set of topics and scattered them throughout the Internet? Given a random study, you wouldn't know whether it's real or generated, without the "authority" aspect of a journal.

Now, whether or not the journals actually do a good job at authenticating the studies is another question. But, the principle stands that they are what we trust as consumers of science (a role which scientific researchers themselves play as well).

I agree with what you're saying. However, I think the parent's point is that people without education or a good understanding of the scientific process feel like they are accepting it (or not) based on faith.

I think this total lack of understanding of how the scientific process works is one of the biggest problems facing America today.

and yet if you dare to disagree with a scientist (as we see in the comments here) you can expect to be shouted down because SCIENCE!

> Science is not a faith based system

False. If you did not do the study/experiment yourself, you are putting your faith in scientists that did. This is philosophically equivalent to someone putting their faith in, say a monk, or a pastor.

If you go one level deeper, the monk might say, 'do X penance for Y years to verify Z claim', then it's up to you whether you want to follow that route or not. Until then, his claim is not unfalsifiable, like many skeptics claim.

Even for mundane day-to-day claims, 'science', as commonly understood, falls short.

e.g. Science cannot prove to me that a mango tastes sweet, without putting the condition that I must taste it. The only 'proof' it can provide is 'Taste it and see for yourself'. If I say, 'I will only taste it AFTER you prove it is sweet', then nothing will happen. Because Taste is subjective. Yet, everyone, 'miraculously' is able to come to a consensus.

There are truths that are individually/subjectively verifiable, but collectively/objectively unverifiable.

The denigration of the former type of truths is something armchair scientists must avoid. Real scientists never denigrate them.

No, you don't understand science.

Science can define what a sweet taste is, by assigning it to a set of measurements that define the boundaries of sweetness, as a technical term.

Is that sweetness to you? Nobody cares. It's a technical term that you need to accept to participate in the conversation productively.

> It's a technical term that you need to accept

"need to accept" is a "subjective" consensus - meaning it is useless if the terminology is not accepted.

Acceptance is a subjective decision, at which point you're simply going by majority vote. And majority is not a barometer for truth.

Science absolutely cares about subjective acceptance, and faith in experts.

>Science is not a faith based system Some disciplines certainly are, you only need to look at the current rigamaroo around COVID and climate change models. Some 'models' saying millions of deaths before being re-engineered a few weeks later to be mere thousands, or predicting huge swaths of the Earth being uninhabitable by now, etc. You can also look into climate models that predicted perilous cooling on a global scale from decades past.

These sorts of model, which are presented as capital S Science, are at best guesstimates, that don't receive nearly the amount of popular coverage when they shown to be wrong in the fullness of time (or indeed need to be reinforced by changing data). If a model is no better than a coin toss that's faith based to me.

A recent example; WHO "walks backs" statement made a day before about data showing that asymptomatic carriers infecting others is very rare. At the same time saying between 6% and 41% of the population may be asymptomatic with a 16% error margin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im0G7jb78jc

I also cringed at the "I don't trust science" vibe, but I also don't feel like someone should have to be an expert in statistics AND eyestrain measurement AND visible spectrum of light in order to credibly disagree with the results of a study. IOW, we shouldn't be able to reject someone's disagreement merely because they're not credentialed enough; that would lead to a tyranny of supposed expertise.

I should have made it clear. I trust the scientific method. I don't trust that that method is being rigorously applied by social scientists seeking tenure.

So, in the meantime you will use light mode... against your own comfort?

Science might tell me that on average, most people prefer beer to wine.

That doesn't mean I preach to someone that they shouldn't be drinking wine because beer is superior.

> If you doubt about the rigor of some study...

I doubt the rigor of MOST studies.

You seem to have a lot of faith in scientists.

I don't, that's why I'm a scientist.

You are overstating the results of such studies or use your datapoint out of context. Just because A is on average better than B, does not mean that A is better for everyone.

If you have a study that shows that most people do(n't) like pineapple on pizza (maybe make a blog post "is pineapple on pizza such a good idea?"), that is rather unrelated to someone likeing pineapple on pizza or not and is not claiming that all people don't like pineapple on pizza.

Darkmode is a nice thing! It feels like some people hype it as the 'one true better solution to everything' or a strictly superior version, when it boils down to preferance and minor differences. In the end you probably want to have both options (if you have the capacity to support them).

> Just because A is on average better than B, does not mean that A is better for everyone.

You're proving the point, how would you even know for sure if you are A or B? You would have to try it out anyway.

Dark mode has 2 main advantages:

- Better rendering of hues. This comes in nice for things like syntax coloring, or photo editing. The eye is evaluating a color next to the absence of light, instead of next to washed out light.

- Less eye strain when ambient light is insufficient. Ideally the brightness of the screen should be within the same range of brighness as the surroundings.

In my home office, I have about 20,000 lumens of light shining in a relatively small space, at a temperature of 5000K. In other words, it's a sunny day in my office regardless of the weather or the time of day. A quick and easy way to figure out if you have enough light (or too much) is to step back and point your cell phone camera at your workspace. Take a photo without HDR mode. Can you make out details of what's on your screen AND its surroundings? For most people, the screen will be washed out because the ambient light is way underpowered. Dark mode is a good response to that situation.

With quality and variable lighting, you can have the best setup: use light mode during the day; switch to dark mode when it suits you, whether it be for a task that works better in that mode or for evening time when you prefer to start sending a signal of sleepiness to your body.

As someone who uses both dark mode and light mode, a major factor is if I'm in a darker area. When I read books on my phone, I prefer dark mode at night and light mode during the day.

To what extent are these studies testing these sub-optimal reading conditions? Are they just testing optimal conditions which could have different results?

Any comments on optimal lighting for a home office? Or, as your setup is?

A nice bright working area sounds nice. Bonus if it's good light, and not something that will feel unnatural.

Sidenote: I've got a nice big window that I face, and I often want it open, but my room is so dark I have to keep it mostly closed as it overpowers my monitor, eyes, etc.

I have several compact fluorescent bulbs each outputting 8,600 lumen. Since the bulbs measure about 10" long, the only fixture I found to work is suspend a bare socket and attach a giant paper lantern.

When selecting light, I pay attention to the temperature of the light (I like 5000K for daylight) and the Color Rendering Index (CRI) which is a measure of the quality of light. Technically you can make "white" with only 3 wavelengths, however the broader the spectrum of light (many wavelengths), the better it shows on reflected surfaces. It's not highly relevant to the topic of eye strain with screens but it's a nice touch that makes the area more comfortable.

Recently, I started exploring LED lights and there are some really good options appearing on the market. I tested some spot lights with a CRI of 92 which look even better than halogens. So when it comes time for me to replace my CFLs, I might end up with a better option.

My home office is the only place I really feel the benefit of Philips Hue bulbs. Being able to fine-tune and change the white color temperature throughout the day (and night) is fantastic.

Personally, I prefer indirect light. So I have light strips which illuminate the wall behind my monitor , and a few other bulbs directed at the ceiling which reflect light back down.

Personally I just have different light profiles on my monitor and I dim it as my room is dim.

Similar trick to you, I just try to reduce brightness until it looks like a kindle—it’s matte and blends in with other objects in room.

I think you have multiple misunderstandings about how science provides valuable results. The first thing I want to say is that I don't devalue your personal experience.

I am unaware of any fighter jet seat problem. If you use the average, you're actually pretty likely (depending on the shape of the distribution, which in the case of phenotypes like body size, are normally distributed when broken down by gender) to find the size that accomodates the most people (you could also consider using the median, or the most populated class, or add a few adjustable parts).

Science hasn't reached the point where it can create truly personalized models that account for your genetics, personal feelings, and other details about your setup. It would be nice if we had that kind of ability, but the data isn't there (either the quality or quantity of the data). however, it's generally understood that these sorts of studies provide useful evidence for people who are making policy for large numbers of people.

Also, what you did at home wasn't an experiment (did you use positive and negative controls and blinding), it was just a measurement of your personal preferences. Again, not trying to deny your personal experience, but a good scientific study does trump your actual experience, when applied to the population at large.

The fighter-jet seat problem is pretty famous.


The article you cited is an interesting just-so explanation but it's mostly narrative, not really correct. It's based on this book https://www.harpercollins.ca/9780062358363/the-end-of-averag... which espouses some rather non-quantitative concepts (it seems like the author had a hobbyhorse and they rode it as far as they could).

I don't know that it's "pretty famous", as I find only a few references to it (the book I mentioned, the article you mentioned, and a few other references).

I worked in biology for a long time and work with ML datasets that make money based on statistical analysis of people properties and the idea that "no one is average" is technically correct and also completely missing the point of scientific analysis (I definitely acknowledge that science doesn't do a good job with personalization).

> I don't know that it's "pretty famous"

I'm sorry you haven't heard of it but it's fairly well known.

Here's it on QI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ch9UuMFwzCE

It’s shown up on HN before at minimum.

My father was an instrumentation engineer for the DoD and much of what he worked on during his time at the high speed test track out at WSMR did involve ejection seat testing.

They had an assortment of very expensive mannequins rigged up with a multitude of sensors to determine strain or torsional effects that were used to determine whether the ejection was "survivable." I believe the certification process included the smallest possible dummy that could survive the seat ejection, and the largest that would fit.

Too small and the seat couldn't be rigged with enough ballast to prevent the acceleration of the ejection motor from crushing the pilot's spine. Too large and the seat wouldn't clear the tail or other aircraft structures. If I understand it correctly, the seats are configured to the pilot for this reason.

It's absolutely true that designing around averages is not how ejection seats are constructed or, for that matter, tested.

I strongly urge you to become familiar with the fighter-jet-seat problem if you're working with humans and applying averages.

"no-one is average" is more than technically correct. If your scientific analysis is missing this key point about humans, then it's basically worthless because it doesn't apply to real humans. This is what the US Air Force found: you have to personalise. You can never apply a generic result to an individual and have a good outcome.

I don't think he is misunderstanding anything.

Using the average sometimes works, some times doesn't. Number of arms an average person has is less than 2.

Definitely check out the fighter jet seat problem.

Mean is not a robust statistic, so that's why it's often better to use Median instead.

I did. Not impressed.

If 60% people perform better with light theme and 40% dark theme, average is going to be that light theme is superior. This doesn't make dark mode a bad idea.

This is going to appear nitpicky, but the average preference is some average gray, neither dark nor light. The mode is light. That relates back to the fighter jet thing: if you’re going to build a non-adjustable cockpit, build one that fits (within some tolerance) the most number of pilots, not the average on every dimension.

or, better, don't build a non-adjustable cockpit

IE, argmax, not mean

All you're saying is that means aren't informative if distributions are bimodal. Which is both totally true and completely missing the point.

> Wait. So. "Multiple studies show that light mode is better" trumps my actual experience, with my eyeballs, in my office environment?

Of course. All you are measuring is how comfortable you feel, which is irrelevant. What they are measuring is how well people actually perform on tasks while using dark mode. Just because dark mode feels better to you doesn't imply anything about the latter question.

Seeing as we're talking about something that relates to eyestrain, I don't think we can discount how the GP feels.

If you don't feel well you likely aren't going to perform well. If your eyes hurt, you are going to want to stop working. If I had to stare at a bright white screen all day, I wouldn't get the task done because it hurts my eyes. Common sense.

Yet another study where it's trying to trump opinion with a study. You can't be wrong if you prefer dark mode/light mode, it's subjective. A study is going to have a real hard time proving one is "better" than the other and we certainly shouldn't take the results on faith.

Even if dark mode "feels" better that still doesn't imply it actually causes less eye strain. Without data it's possible OP's choice could be driven just by aesthetic preferences and they don't realize it.

I don't see in the study linked in the article where it attributes light mode to more eye strain.

I found where blue light causes eye strain, and it most certainly does, I immediately notice the difference when using a blue light filter on my monitor, but you can have both dark mode and a blue light filter enabled.


Anecdotally, dark mode causes my eyes and my partner's eyes less strain.

You can notice by how dry and red they get, as well as the headaches, it's not rocket science.

EDIT (reached my post limit)

@shawnz: No, the light physically hurts. It's immediate. It's not because of the aesthetics.

You measured the dryness/redness of your/your partner's eyes after trying dark and light mode? Or is it just that occasionally you or your partner get dry/red eyes and the most memorable association was using light mode beforehand (and it's memorable because you don't like the aesthetics of it)?

I don't think this is "rocket science" but that doesn't mean it is handwavingly obvious either

What's a post limit? I've never encountered such a thing.

As much as, probably more than, aesthetic preferences, I would posit that there are many environmental differences which are difficult to completely control for. Screen type and configuration, ambient light level, light source positioning, how often the user look away from the screen (completely away from work, or just onto other media to read from a page for instance), etc.

Having said that I think my preferences are mainly, if not entirely, aesthetic. Dark-on-light terminals feel weird as do light-on-dark documents/spreadsheets - that can't be anything other than just what I'm used to.

I feel more productive when using dark mode.


The parent's point being that feeling productive has roughly no correlation with being productive. You can feel very productive with that https://pippinbarr.github.io/itisasifyouweredoingwork/ game that was recently linked here; but that doesn't mean that you are more productive, and in fact you will be much less-so, because the "work" in the game is meaningless.

Ah yes because these scientific studies using light vs dark mode were able to precisely capture “productivity” output which totally translates to the work that SWE do.

Who said anything about the scientific studies proving anything? My point was that feelings prove just as little. If you're not going to trust other people, then especially don't trust yourself. The output of your feelings is even less evidence-based than the worst possible scientific study.

If you want to truly understand how you specifically react to something, then do science yourself. You don't need to be very rigorous with this, as the goal isn't to prove some huge effect size. The goal is to just get an objective answer to the question of whether you are more productive, rather than a subjective (and therefore very likely wrong) one. Find an objective measure of your own personal performance (anything you care about, doesn't have to be something a boss would care about); maybe find a way to blind yourself to which days you're using the treatment vs. a placebo; write down numbers; and then stick 'em in Excel and see what you get.

I would point at Gwern as a good example of someone who runs self-experiments to determine the objective n=1 effects of different "life hacks" on things they care about. (For Gwern, this is usually brain performance—measured by, among other things, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-back task, data for which can be collected in the form of "playing" a quick round of a computer game.) For example, here's their look into magnesium supplementation: https://www.gwern.net/nootropics/Magnesium

Some people feel more productive when they get their auras adjusted or take homeopathic medicine.

The placebo effect is fairly strong. And how productive someone feels vs how productive they actually are when it's measured often varies, of course.

I am sure if I am whipped or faced with a shock collar I could also be measurably 'productive'. It's pretty evident the reasons why feelings trump productivity then.

I value my feelings in a pleasant work environment a hell of a lot more than productivity metrics.

it's not a placebo if it actually affects your productivity

Whatever works for you, that's great. But your anecdotal preferences are hardly worth using as an argument against scientific research in general.

If we all dismissed science to serve our preferences and prejudices, we'd still be in the dark ages. No pun intended.

sorry if I mislead. I'm criticising Academia, and how science is actually done by humans trying to get tenure. Not Science.

And my point was that my anecdotal preferences are massively more important for me than any scientific study, no matter how rigorous.

Wait. So. Multiple studies showing that the earth is round trumps my actual experience, with my eyeballs, outside?

At least read the studies talk about and their setups, otherwise this kind of sentiment is what also gives us all sorts of out-there beliefs.

You're talking about an objective reality.

This article is talking about a subjective experience.

The earth is a slightly flattened sphere regardless of what you or I choose to believe.

Dark mode is more productive for me in my experience. And showing me concrete proof that other people are more productive in light mode is not going to change that. It's still going to be more productive for me regardless of how many other people find it less productive.

I think this is the core of why we have such out-there beliefs at the moment: everyone believes they live in their own reality, and their subjective opinions trump objective reality. Partly, I think this is due to social sciences attempting to make objective reality out of statistical analysis of subjective opinions. A million people believing the earth is flat doesn't make it so, yet that's exactly what social science says.

Dark mode is a matter of demand, not if it's good for you. The real questions scientists should be asking why people want it in the first place. Other than that, I agree with your sentiment.

People wanted dark modes of websites since the dawn of the web itself. It's just that it was too inconvenient for companies to maintain at least two designs at the same time so they happily turned a blind eye to the requests.

By the same token, I hate dark mode and prefer light mode. My experience resonates with this article, but it's not because of this article.

I completely agree :)

They address this in the post:

>Many people perceive light mode as the cause of eye strain. But blue light, among other things, is actually the cause of it most of the time. This is covered in more detail by Vice, where they say:

>>A 2018 study published in BMJ Open Ophthalmology notes that blue light could be a factor in eye tiredness, but cites dry eyes from not blinking for long periods as a more serious cause of eye strain, as well as too-small fonts, and conditions like uncorrected astigmatism.

It may be that when you use dark mode, because of the lack of blue light you feel better. But perhaps you can test this by installing something like [Flux](https://justgetflux.com/) to see if that also helps.

It's quite absurd how the discussion around this post seems to have turned into a fight on dogmatism. I guess many presumed "scientists" are just quite hurt by the blunt statement "I don't have that much faith in scientists", no matter how valid your points might be.

If one can't even express doubt about some academic papers (note how different it is to expressing doubt on the whole idea of "science"), which exist in the millions, then things are pretty messed up. A lot of commenters are either incapable of some basic reading comprehension or are deliberately misinterpreting it.

> Wait. So. "Multiple studies show that light mode is better" trumps my actual experience, with my eyeballs, in my office environment?

This is how I always feel about design/UI/UX/etc research: They remove functionality and make things more clumsy and then claim it's Good For Me. They unironically cite to design "fundamentals" without consideration for culture or even personal preference [0] as if any such things could exist. Is it any coincidence the most designed websites are a narrow strip of gray-on-gray text lost in a site which won't even load without heavyweight JS?

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23080727

> I don't have that much faith in scientists

Suppose your mechanic mess up your car. Suppose this happen again with a second mechanic, and maybe even a third. Is that enough to justify the conclusion that “mechanics are bad”? I don’t think so. Science is the same.

> Is that enough to justify the conclusion that “mechanics are bad”?

Maybe not, but it's certainly enough to justify the conclusion that "mechanics should not be blindly trusted". Same with scientists. Doing good science is hard, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if most studies are flawed.

Also, there's a reason the concept of independent verification is so important in science. Even if the scientists doing a study are trying their best to do good science, it's incredibly easy to make a mistake. A healthy dose of skepticism is very much warranted.

You shouldn’t blindly believe anything, but science, faulty as it is, does entail a higher degree of credibility than, say, anecdotal evidence.

Perhaps, but that's not a very high bar. If you personally experience something that disagrees with what a research paper says, I don't think it's reasonable to just assume you must have been mistaken.

That doesn't mean I think you should believe your senses either. It means it's worth looking into it further (if you care, at least).

I'm too tired and bored to source it, but, there are also "multiple studies," as the author puts it, stating that dark mode is better.

If you like sitting in a bright room, you'll prefer light mode; dark room, dark mode.

> I don't have that much faith in scientists.

About that, it's surprising that there's so much papercuts in the scientific field these days. p-hacking, lack of peer reviews, journal gatekeeping, also some ex-engineer turned pseudo cosmologist [0] said that there's too much technological 'papers' and not enough fundamentals, which dillute the quality of thinking and the seal of quality attached to the scientific method

(the man is a controversial figure, most people would consider him a nutsack, but I can agree with the fact that research has shifted in meaning compared to early 20th century)

Skimming the website and referenced paper-website (didn’t make it to a particular paper) I saw only statements of results, and none of methodology. Is the p-hacking claim “a general feeling” or can you pull it from something concrete here?

By the way, in case it is “just” a feeling, I’ll say up front I share the feeling too. I think worth considering for every empirical study.

Humans as a rule tend to do multiple things thinking that what they’re doing is the best for them and then turns out it’s not.

Although for me it’s a ridiculous thing to even bother trying to measure. The problem isn’t whether it’s slightly better to look at a dark or light background but rather that we spend so much time staring at screens that it becomes a problem.

>> I don't have that much faith in scientists.

well I guess you have faith or dogma to fall back on, then. Safe travels!

Note they didn't say they don't have faith in science, but that they don't have faith in scientists. There's an important distinction there.

thank you. Scientists are human, and as flawed as the rest of us. The scientific method doesn't need my faith, but it has it anyway.

I can't handle dark mode. If letters are bright they burn into my eyes and follow my gaze. I use black on solarized background color for years after I dropped the white on black and it feels much better.

> "fighter jet seat problem"

sorry, but is there a link to this? A quick Google showed only issues with the F-35's ejection system.

I think I can throw some light on this one. (Sorry, no references. I read about this, but can’tremember where.) Some time years ago, the US air force tried to find out, using statistics, how to design cockpits to fit most pilots. So they did multiple measurements on many people; upper and lower arm lengths, ditto for legs, back lengths, etc. Then they took the average of each measurement and designed cockpits to fit pilots of average size, allowing for some variation, of course. As it turned out, almost every pilot was much more than a standard deviation from the mean in some dimension, so these cockpits actually fit practically no one – resulting in a too high rate of (near) accidents. I am not sure how they overcame the problem, but IIRC, part of the solution involved designing for the exact measurements not being quite so critical.

>…I don't have that much faith in scientists

And that’s how we got to 2020 with anti-vaccine and flat-earth.

It’s science. Axioms and data. You don’t need faith.

Got better data? Cause “I like it better” isn’t.

While I believe you, you may also see how your argument is similar to the argument "non-proven pseudoscience medical treatments cured my disease, therefore they work".

I would be very interested in a study that looks at how much of the dark/light color scheme preference is just due to habit and esthetics.

Not having faith in science isn't a bit incompatible with working with computers?

it's gonna be hard to run a double-blind experiment on that one

"Reading and Myopia: Contrast Polarity Matters" - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28904-x :

"reading white text from a black screen or tablet may be a way to inhibit myopia, while conventional black text on white background may stimulate myopia"

"Is Dark Mode Such a Good Idea?"

Yes, it is. One thing is reading a newspaper in which text amounts to a good percentage of the available area, and the rest reflects ambient light, and a whole different thing is a screen with some text in the middle and the free area emitting white light right to my eyes, de facto saturating them.

I would never read a white text on black paper newspaper, neither in the dark nor in the light, but I surely find dark mode on screens a billion times more readable than traditional light modes. Useable e-paper displays might change that one day, but the technology is still in its infancy.

Emitted light isn't a problem per se, because reflected photons aren't somehow radically different from emitted ones. Color and brightness profile is the problem. On a display, you have to have high contrast and brightness for images (that have lots of darker areas), so the system interface is in turn tuned for this high brightness—and then you have to deal with bright white under text.

Note how text on e-ink is excellently readable but photos look like crap—since they aren't carefully selected and adjusted for the medium like in print.

On screens, black text on a-bit-gray-with-a-hint-of-red is better, like here on HN, though still not the same. I wonder if it's possible to get close to paper/e-ink colors on an LCD/OLED screen, or the backlight's color profile is too different (apparently LEDs emit narrow bands of wavelengths, which might be harsher for the eyes—while sunlight and incandescent lights have all or most of the visible spectrum).

These are good points but miss an essential part of the story: reflected light almost by definition matches the brightness of the surrounding environment, meaning that the periphery is roughly the same brightness and white balance as the reading medium.

If I look at my laptop on full brightness in a nearly pitch black room, it is far less comfortable to read than if I turned on a lamp.

So there are two solutions to this. Turn on a lamp if you're using a screen at night time, and lower your brightness to have roughly the same level as the ambient light.

Or, use night mode if you don't want to turn a lamp on.

If I'm doing something like programming, I prefer the former. If I'm just in bed and feeling lazy and want to read twitter, I go for the latter so I don't have to turn a lamp on.

Yes, it probably correlates with ambient light. I like light mode but I also like to open the blinds, turn on the lamps etc, as opposed to the stereotypical dark basement hacking with a hoodie on.

Dark mode is also very often buggy, clumsy, the color schemes for syntax highlight are subjectively less pleasing, it feels gloomier, less cheerful, I see more distracting dust on the screen, smudges etc. Yeah I could also clean it more etc. The point is there can be multiple equilibra, one develops habits and preferences. It's not an absolute thing.

I use gruvbox, light when there is a lot of light around (e.g. im outside) and dark mode when im indoors.

There is more to this than all the biological talk too.

I use it as a context switch and prefer to review code in light mode, while i prefer to write code in dark mode.

Either it helps with the context switching or reading is just easier in light mode, while writing is easier in dark mode because its easier focus in on what im writing.

I think given a lot of people prefer dark mode for various things, people should assume they lack all the information for making bold claims based on biological studies alone.

Also I'm becoming more and more convinced that we humans are extremely adaptive. With regards to major and minor things as well. People can adapt to eating 6 small meals a day and then swear they would not be able to concentrate after skipping one of them. Others eat one meal a day, exercise fasted and skip entire days of food and report very good mental clarity and love it. Some only eat vegan and with a few supplements live very well. Other eat purely carnivore (exclusively salt, meat and water) and report good results after an initial phase of toilet hell.

Some people never exercise and live to 90 years. Some people are night owls and do their best work at 3 AM and have no concept of a schedule but get stuff done brilliantly. Others have to dogmatically stick to a schedule and a rigid morning and evening routine and swear by waking up at 4:30.

Partially it's their genetics but a huge part is habits and adaptation. Humans can function in the polar circle, in the jungle, on the savanna, in urban hell, in the suburbs, on farms etc.

Any study that wants to test the difference in benefits of different habits would need to allow for the adaptations to take place, the adjacent habits to adjust to the new style etc. You cannot just take one thing in isolation. Maybe I like light color schemes because I do most of my work in the daylight and sleep at night. There can be tons of confounders and doing months long randomized studies is rare.

> the color schemes for syntax highlight are subjectively less pleasing

I fixed that particular issue by making my own color schemes.

I am probably the only user, but this is OK.

A simple method that I use to demonstrate that: point a phone's camera at the screen+surroundings.

Then it's easy to adjust the screen's brightness/turn on lights until the screen is not overexposed/the environment is not underexposed.

As a photographer, as well as a Technical PM who spends all their time on a computer, and a non-zero amount of time optimizing my setup, and someone who has taken photos of computers and done exactly this to get the exposure correct: I don't know why I didn't think of doing this on a daily basis!

Every time I bought a new computer monitor in the last 10+ years, I had to turn the brightness way down in order to use it comfortably. I've gone as far down as 8% with some of the brightest monitors, and even with more reasonable ones I rarely go above 40%. Maybe these things are designed to be readable outdoors in direct sunlight. They're absolutely not suitable for indoors use, especially at night.

> I go for the latter so I don't have to turn a lamp on

Yes. My use case is reading ebooks at night on a Kindle app in Dark Mode so that I don't disturb my partner who is trying to sleep.

The other emitted-photon difference is flashing. If your monitor uses pulse width modulation to dim, any brightness under 100% is going to flash high-frequency lights at your eyes.

Supposedly if this is done fast enough it's not unhealthy, but it's a case of "no solid evidence it's bad for you" plus anecdotal links to headaches. I have personally had drastically fewer screen headaches since leaving my hardware brightness on 100% and lowering brightness via the driver.

I'm a believer in the spectrum thing, too. I find halogens way easier on the eyes than ultra-power-saving diodes.

The issue with emitted light is that it can be too bright and/or be at a vastly higher brightness than ambient.

When you read a book or a newspaper the brightness naturally fits with ambient light. It's hard on the eyes to read a book on the beach because of the brightness (same effect as a snowy landscape under the sun).

Dark modes usually lower the brightness overall and reduce the contrast with ambient light as well.

How photos look on e-ink depends on how the SW is implemented. If dithering is used, then yes, random photos look like crap. But it can also use shades of gray (8, or 16), which is slower to update, but looks much better.

I am old enough to have written programs when "dark mode" was the default (black background and green or amber text, 40 columns, 80 columns if you were lucky), and I can tell you that light mode is much easier on my eyes.

Black text (real black, not this fancy grey web designers seem to prefer) and white background on a properly adjusted monitor where the white doesn't blind you is my go-to since monitors became good enough to make it possible.

YMMV, of course.

By contrast, I am old enough to have written programs when "dark mode" was the default (black background and green or amber text, 40 columns, 80 columns if you were lucky), and I can tell you that dark mode is much easier on my eyes.


// Was and remain in the amber camp.

/// See also: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/dark-mode/

... we strongly recommend that designers allow users to switch to dark mode if they want to — for three reasons: (1) there may be long-term effects associated with light mode; (2) some people with visual impairments will do better with dark mode; and (3) some users simply like dark mode better.

And from a StackOverflow discussion:

Visual fatigue research: Unfortunately I could not find very much research which measured computer screen visual fatigue in comparison to black-on-white text as opposed to white-on-black. The only piece I could find was a short reference in "Reading text from computer screens" by Mills and Weldon (1987) from the journal ACM Computing Surveys. Section 4.1 of that paper, titled "polarity", goes over important works at the time, including this piece:

”In contrast to the results in these studies, Cushman [1986] found that subjects who read continuous text from positive contrast (light character) VDTs reported less visual fatigue (as measured on a subjective rating scale) than those who read from negative contrast (dark character) VDTs.”

I mean, parent post said "easier on my eyes" and "ymmv". It doesn't take much convincing for me to believe that light mode is easier on parents eyes and dark mode is easier on your eyes. I believe you.

It depends on the amount of light. Try reading a book outside on a clear summer day when the sun is at its zenith. Your eyes won't even stand it. It doesn't matter that the light comes from a direct source or from reflection. We can easily imagine more extreme experiments using mirrors and spotlights.

I find it weird that people feel the need to defend dark mode preferences based on arguments about why they think it's "objectively" better.

Does it matter? I mean, do you have to have a reason for preferring dark mode? I like dark mode because it looks better (to me).

I also prefer multi-color boxer shorts over white briefs. Does there have to be a justification? No. It's an aesthetic choice just like dark-mode, font-size, and color-temperature.

Could you explain what you consider to be the difference between emitted and reflected light? I'm asking because in the models of global illumination that also handle emissive materials that I've worked with, there's literally no difference between whether a photon was emitted by a surface, or came from somewhere else and bounced off the surface. So I'm trying to understand if there's some fundamental property here (e.g. like polarization) or LED color reproduction at play, that CG models don't capture. Because as soon as you have a ray of light with a certain intensity and mix of wavelengths, it really shouldn't matter how it was produced, so I'm trying to understand the quantitative difference in what is produced.

One of the more obvious differences is that paper is very close to a Lambertian reflector while LCD pixels are more directed. Hence the LCD viewing angle problem, though that gap is closing.

Apart from that, I think it mostly comes down to the fact that an LCD pixel doesn't actually change it's reflected colour when it starts emitting light of a different colour. This means that incident light falling upon the pixel and being reflected will necessarily become noise -- it won't contribute to the image. For instance, if the colour of the LCD surface is some kind of grey and the LCD is emitting green, the resulting colour will be

    incident * r_reflected + emitted
Where `incident` is the incident light from the environment, `r_reflected` is some factor (< 1) representing the amount of grey component reflected from the incident light and `emitted` is the emitted green light. The result is some kind of mix of grey + green.

On the other hand, if you had a green coloured paper, then there is no emitted component so it becomes just

    incident * r_reflected
Where `r_reflected` now represents the proportion of green light that is reflected. The end result is a more pure green.

Ok, that makes sense. But does any of that have any bearing on eye strain? Because it sounds mainly like a color reproduction issue, which seems pretty orthogonal to the whole 'black text on white background vs white text on black background' debate.

Emissive displays don't react to incident light in the same way as paper, even if they try. And they've been trying for a long time -- my grandmother had a TV from the 1970s with an ambient light sensor that would match the ambient color temperature.

They are always set too bright. I always wondered why are they simply not adaptive: you turn it on, and then set the brightness that you find comfortable. Then it adjust the brightness as ambient light changes by extrapolating from your chosen point.

Better systems could let you calibrate multiple points, so they would interpolate instead if extrapolate, but even a single point calibration would be amazing.

FWIW, I've tried dark mode and have to enlarge font sizes to read stuff compared to using very dim setting on my screens and light mode. I felt like I was in minority so didn't bother with exploring further.

But, I did realise and investigate blinking issue (I've got dry eyes, worse due to contacts and lots of screen time). I even have a few experiments in mind (like the typing break apps of old, I want my computer to trigger my blinking without adverse effects; whether it's by bluring content for a couple ms at a time to trigger eye refocus and blink, or whether it's something else, I still need to test it).

"FWIW, I've tried dark mode and have to enlarge font sizes to read stuff compared to using very dim setting on my screens and light mode."

I think the article mentions this indirectly, but then attributes it. Your pupils are going to adjust to the amount of light entering them a lot (most?). This means like a camera, a smaller hole will be less sensitive to focal problems.

So, unless you perfectly compensated for the amount of light coming from your display its likely the brighter backgrounds were dumping more light, reducing your pupils and making things clearer.

They're getting better: https://www.samsung.com/us/televisions-home-theater/tvs/the-...

The first time I saw one of these in the flesh, it was striking. I'd be surprised if this kind of context-awareness in screens didn't work its way into most devices within the next decade.

Could you explain why having the screen react more to incident light would be better?

It looks more like any other object within an environment, reducing eyestrain and improving the illusion of reality.

>Yes, it is. One thing is reading a newspaper in which text amounts to a good percentage of the available area, and the rest reflects ambient light, and a whole different thing is a screen with some text in the middle and the free area emitting white light right to my eyes, de facto saturating them.

Photos are still photons. You can adjust the brightness of the monitor to be the same of a newspaper that reflects your favorite light intensity.

Every night? Progressively as it gets darker? Manually? Plus, I'd need to re-adjust the contrast as well.

I'm sure there's software that does that, but Dark mode seems like the easy-no-extra-work solution to this problem.

Apple's computers already do that, they have a sensor and adjust the backlight, some can even adjust the color tone to match the ambient light. I know, sounds like the future, but they had it for a while.

But, you often can’t turn down the brightness that much. And anyway the contrast of monitors is many times worse than the contrast of a printed newspaper. Photons are photons, but a screen sends very different pattern of photons to your eyes than a newspaper.

Is this true? Printed newspaper is the crappiest kind of paper as far as contrast goes. Anyway OLED monitors have good contrast and their brightness can be arbitrarily adjusted.

Then you need to get a better monitor. Some of the cheaper ones out there are insanely bright just so they can put larger numbers in the brightness and contrast columns. Good panels have decent contrast even when you turn down the brightness.

It is likely that you have your display brightness too high. Indoors, in light mode, most modern screens need to be set at 50% or lower brightness.

Hold a piece of paper next to the display. If a white background on the display (e.g. open Notepad) is noticeably brighter than the paper, dial down the display's brightness.

At work my brightness dial is down to 0. At home it's at 16.

It looks wrong at first, but you'll get used to it within a day or so. Colleagues coming to your desk will remark upon it.

I completely agree. Modern screens are made to stay readable in direct sunlight. The maximum brightness is really high. The screen I'm currently looking at is at 6/100 and I could probably turn it down a bit more.

I would love to have a good e-paper laptop for coding, reading and communicating. I actually consider today (and even 5-yr-old) e-paper displays perfectly usable for all real tasks except watching video and playing realtime games. Compilers and editors (and web pages) should change to avoid unnecessary output and require less screen updates though (this would actually be great anyway - whatever kind of screen I have I prefer unnecessary presentation dynamicity to be avoided).

I've seen a couple who hacked together setups using Android e-ink tablets, but I'd love to see someone make (and sell) a product with a little more polish.

The main barrier is that almost all modern GUIs depend on high refresh rates, but it's not hard to imagine a GUI designed from the ground-up for ePaper. Little-to-no transitions, pagination instead of scrolling, maybe a customized version of Firefox with a prominent Readability toggle, etc

If you two are serious about this, you'll defintely want to check out Technology Connections' series on e-ink:

(quick intro): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytpRnRke6I0

(starting the breakdown): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NfX0vlCa4k

He talks about that exact concept and moves on to do real-world testing and setup of a very specific tablet usable as an external display.

It's exactly as you say: Hacky and unpolished. But I found it extremely informative.

I'm aware of some options:

The Boox Max 3 e-ink tablet can be used as an external monitor (HDMI connection) with good refresh rate.

Dasung Paperlike 3 is a dedicated e-ink external monitor that can actually play video with really good refresh rate.

Waveshare also makes e-ink external monitor, not as good as the Paperlike but coming at half the price.

I wouldn't be surprised if the e-ink display market exploded in the near future with Dasung getting the refresh rate into usable territory and the availability of color e-ink. I been trying a couple of things to help with eye fatigue and the following helped me quite a bit: setting up "Breaks For Eyes" for osx to remind about taking breaks, switching to the light "Brutalist" theme for emacs and moving most of my longform reading to a Boox e-ink tablet, though I wish the Android Pocket app would support pagination and there was a good Reader-mode-by-default browser.

> getting the refresh rate into usable territory

Doesn't unnecessary refresh deterioration the e-ink display and diminish its power efficiency? I really see no reason for the display to refresh until the actual information you need to view changes. What do you need a higher refresh rate for? Wobbly window effects, smooth scrolling, verbose build output and intense action games?

I really don't want the screens to adapt by increasing refresh rates, I want the software to adapt by ditching scrolling for pagination, giving up unnecessary visual effects, decreasing verbosity (only displaying what I really want to see) etc.

You're right, I really meant latency here.

My old Kobo Aura e-reader (gen 2 I think, amazing device) had a browser built-in. On one occasion I had to use it to log in and retrieve flight details when my phone battery died. That was probably my most frustrating tech experience of the last five years. Partly, the browser app was not great, but also because every single action required multiple 1-second long refreshes of the screen. Type a letter? Refresh. Scroll? Multiple refresh. Zoom? Multiple refresh. Select a button? Multiple refresh. Press the button? ... you get the picture.

As you say, every app and website would need to be completely redesigned to work with e-paper. I don't see that happening, but even then typing or editing text with a long delay is very annoying, as anyone who has used SSH over a slow connection will tell you.

> Type a letter? Refresh. Scroll? Multiple refresh. Zoom? Multiple refresh. Select a button? Multiple refresh. Press the button?

That's because the damn smooth visual effects. Most of the transitions between these states are animated in a multiple number of frames. There would be no problem if it switched straight to the target state. Also scrolling should be replaced with pagination and zooming should ask you to enter the percentage rather than let you zoom visually.

> As you say, every app and website would need to be completely redesigned to work with e-paper.

I really wish every app to be designed that way anyway - that would mean less of pointless fun but much more of eye and brain comfort.

I don't know if there is a scientific paper on this but it feels like moving stuff depletes brain resources much faster, causing more stress and attention deficit.

The only thing I want displayed is what really needs to be displayed (exactly what I have came to view + some useful auxiliary information perhaps). The only thing to update at any given moment of time is what really needs to be updated.

As for smooth transition visual effects I have always hated them altogether and always disabled them on every PC I used.

> As you say, every app and website would need to be completely redesigned to work with e-paper.

Are you sure? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xqkWga0PFo

I recently got a Likebook Mars and since it's got Android 6 and Google Play store, it works perfectly out of the box for my purposes (emails, reading, writing). Not gonna replace your computer any time soon, but great for focusing on one simple task, would highly recommend:


I'm in the market for an external display to be used for text/coding only, in portrait mode. An e-paper display would be ideal. A quick search just seems to show that these displays are only sold as modules and no one is selling a finished product unless you go for something completely over-featured (e.g. wacom tablet). Do you have any recommendations?

I use termux and boox 3 for this and it works amazingly well. The main reason why I haven't switched 100% to not using a laptop is that I haven't found a portable keyboard to go with it yet.

ed(1) is plenty quiet already.


I totally disagree.

the s/n on white background is very high.

the s/n on a black background is terrible (reflection easily overwhelm the signal)

young eyes don't care

older eyes, with less ability to reshape the lens of the eye need extra light to close down the pupil and put more stuff in focus without eyestrain.

In some sense your eye might not care, but it really do seem that either eye or the brain cares. Not necessarily about the background or foreground itself unless the background is really bright, but something more like the relative contrast of our entire field of vision, and interacting with the size of elements.

A good black and white (true grayscale CRT display) in a properly lit room can be eminently readable and cause very little eye strain. However, as soon as you start to use color and images, and/or the room isn't properly lit, it seems the level of contrast necessary for make colour look right - especially in images - also tend to make white backgrounds far too bright. According to my experience the effect get worse the bigger the screen is.

It does seem to be an issue, but not really a problem with the text versus background color, rather because we handle gamut/contrast/color the same way in both UI elements, on screen text, and images. While this might partially be down to the last decades dominance of LCD screens with rather poor color rendering that nobody has cared to fix it, the color profiles of UI, text, and images should really be adjusted separately.

So why does dark background seemingly alleviate this issue for some fraction of people? I don't know for sure, it could be the brain "averages" light over a small area, when determining some global brightness/contrast measure, thus making might on black seem less contrasty while still allowing use of brightness/color range that also works reasonably well for images?

I notice my daughter brought up with screens around seem to care less, but that could be a coincidence.

This is the biggest problem with the using dark mode on reflective screens. (Another one is that web sites force their own themes which are usually light, so switching between windows becomes painful.)

> Yes, it is.

Well, it's very dogmatic.

Sure, for you it may be better, and if you "would never read a white text on black paper newspaper", it is fine.

At the same time, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. If you have a research paper that Dark Mode is better for everyone, please share.

> Well, it's very dogmatic.

The article is also quite dogmatic though.

I disagree. The article points out sources for each of its claims.

The article is based on practical research, which I don't believe can be called "dogma".

Well, it says that reading on light background is better because of X. It's dogmatic in that X is important, and therefore, it's better to do so.

You can’t state it as a fact, it’s only your opinion. I’m using dark mode on my phone just because of the battery savings but I prefer much more light mode unless I’m reading before sleeping in a pitch black room.

>Useable e-paper displays might change that one day, but the technology is still in its infancy.

I run termux on top stock boox 3 as a thin(ish) client and it works amazingly well. It's some of the most enjoyable terminal time I have had in years because it's so limited.

fun fact, your retinal receptors are releasing transmitter in the dark and stop releasing it when activated by light.

Apparently light-on-dark is terrible if the person has astigmatism: the edges get very blurry and doubled. There was an article on HN about this, specifically about keynote slides. Also apparently “in Europe and Asia, astigmatism affects between 30 and 60% of adults” (says Wikipedia).

I have it too, and couldn't figure out in the past why text sometimes looks horribly blurry and sometimes doesn't. With this knowledge, I realized that dark background is likely a factor.

So I like dark mode for the OS interface because it gets out of my way then, and just plain looks better. Same in apps where I click on icons and look at images, like in image editors. For reading, dark mode is torture—both with bright white text and low-contrast dark. When sites begin to switch to the dark mode following the browser, I'll have to disable that in the browser settings or deal with bright system and app interface.

However, why I can and do code with dark themes is a mystery. I even tried to bend Emacs to use a light theme for Org-mode and a dark one otherwise (not much luck, though).

I do wish that screens in the ‘light mode’ were closer to paper in terms of eye comfort. I had an e-ink device, and it was a godsend, pure bliss—you'd think that lower contrast would make reading harder but no. Something like HN's ‘black on a bit grayish with a hint of red’ emulates the experience somewhat. Just don't make text gray, please.

In related news, I'm irked that I can't have high monitor brightness for photographic images but lower for swathes of white background under text and in Jony Ive's bright flat windows. Because, you know, photos don't tend to have flood-fill of 100% white. Maybe I'll kludge something up for the browser to amend this.

Tried a lot of dark themes. I like it better, but with an astigmatism there’s no denying that I need glasses for dark mode but not for light mode. I hate wearing my glasses (20/20 in my good eye) so I recently made a switch to light mode. Everyone calls me a psychopath but I guess that’s what I get for doing what’s right for my case?

That's true for me as well. I couldn't read the oven clock (blue on black) at just 10 feet away. Anything bright on a dark background is just a blurry radiation pattern.

The reason dark-themed terminal and coding is fine, might be the monospace fonts. They are square-ish, so there is less need to find the edges accurately. They are also eligible on very cheap, trashy screens. As a side effect, code is readable in dark themes even with astigmatism. (No source, just a wild guess)

> code is readable in dark themes even with astigmatism

It doesn't make anything by itself, the difference in brightness between text and background is. I have a severe astigmatism on one eye, HN page with smaller font size is easier to read with it than a green-on-black terminal (same Noto Mono font). Red or blue colors for text on black background are also slightly harder to read due to the perception.

>I couldn't read the oven clock (blue on black) at just 10 feet away

I have good vision: no known issues, regular eye checkups, etc. But I find it nearly impossible to read most displays that use blue LEDs. If the background is blue (eg: timex indiglo watch) then it's fine. But blue leds on some of my home theater equipment drive me insane. Even if it isn't the letters/numbers themselves and it's just a regular circular power led, I find them really hard to look at.

I first noticed the blue light issue when xmas led lights were put on trees around the holidays. Blue blurry things. Now my credit union has their sign in blue and I can’t read it.

10 years later I developed astigmatism in both eyes. Dark mode is really blurry in some settings.

The blue light thing, as I understand it, is where you first begin to notice astigmatism. The wavelength is shorter and a very slight astigmatism becomes more apparent.

Whoa. I just did a quick test with someone who has astigmatism. We switched between Dark and Light themes in Google Keep. They were pretty surprised and said the difference was noticeable, that letters blurred together more in Dark mode.

I'm asytigmatic, light on dark is fine (and what I use everywhere) as long as it isn't #fff on #000 I'm OK so lots of my setup is quite light grey on dark grey.

The thing that really makes a difference for me is screen resolution (or more accurately, pixels per inch) on a modern 27" 4K I have far far fewer issues than I had on a 1280x1024 17" LCD - part of that is improvements in brightness/contrast and the technology as well though.

I guess this explains why I hate OLED dark themes so much.

I have wondered for a long time about the hype around dark themes for this reason. No eye is perfect in terms of optical quality. Specifically, the lens can be misshaped and the vitreous can have impurities that lead to refraction of light. If we look at bright light sources the pupil is almost closed, which means all light entering propagates close to the optical axis of the eye, where lens defects are not playing a huge role. The less intense the light source gets, the more the pupil opens and more aperture is used. That means lens defects start to become more apparent and the probability the light crosses a part with inhomogeneities in the vitreous part becomes larger. With dark themes our pupils open more, using a bigger aperture of our eyes, which allows small aberrations like astigmatism to get pronounced. These optical aberrations can lead to double vision (cover up one eye and look at the white letters on a dark background from far), for which our brain compensates when both eyes are used. Of course, too much light isn't the answer either.

I'm not sure that this is the sole reason why light-on-dark is bad with astigmatism: because, presumably, the article about keynote slides was including presentations given in lit rooms—and eyes famously don't adjust too fast, so I don't think the pupils would react much to dark slides in a lit room. But that's only my conjectures.

Wow, this explains so much. I use a light color scheme (think default Eclipse theme) in my editor, even during late night coding binges, because I can see the text more clearly. I also have an astigmatism. Maybe related, text rendering affects me tremendously as well, like Windows/Linux text rendering forces me to squint even when the text is normal sized; but I don't have to squint on Mac OS.

> I also have an astigmatism

Even without one, the brighter background will constrict your pupils more, giving you a wider field of view and better focus.

...additionally helped by squinting from looking at a bright screen in the darkness.

Light on dark is always a bit blurrier for dark on light, because your eyes will tend to defocus when looking at a darker scene to compensate for the overall lower amount of light. This also increases the effect of optical aberrations, so those with astigmatism and the like may be affected to the point that a lighter background becomes preferable.

Only for light on solid dark. If you use light on non-solid dark it's fine. Can definitely said it as person with astigmatism.

Yes I see the text blurred, but it's simply less painful to read it in a dark room.

Dark mode is usefull and is not something new.

When car had integrated navigation system, the screen would go in dark mode if external lightning is too low.

I have astigmatism and this is true for me and explains the dark hype in which I have hard time.

I like the solarized themes where it's not very light nor very dark but somewhere in between.

I’m 34. Had 20/20 vision all my life. Until around April this year from being in lockdown and stuck at home working more due to not going out and such.

I felt like I’m getting eye strain. And difficulty focusing. I ended up with glasses 3 weeks ago for “computer vision” I can’t wear them walking around the house as it makes me feel dizzy. But in front of the computer it makes a difference.

Think I’m gonna try find a good theme and try light mode for a while.

Edit: Except the iPhone 11, cos I get better battery life based on my usage. It's 7pm now, and phone has been unplugged since 8am, based on my usage its at 79%.

I had to switch from contacts to glasses after leaving college and getting an office job. My eye doctor said staring at screens causes focusing issues.

To my knowledge, eye muscles may get sort-of ‘cramps’ where they get ‘stuck’ in the same flex configuration as they were, if you focus on the same nearby distance for hours and hours. Purportedly, it's even classified as a distinct kind of myopia (the only one that's fixable with exercise), but dunno how legit that is. What I know for certain, though, is that regular exercises that move the eyes and the focus relieve the strain a lot. Rotate the eyes, move side to side, move the focus back and forth, that sort of thing. Also focus on stuff outside the window more often.

As for contact lenses, afaik they're trash with computers because they make the eye dryer in addition to what you already get due to blinking more rarely. At least that's how it was back in the day, when I didn't last more than a month or so with contacts at computers.

I've always made it a point to stand up once an hour and walk out side for 5 minutes and come back, or go get coffee or a snack.

I started working from home in January due to the virus so my hours have gone from 10am - 6pm to 8am - 10pm. Working with lights off. Getting up less. :(

also if you have glare from LASIK or sth. There are however combinations of dark mode that are much more legible. colors and fonts and UI elements matter a lot too. Outlines and lines are perceived differently if dark. TWitter's dark mode for example is terrible

Dark modes are a choice. Light modes are a choice. Everyone is free to choose what they like, so trying to influence people one way or another, or criticising their choice, is unproductive.

I live in Wales, a country where our default weather is "meh". I live on the dark side of a mountain. I work in a room with no external windows. Yes I use dark modes, and if you used light mode in my office I'd think you were a fucking nutcase, but I'd leave you to it because that's your choice.

Light mode in my office is painful, dark mode in bright sunshine doesn't work. Shocker.

The parent article here is actually difficult for me to read; the text appears to have ghostly halos for me. Perhaps I'm being hypocritical when my own blog (https://senryu.pub/afternoonrobot) isn't much different; although I made a concious effort there to make sure it inverts easily with iOS dark-mode/Dark Reader etc.

> Dark modes are a choice. Light modes are a choice. Everyone is free to choose what they like

In the Windows 95 era, we really could just flip a few settings in our OS and everything[0] would conform to our color and font preferences. Unfortunately we have no regressed to the point that only two options are offered, and even then only sometimes.

Hooray for progress.

[0] very nearly everything.

Precisely. And then people defend slow bloated software and systems by claiming this software is "doing much more today". Yeah, not really. Google Docs does nothing WordPerfect couldn't do (and much better) back in the '90s. If you take away collaborative editing (which is janky at best, and surely could have been done in the '90s if anyone cared) then Google Docs is doing much much less. Slack is IRC with pictures (which I'm positive existed well before Slack), and yet consumes gigs of RAM. What the fuck are we doing. IRC offered way more customization.

Dark mode really gets me though. I've been doing themes on X11 since 1995 at least. You could even do themes on Windows 3.x. Why is everyone killing so much time and energy discussing this binary mode "feature" in 2020? It makes no goddamn sense.

Get Ripcord. The only sane way to use Slack or Discord.

I agree with you that dark mode is a choice, one that I took many many years ago. My first assembler program was one that inverted the screen with a button press on my Atari ST. This so I could adjust for a dark or a light day. Now I'm using f.lux to turn down the blue light and to invert the screen if needed. Also some firefox plugin to make all homepages darkmode.

I have the ghosting halos too but this is something that you need to see an optician for. It can be corrected for but might have different sideeffects that you can or cannot live with :-) For me the world is slightly tipping over to the left if I use the glasses I'm supposed to use. And looking down and then up again is also very hard still after a year.

> I live on the dark side of a mountain. I work in a room with no external windows.

You don't have lamps? I think most people prefer to have properly lit rooms, and then you also want a light theme on the computer. If you like sitting in the darkness this might not apply to you.

Haha I do have lamps, at least, though it's not quite the same as getting actual daylight. I'm now using a bunch of Hue bulbs to try to emulate real light a bit better. Even still, I prefer dark themes for most things. I'm not really talking white-text-on-black though, I usually use https://draculatheme.com

> Dark modes are a choice. Light modes are a choice

Though I generally prefer dark modes myself, something like this article might inform a developer as to which mode they will develop first and which they will set as a default.

Anecdotally, I prefer light-themed marketing landings with dark-themed application environments.

No one seems to be mentioning the lighting of the room you're in, inside/outside, or the time of day. Ambient light is one of the primary factors that make light or dark mode better at a particular moment. See redshift to make light mode more tolerable at night.

Yeah, I'm not sure you can say anything meaningful about eye strain and readability without accounting for room lighting, glare, and other reflective surfaces and distractions. If I'm in a dark room with a bright screen, it's almost physically painful to stare at the screen. I have to turn the brightness way down, and then I lose contrast and have to strain even more. In an office with horrible flourescent lighting, highly-reflective white walls and surfaces, metallic accents reflecting light into my peripheral vision, reflective monitors (Apple displays are the worst), and eyeglasses, I'm practically blinded. The last thing I want is glaring white light from my application windows.

There are things other than black-on-white and the inverse. I've been using Solarized dark where possible for years, especially in code windows. White-on-black is horrible, but pastel colors on a slate blue-gray background is the most comfortable option for me.

If you're using a monitor with separate brightness and contrast settings, you might also choose to lower the contrast a bit. When my monitor's contrast is at 75%, white doesn't really get less bright until somewhere around 30% brightness. But I'd I lower contrast to 50%, then 50% brightness makes a bigger difference, without losing readability.

Exactly this. I don't use dark mode during the day, but sure as hell dark mode by night saves my eyes.

I use light mode when I am working outside (which is a lot now that I work from home) or when I am at the office as it's got bright lights. At night or when I am in a darker environment in general, dark mode is great. Being able to quickly adjust the screen brightness also helps immensely (more so than the actual mode, actually... if I had to choose a single mode, it would be light mode, as dark mode is totally un-usable in a very light room/outside).

I honestly don't know why they didn't use the light sensor like in the iPhone.

Exactly! When I started using dark mode, it felt so much more pleasant for my eyes. After a while I realized this was because I was in generally dark environments a lot, so I started to switch up my environment instead: I.e. light up the room with a large ceiling lamp instead of just a small reading lamp on a desk etc.

I noticed when I'm working in the morning or generally when it's bright outside, it's sooo much more relaxing with black on white text. With night mode, I'd need to up the brightness way more to be able to comfortably read and type. It was sort of a revelation to me because the "night mode is better" mindset was so engrained into my mind at that point.

iOS was late to the dark theme train, but they did it right. One setting can change between light and dark depending on time of day, sunset times, etc.

I just change the brightness of the monitor twice a day.

...buried 2 or 3 menu layers deep, using a magic sequence of three buttons to handle all the up-down/left-right multi-level hierarchical menu navigation complexities.

One of Apple's biggest innovations imho was to make brightness +/- two of the default keyboard buttons. Every keyboard should replace their F-keys with brightness by default (seriously, who uses F-keys? It's wasted real estate.)

TV's should do this too. With smart TV's/rokus/firesticks/whatever, what's the use of having a channel toggle? Repurpose that for one-button brightness shifts. I don't need my TV being a spotlight into my face when I turn it on to watch a movie at night with the lights dimmed.

Dark mode and red shift are helpful, but really this thread nails it... it's relative contrast that is the big eyestrain contributor. It should be as easy to change brightness as it is volume.

> seriously, who uses F-keys? It's wasted real estate

I'm sorry, what?

I use them all the time. F5 for refreshing all kinds of stuff, or for setting breakpoints in my IDE. F7, F8, F9 for controlling the debugger, other combinations for building/running. F12 for opening developer tools in the browser. Some programs still use F1 for help. F2 in Windows explorer for renaming things. And so on and so forth.

I can't stand keyboards without function keys, or where you have to press Fn to activate them.

That's because you're used to them, that's fine. Many of those actions can be done via key combos or other keys (esp on a Mac), like C+R to refresh, C+Sh+I for browser console or Enter to rename a file. Function keys at this point are certainly old school and could even be considered an atavism, like the Print Screen button or the numeric keypad.

Some functions have replacements, others don't. Just one example: both F5 and CTRL-R in browsers do a refresh; CTRL-F5 does a hard refresh (also renews the cache); I don't think there's a non-function-key alternative for that. Losing the function keys would be a major nuisance.

The numeric keypad is useful to me too. A bit less than the function keys, perhaps, but when entering a list of numbers it works so much better. What's more: keyboards without numeric keypad also tend not to have the section with ins/del, home/end, pgup/pgdn and arrow keys; instead those keys are often arranged in cumbersome and inconsistent layouts. I use those a lot too.

I don't know in exactly which meaning you use the word "atavism", but I do know that having all these keys available, in a familiar layout, is very very useful to me.

In the meaning of outdated artifacts, like those turbo buttons on old PC boxes or three button mice. Fn + arrow keys or fn+bksp for del easily replace the specific navigation keys and are for me easier to find by touch with less movement of the wrist.

I had the impression you meant something like that, but I wasn't sure (I'm not a native English speaker) so I looked it up and the dictionary gave me a different meaning, so that got me confused.

In Firefox CTRL+SHIFT+R does a hard refresh as well. I don’t know about other browsers.

Tons of software uses the function keys, especially Windows/cross-platform software. Lots of engineering tools, editing tools, content authoring, programming, etc.

Removing them would break compatibility with an awful lot of things, including Windows itself (which lots of people run using Bootcamp or Parallels). Maybe they're weird, I don't know. Momentum is a powerful force, especially when it comes to software design.

Also for the record, Print Screen takes a screenshot on Windows (and on a lot of Linux systems), which is intuitive and simple. Just because you don't use it doesn't mean it's an abandoned key.

It's insane how monitor software hasn't developed an inch from the 90s. How hard can it be to have an open API for the basic controls at least so the OS can adjust them? Everything about my monitor is great - 144hz refresh rate, great viewing angle and colors - except if I want to change any of the physical properties (brightness, contrast) I'm clicking around on a variety of buttons that I can't see like I'm trying to set the clock on my VCR.

This actually exists, and it’s called DDC/CI: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Display_Data_Channel

I only recently learned about it myself while setting up a new monitor and asking myself wtf is this DDC/CI setting in the menu.

Thanks for the hot tip! I've been struggling with my monitor's menu buttons, but after reading your comment I found the macOS tool MonitorControl, which works perfectly.

I can control laptop brightness with `/sys/class/backlight/foo`, and my asus external monitor advertises capabilities over hdmi with `modprobe i2c-dev` and then `ddcutil capabilities`. Apparently this is governed by something called MCCS. You can find more info on the arch wiki.

I have a script with ddccontrol to change brightness of my external monitor:

    ddccontrol -r 0x10 -w ${NUM}0  dev:/dev/i2c-${DEV_NUM}
The internal:

    sh -c "echo ${NUM} > $BACKLIGHT_PATH"
The numbers are a slightly different scale, so I adjust them in the script.

If your monitor supports DDC [1] you can control the brightness with MonitorControl [2]. It's fantastic. However it's basically impossible to figure out before buying if monitors do or don't support DDC. In general Dell Ultrasharps do, and I was surprised when the old Acer I'm on now did as well.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Display_Data_Channel [2] https://github.com/MonitorControl/MonitorControl

I agree that brightness should be easier to reach. On my Dell monitor, it can be configured to be behind one button press, then changed with up / down. On my LG monitor, it's atrocious. Have to go 2-3 layers deep with an awful joystick.

This is one of the reasons I absolutely love my Apple display. It changes brightness automatically and most of the time it does it right.

Also, DDC/CI is a thing and (sometimes) works.

On Windows, I've found Twinkle Tray on the store works reasonably well.

For Linux there's ddcci-dkms on Ubuntu and ddcci-driver-linux-dkms for Arch Linux (on the AUR). They allow configuring the brightness as a regular backlight device. See the Arch Linux Wiki [0].

[0] https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Backlight#External_moni...

https://clickmonitorddc.bplaced.net/ I rarely use the interface anymore, this software has replaced it. Unfortunately I'm unaware of anything that works well for any other operating system. There's a rust library I've used in the past for DDC I think, but that means coding your own implementations, and I was only making a source switcher

> seriously, who uses F-keys?

Mainframe programmers.

They are an essential part of interacting with an IBM mainframe (even for basic things like paging up and down through documents).

> "One of Apple's biggest innovations imho was to make brightness +/- two of the default keyboard buttons"

Microsoft copied this with the Surface Book (at least). And in typical Microsoft style, the dedicated brightness buttons control the brightness of the keyboard internal LEDs. Changing Windows' screen brightness is one of the metakeys + del/backspace, not indicated on them.

I just got a new Surface tablet, and the tablet cover keyboard's brightness buttons definitely control the screen, not the keyboard lighting.

> Every keyboard should replace their F-keys with brightness by default (seriously, who uses F-keys? It's wasted real estate.)

If the keyboard has media keys, then, generally speaking, F2 and F3 will be linked to brightness by default.

I have an external keyboard that's a common split-ergo design, probably one of the top 3 workhorses on amazon for "ergo keyboard" (Apple hardware is pretty, but it's not ergonomic).

By dumb luck I just found that it's ScrLk and Pause/Break that do brightness controls on my external monitor on os-x.

I wish apple made it as easy to remap these kinds of global shortcut keys as IDE's do.

Back in the day of CRTs there used to be a dial on monitors to set the brighness. Have you only ever used Apple computers?

Yeah, now the brightness controls are a touch screen themselves.

That’s not even a joke.

One more nice thing that some computers do is automatically adjusting brightness depending on your ambient light. Like phones which have dedicated light sensor. But at least my computer uses webcam (or sensor near a webcam) to determine ambient brightness and adjust monitor brightness. EDIT. ah, yes, and i don't use external monitor. But makes me think, why monitor manufacturers have not added that one light sensor to their products.

And sync multiple monitors to have the same brightness twice a day?

Even with brightness adjustments, working in complete dark at night the dark mode is much easier to use. The keyboard lights on the lowest level is a bit too bright in these conditions, white screens are a punch in the face for me.

F.lux deserves a mention

I’ve been using Flux for a decade and it was my saviour from headaches and eye strain. Before that I was experimenting with dark themes and after running into f.lux I never really needed to. Im usually ok with whatever default theme is. I’been using f-lux at the lowest temperature and my eye strain never came back.

It was so successful that the basic functionality is built into every OS I can think of these days.

redshift is also an option.

Exactly this. If I have pager duty and wake up in the night and need to read an e-mail (LCD screen), light mode blinds me so much I cannot even keep my eyes open. With dark mode I can read fine.

This is what I like about iOS (and probably every OS has it): after sundown, turn on dark mode.

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