Why you should care

All that screen-staring is screwing up your eyes.

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We stare at screens a lot: at work, on our smartphones and now, early adopters are strapping little smartwatch screens on their wrists. Which, for most, removes any possibility of a screen-less existence. We know that can’t be good for us, but still, we just can’t look away.

A new Mac app is designed to keep computer screen-staring in check. Three times per hour Look Up ($2.99) gives a gentle reminder to take a rest. It follows the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. The breaks help users better understand the passage of time without the constant time-checks and clock-watching. Like where did that last two hours just go? When it’s rest time, a notification pops up to either take a rest or dismiss for later. If you accept, the screen will blur, and your eyes might thank you.

Creating the app was about improving quality of life for workers.

The app, which already has a few thousand users, also offers optional seated stretches you can do during your rest. You can also set small goals to reach by each break. For example, if you want to finish writing three more paragraphs of a proposal by the next 20-minute break, type that in and it’ll show up during your next break period. When you complete the task, hit the “I did it” button and set a new goal.

For product designer and founder of 96 Problems Ben Watanabe, creating the app was about improving quality of life for workers, including his own: a team of engineers. Inspired by a BuzzFeed video about productivity, he and his Tokyo-based colleagues built Look Up (Mac-only for now) and released it in March. This isn’t about extending your workday, Watanabe says, “it’s about being able to do the things that you love longer as well” and enjoying post-work activities. Like boxing. Also a professional boxer in Japan, Watanabe needs to keep his eyes in prime condition after a day at the office.

The eyes are not designed to be in one particular orientation for a long duration, explains Hilary Bryan, co-founder of consulting agency The Body at Work Ergonomics — imagine holding out your arm in the same position for several minutes. But while she supports an app that encourages frequent breaks, she also sees flaws. The reminders might become irritating and users can always choose to ignore them. Instead she suggests figuring out a rest solution that is “actually germane to the work you’re doing,” taking breaks suited to your profession or breaking projects into little chunks. Another option: Reposition your monitor lower and tilt it backwards, says Rani Lueder, principal of Humanics Ergonomics Inc., which is more relaxing for the eyes.

There are other solutions out there with the 20-20-20 premise, some of them free — like eyeCare, a Google Chrome extension. But Look Up operates quietly in the background of your operating system, not just your browser, which means it’s working no matter what you’re doing on the computer and updates along with all your other Mac apps. Plus it offers a clean user experience and calming graphics. Which might just make the three bucks worth it.

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