Did you all get back to what you used to like about you? It’s been an interesting two months since that one, and holy moly has everything hit the fan. I wrote that last editorial in April thinking that we were nearly out of the woods and yet the nightmare that is 2020 just continues. I have been on virtual calls, teleconferences, and Facetime more than anyone wants just to see faces and hear voices that I miss. I put on gloves with my patients just to shake their hands, I go out of the way to drive by the airport out of nostalgia, and I admit I am going absolutely bananas without any trips…basically this stinks.
The Coronavirus has demolished our year; the pandemic of fatigue from endless time looking at the computer screen is out of control. Never before have we spent more time glued to our laptops for meetings, happy hours, getting “work from home” done (ask the lovely bride about that—her eight hour days became 16 hours with these hooligan kids of ours). And of course, let’s not forget the tragic rise of social media addiction as we witness the complete meltdown of America.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Asthenopia, more commonly known as “eyestrain,” is a very real condition I am sure we are all experiencing to some degree. There is even a diagnosis of “Computer Vision Syndrome,” starting with temporary blurry vision and double vision, scleral injection, and eventually strain on the neck, upper extremity joints, lower back, and vertigo. Sadly the majority of us would agree that our overall productivity is down given the amount of hours attached to screens (even our Fitbits). Most of us have also been wearing our glasses more often, which is fine considering that I usually look like hell otherwise.
But the issue with screen fatigue that I am more concerned about is how it could lead to bad decisions, short fuses, and hitting the send button without thinking things through. Being exhausted physically and mentally are bad enough, but throw in the emotional fatigue along with 750ml of adult juice, and look at how character can be tested. It can be a concerning flashback to the sleep-deprived days of internship! The anxiety that goes along with the pandemic and the social issues that we face can lead the most balanced and measured people down a path where one conversation, email, post, or blast can be career limiting or personally isolating. In the cancel culture, there is no room for error, no room to take chances, and definitely no room to deviate from the rules, especially those of the mob. And as we find out the hard way, anyone can belong to the mob and be turned on by the mob, and the theme of “do as I say and not as I do” can add salt to the wounds inflicted by words and replies, especially when they are in print for all to see.
Without sports we have lost friendly rivalries, without meetings we have lost our connections, and without proximity to colleagues we have lost conversation, which unfortunately has led to less friendly discussions about issues like politics, conflicts of interest, and even when to go back to work. This is especially true on social media where the ability to hit and run is tempting when differences are not only uncovered but used for shaming. Not being in the same room has definitely compromised our ability to—of all things—compromise.
As tensions get worse in today’s America, and as dermatologists try to revive their drive as well their abilities to take care of people (while wearing hazmat suits), we all have to make sure that the fatigue from the necessary evils that are the computer and phone do not lead us astray. There is going to be some element of virtual overload that remains when we can finally settle into routine, and adaptation to more of our conversations and meetings being online rather than in person will be tough. By the same token, we have to protect ourselves from letting screen fatigue get the best of us.
The best way to counter screen fatigue is with breaks from the spiral. I have been in multiple virtual meetings where everyone was afraid to take a break and get a drink or go the bathroom, while if the meeting were in person that would never be an issue. My wife and I have had to hide each other’s laptops periodically because despite the never-ending workload, the efficiency of work dramatically suffers with blank stares at the screen when deadlines become just as virtual as the work itself. Taking a break to take care of ourselves is not a sin, but making a mistake with the wrong words at the wrong time can be one…so watch out for the insidious signs of screen fatigue.
I wanted to come up with something witty or controversial for this, but instead I just want to make sure all of you are doing ok and implore you to take care of yourselves and each other. And I wanted to dedicate this to Dr. Oscar Colegio who tragically and suddenly left us in June. He was one of the brightest stars of dermatology and was taken away too soon at only 47. His passing should be a reminder that life is not only too short, it often isn’t fair. So instead of giving into screen fatigue, do like Oscar always did and live life to its maximum.