NYC’s ubiquitous screens make my life unlivable

It is a problem.
Photo: JANIFEST/Getty Images/iStockphoto

On the subway to see my neurologist at NYU Langone, I count Reeboks and Docs. Shoes bore me, but I study them because I can’t look at digital road maps, big neon advertisements, or phones in people’s hands. When I arrive at the hospital, I try to press the number buttons outside the elevator without looking. In the waiting room, I check in on an iPad (which makes my feel the compressed skull), then try to find a chair that doesn’t face a TV. If I can’t find one, I stand next to the TV like a gruff office fern. Around every corner lurks a panel of blue light – and to me, each is a threat.

I have a head trauma because someone hit me with a car. During a morning run, heading west on Dean Street in Crown Heights after nearly crossing Classon Avenue, I heard my head crash first into the hood and then onto the ground. For about a year later, the world seemed unbearably noisy, text seemed to swim across the page, and speaking was like passing tapioca through a sieve. Now, two and a half years later, I’m still wearing hearing protection and reading 16-point material, but of my residual symptoms, light sensitivity and migraines are the most disruptive because together they work like a kind digital allergy. My chronic migraine flares up within seconds of staring at screens, which in New York is increasingly impossible to avoid.

Behind the reception of my gym, a large television shows climbing videos. Every time I scan my tag, it feels like someone is driving safety scissors into my left eyebrow. Each treadmill is equipped with a built-in television. I climb aboard, cover the control panel with my sweatshirt, then run watching my sweatshirt to avoid dangers in my periphery. I stopped going (which, given the risk of Omicron, is perhaps for the best).

I quit working as a teaching artist partly because so many public school classrooms have Smart Boards. I love dining out – I no longer have to bracket my hands to my temples to shield my eyes from the ubiquitous restaurant TVs. In taxis, I keep my eyes closed, not wanting days of pain from onboard entertainment playing loops. View. I’m vigilant about preventing pet emergencies, because screens are such a dominant interior feature in YARD. I’m not really afraid of the world, but I decide where to go (and often if go) depending on the concentration of LEDs and OLEDS. If, God forbid, I have to visit Times Square, I practically sprint from the train to my destination.

I write plays, so I see theatre. In the halls of Off Broadway, I acquiesce in the chatter of my co-workers while silently working to position my body so that I’m turned away from TVs broadcasting interviews with writers who speak out about the place of theater in our apocalyptic times. I usually try not to sit down too early – the sea of ​​pre-show phones can cause significant discomfort.

When my efforts to escape the cacophony fail, my forehead twitches. The crunch becomes a sharp, throbbing pain above each eyebrow. If I keep using my eyes, the pain intensifies and spreads. All the text is blurry, all the lights are getting too bright, all the sounds are getting too loud. My speech slows and blurs. The flare-up can last for days.

More and more, I see screens invading public space. New Moynihan train hall terrifies me. I wonder if we really need tampon dispensers in public restrooms to play videos. I find many delis that are no longer habitable, museums that are no longer oases. I dread the near future, where paper menus will become obsolete, and where, as is already the case in JFK’s restaurants, iPads will replace servers. In this physiologically specific way, I fear being expelled.

Strangers’ phone screens have become more effective at burning my forehead year after year. The new iPhone models, starting with the iPhone X, all have OLED screens, which cause me a day of pain in an instant. Older LCDs are backlit with LEDs; their less intense light gives me a few extra seconds of time lag, and the pain they cause me dissolves more easily. The mechanism by which any type of light causes headaches is not well understood. Self-proclaimed experts on Reddit attribute the hostility of OLED screens to their flickering, but studying this is only start.

There are emerging technologies that make my life easier. I write on an e-ink monitor – a Kindle-like screen, which I support with an adjustable book rest and complete with a Bluetooth keyboard. I use flux, freeware that makes my Mac screen orange. I never let my brightness drift above three bars. For reasons not fully understood by science, this combination of low light and warm colors makes my own computer more or less “safe”. When I can swallow my vanity, I wear FL-41 red lenses, which, while not a panacea, make the subway a less migraine-ridden minefield.

In 2018, the FDA began approving CGRP receptor antagoniststhe first class of preventive drugs created to specifically target migraine. I recently started injecting Aimovig, a drug in this class, and now, if I take my other three headache meds, and manage to escape the digital devices of the world, I only have a deadly migraine about once a week, instead of every day. I received this change with a kind of bodily euphoria. I get a kick out of doing ordinary things — frying gnocchi, kissing strangers, feeding the cat — without simultaneously dealing with pain.

I often wonder how many other people experience screen-dense public spaces as painful hellscapes. How many people would it take for the ubiquity of screens to be widely seen as an accessibility issue? If there is a meaningful “we”, how we, the digitally impaired, the intolerant to screens, who knows what to call us? — constantly express themselves when the platforms from which to speak are mainly online? How can we find each other? If we meet, where can we meet in the city, it won’t hurt?

Until I find better answers to these questions, I’ll be hiding in my dimly lit apartment, tapping on my e-ink monitor, dutifully taking my three migraine preventative medications, trying not to give myself an ulcer. with Aleve.

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