Fire with skullAmazon’s much-ballyhooed debut of its Blue Shade feature to facilitate nighttime reading may come across like some new take on the Blue Screen of Death. But is there any genuine need for it? If your Fire represents a genuine danger to your health, why are you using it anyway?

Amazon’s own statement on the issue says: “Blue Shade uses specialized filters to limit exposure to blue light. It also offers warm color filters and the ability to lower the display brightness to an ultra-low level for comfortable nighttime reading—even in a dark room.”

I don’t see any objection to Amazon introducing a feature that actually works for readers and makes their reading experience more comfortable. But it does still make me wonder if this is a solution to a non-problem. Like reading under the sheets by torchlight, reading onscreen in darkness always struck me as one of the most obviously bad things to do to your eyes. And if blue light wavelengths are that harmful, why aren’t there controls on their emissions anyway? Class actions have been launched over less.

Wouldn’t it make sense for Amazon to issue more comprehensive advice on ambient light when reading onscreen? Once again, I have no issues with Amazon introducing functions that make the reading experience more comfortable for some. But playing to the tin-hat crowd is a different matter. And isn’t Amazon going to rather feed Luddite snark by doing so?

I wouldn’t want to get equally tin-hat about anti-Amazon conspiracy theories. But the science behind the supposed dangers of onscreen reading in dim light is to say the very least, debatable. Like the supposedly authoritative scientific studies showing that onscreen reading damages your concentration, or learning capabilities, etc., this smacks of junk science hastily wheeled out and snatched up to bolster deeply held prejudices.

If there is any real verifiable danger from blue light, or artificial light, it’s from all artificial light. Not just screens: Televisions, light bulbs, street lighting bleeding in through your curtains, little standby blinkenlights on your gadgets. The light bulb you read your old style paper book by is just as likely to kill you as your Fire. But do we see TV manufacturers rushing to introduce screen filters and timers to save public health from the deadly dangers of falling asleep with the TV on? No? Didn’t think so.

And if we’re talking science, how about the recent research that found that up to 75 percent of social psychology and behavioral scientific research could not be convincingly replicated? In other words, it’s nonsense. And the studies on the supposed dangers of blue light with onscreen reading look suspiciously like something from that same realm of junk science to me. Onscreen reading research may or may not fall within the 75-percent-failure-rate range of social psychology, but it certainly seems to me to fall within the 50-percent-failure-rate range of cognitive science.

So, a new Amazon feature for reader comfort? Fine. But onscreen reading as a danger to your health? I won’t be losing any sleep over that.


  1. It’s not that blue light is “harmful”.

    It’s that in addition to rods (low light grayscale vision) and cones (color vision) there is a small number of a 3rd type of photo sensitive cells in the eye, which most strongly reacts to blue (higher energy per photon) light and which is not involved with vision, but instead feeds into the circadian clock.

    That is, blue light (specifically, at 481nm) keeps you much more “awake” than other light.

    So yes, “losing sleep” is *exactly* what you are doing by exposing yourself to artificial light with a strong component of short wavelength photons. Something that has gotten a lot worse by moving away from “warm” incandescent light bulbs to “white” LEDs and CFLs.

  2. So basically they’re preinstalling an app like Twilight on the device, instead of waiting for people to go out and find it themselves. Ok. There are a few similar apps that have pay versions that will be a little sad about it, but maybe they’ll just have to do it better.

    I’ve been using Twilight for years. The rare nights where I have the tv on late or I’m reading (or playing games) with Twilight off I sleep worse and wake up feeling tired. The nights where I’m reading with Twilight on right up until I got to sleep, I sleep fine.

  3. If you want to read on your tablet in a dark room, most e-reader apps including Kindle have a “night mode”, white text on a black screen. Very little light, doesn’t hurt your eyes or keep you awake. No need for separate apps. This thing fixes a problem that already has an easy fix.

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