The Future of Visual Interfaces Might Be Limited by Our Queasy Stomachs

October 07, 2013
By: Tracey E. Schelmetic

While there were once many physical dangers in the workforce, and still are for some – mining cave-ins, machinery accidents and asbestos exposure – in recent decades, the typical workplace injury has changed. While regulation keeps miners safer (we hope) and modern technology helps eliminate industrial accidents, there are more modern ills.

The 1980s brought us “sick building syndrome” – maladies that appeared in workers in sealed office buildings exposed to volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde from carpets and office furniture. In the 1990s, we saw the rise of carpal tunnel syndrome, a kind of aggravated tendonitis associated with working at a keyboard continually. Call center employees are at risk of something called “acoustic shock” from listening to loud customers over headsets all day, and the entire professional workforce is at health risk from prolonged sitting that can lead to cardiovascular disease and obesity.

The 21st century, however, may have its own rampant workplace illness: digital motion sickness. This malady is familiar to anyone prone to motion sickness who has ever sat in a 3D or IMAX movie: the brain, the inner ear and the eyes aren’t agreeing on the information being fed to it, so the stomach decides to become nauseated. 


Image via Shutterstock

Recently, digital motion sickness has cropped up outside the movie theater. There are reports that the latest release of Apple’s (News - Alert) operating system for both the iPhone and iPad, iOS 7, is causing motion sickness in some more sensitive users. Some industry experts are saying that the sharpness of the screen’s graphics, together with the motion of the icons, is to blame.

Called “cybersickness” or “simulation sickness,” which is motion sickness induced by virtual reality environments, this malady is likely to become more familiar to more people as our technology becomes more visual and wearable. In anticipation of the widespread use of Google (News - Alert) Glass, Google’s up-and-coming wearable device, experts are warning that the future could be queasy for a lot of us. (Many individuals prone to motion sickness who have tried Google Glass say the device causes problems for them.)

According to a recent article on Quartz, the U.S. military has been familiar with the malady for a long time since it uses training simulations for some military personnel.

“Motion sickness arises when our inner ear senses movement but our eyes don’t perceive any, whereas simulation sickness is the inverse: We see motion that should indicate we’re moving when we’re not,” writes Christopher Mims for Quartz, noting that between 25 and 40 percent of us get motion sick at least sometimes, while simulation sickness can affect between 13 and 90 percent of the population, depending on how immersive the virtual experience.

So does this mean that the future of visual innovation might be limited by our queasy stomachs? It looks like it, unless we’re willing to load up on Dramamine.




Edited by Alisen Downey