Glasses: Clearly Important
Edward Giron II, Division 3, College freshman

It’s 7 pm and I’m looking out into the distance, staring at the horizon. I see a great ball of fire slowly diminishing. As I move my eyes away from its white-hot center, the hue gently changes to yellow, then to orange, then to red, eventually fusing with the dark clouds to make the sky into a giant bowl of Trix yogurt. Despite its nightly appearance, a sunset’s glow will always be remarkable to me. I remember that about a year ago I watched a short documentary on YouTube called ‘Color for the Colorblind’ made by Valspar Paint, and they collaborated with a company called EnChroma, who makes glasses that allow colorblind people to fully experience the wonderful world of color, to show some people's genuine reaction when they enter that world. The people were awestruck; they were filled with overwhelming amazement by being able to see the other side of the spectrum. When they took them off, they described the world as being flatter. There was a man that also looked at a sunset- he slightly turned his head, as if resisting to look away from the glowing sky, and asked the cameraman ""is this what you guys see every day?"" He was responded with a yes, to which he just turned back and gave a chuckle that seemed to replace the word “wow”.

I thought those glasses were pretty fascinating; being nearsighted, I wear glasses and contacts. Curious, I learned about the history of glasses and concluded that glasses have to be one of the most significant technological contributions ever made. To understand how glasses work, the act of seeing must be explained. To see an object, you must have light because light is reflected off that object and enters through the transparent outer covering of the eyes, known as the cornea.Think of it like the “front window” of our eyes. The cornea refracts-bends- the light that pass through our pupils; the amount of light that is allowed through our pupils is dictated by our irises, the colored part of our eyes which surrounds the pupils. The irises open or close, making the pupils bigger or smaller, similar to the shutters of a camera. After that, also like a camera, we have an internal lens which further bends light and sharply focuses the rays onto the retina, a tissue at the back of the eye containing millions of light-sensing nerve cells, creating light impulses that are sent to the optic nerve, who relays them to the brain, forming the image we see in front of us. Taking a look back at our “front window” is where we spot the problem; our cornea isn’t always shaped perfectly. Unfortunately, even a slight irregular shape causes difficulties seeing because that weird refraction of light upsets the entire seeing process, regardless of your nerves’ and brain’s perfect relationship. This where eyeglasses comes in to mend that relationship; they simply tweak the refraction of the rays, so that the right message is sent through the pupils and the eye lens and so on.

I'm glad and grateful that around the 13th century someone thought of the idea to take transparent materials with refractive properties and create an instrument that allows you to see clearer. I think it’s incredible that such a simple piece of technology has gone a long way. Though, early eyeglasses were basically two lenses in a frame without the side pieces that sit on your ear; I’m relieved that I wasn’t around this time frame because to use the glasses, one would have to constantly hold them up to their eyes or attempt to keep them balanced on their nose. Then, when books started becoming more much more common, so did eyeglasses. With eyeglasses becoming widespread, you can definitely bet that people started tinkering with the design, and from the 1700s and forward, eyeglasses started taking shape, literally. Those helpful side pieces came into existence, along with bifocals, a nice little gift that our good man on the $50 bill gave us-- for which I am still amazed with his ingenuity--sparking the innovation for various designs and styles. Some glasses gained foldability, some gained a handle, and some gained both features plus a cool name, scissor spectacles. Continuing onto the 1900s, eyeglasses became their own industry, pince-nez (which sounds uncomfortable; funnily enough it literally means “pinch nose”) was popular thanks to political figures such as carry-a-big-stick -Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Glasses that absorbed and shielded UV and infrared light, known as sunglasses, were created; almost three decades after its creation, improvements were made for military pilots during World War II. Of course, like most inventions, sunglasses didn’t strictly stay in the hands of the military; it was quickly mass produced and commercialized, becoming the practical and fashionable accessory we wear when it's sunny outside, or when we just want to look classy. By the mid 20th century, spectacles came in all the colors of a rainbow. A little bit before that, this assistive technology grew another branch and that branch got an upgrade: hard, contact lenses. Though, besides being popular within Hollywood, since they were able to easily change the color of actors eyes, hard contact lens seemed like a repeat of pince-nez; they were uncomfortable and only became a little more popular through its known usage by political leaders, namely presidents. Unsurprisingly, the popularity of contacts absolutely exploded when scientists developed softer ones using a water absorbing plastic into the latter half of the 20th century.

Glasses and contacts were sort of the only ones parading the world as assistive technologies until laser eye surgery was developed and refined. The three became like a mini game: start with glasses, upgrade to contacts, finish with a surgery. But innovations, once again, made glasses stand out. For instance, Google Glasses, had intriguing ideas, and its concepts eventually led to the eventual creation of Snapchat’s Spectacles, glasses with cameras on the top corners of the frames. These are only two of the many technologically advanced glasses produced. Others feature AR, HUD, and other interfaces. Head-mounted displays, as seen in Back to the Future Part II, are already here. VR goggles continue to get better. As this wearable tech continues to advance, the future becomes clearer every day.

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