What if contacts were never invented??

For all the athletes all there, this would be an extremely dire situation. A study from the Pacific University indicates that as many as 78% of athletes uses some sort of contact lenses to help with their vision. Indeed, this statistic is very natural considering that this is one area that contact lenses hold absolute advantage to glasses. This table details some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Eyeglasses Contact Lenses
The distance between your eye and the lens sometimes creates distortion. This could spell trouble for athletes. Worn right on the eye, for more natural vision.
Poor peripheral (side) vision. Again, trouble for athletes. Your entire field of view is in focus. This is especially important in sports and in driving, where you need to see as much around you as possible.
Glasses fog up with changes in temperature, especially common with athlete’s breathing. Contacts don’t fog up.
Glasses are a distraction during games and sports. Athletes need to make sure they don’t fall, as well as to protect them from getting hit. No distractions, which makes contact lenses a favorite among athletes.
Fashionable and inexpensive non-prescription sunglasses are not an option if you wear eyeglasses. A whole wardrobe of fashionable, functional, affordable sunglasses is available to contact lens wearers.

Contacts hold similar advantages in the fashion industry, as many articles on this website have already detailed: the option to customize your appearance as you wish. However, this article aims to focus not only on the immediate advantages contacts over glasses, but the overarching societal effects of contact lenses since its creation.

No Contacts? Nerd Nation No More.

The Stanford Cardinal Football team defeated UCLA Bruins on November 30th, becoming the PAC-12 Champion, defying all prediction by sport analysts, and earning itself the title “Nerd Nation,” establishing itself as the athletic and educational powerhouse in the nation.

– Stanford Cardinal Tight End, Zach Ertz

What does this have anything to do at all with contacts, you ask?

A lot more than anyone thinks.

There is a trend in the United States that people are not quite aware of: Myopia (also known as nearsightedness) is on the rise. Susan Vitale compared the prevalence of myopia 1971-1972 to 1999-2004 in the journal Ophthalmology, and found that the estimated prevalence of myopia in persons aged 12 to 54 years was significantly higher in 1999 to 2004, with a 16.6% increase (41.6% vs 25.0%, respectively). This trend is even more apparent in countries known for their extreme academic rigor, such as China, which reports an astounding 77.3% myopia rate among high school students, and even higher rates among college students. Students are studying harder and getting smarter (as can be shown by the decreasing acceptance rate at elite colleges), but they are also bearing much bigger burden: Myopia.

Yet despite this increase, there is no impression among the general population that this happening, nor a perception that the nation is getting “nerdier.” Indeed, if you took a close look at recent trends of college admission, there is an trend among elite colleges to look beyond test scores and at the well-roundedness of the candidates, and the importance of being a scholar-athlete has been under increasing focus.

Just as there is a growing trend for colleges stress the athletic qualities of its scholars, there has also been a push by athletic programs to help their athletes to be more academic, as demonstrated by the following ad from NCAA.

How can contact lenses help explain this phenomenon?

It promotes students to become athletic and athletes more academic. Through its ease of use and other numerous advantages over glasses, contacts facilitates the transition for an near-sighted students to participate in a sport, whereas they may not have done so with glasses. It also helps existing athletes to focus on their studies, as they do not have worry about if their vision becomes impaired as the result of intensive studying. And most importantly, contacts gives athletes and students alike the illusion that they are fully healthy, in terms of vision. While glasses often gives off the image of nerdy individual, contacts completely eliminates that perception and puts everyone on the same board. This helps athletes to perform better and also protects them from Stereotype Threat, a psychological inhibition that could act against glasses-wearing athletes.

In essence, if contacts were not created, the emphasis we see today on becoming a well-rounded individual may not be as strong, as suggested by the importance of contacts in increasing importance of students athletes. Indeed, without contacts, we may have an increasing separation between the student and the athlete that could not simply damage the future of Stanford’s Rose Bowl hopes, but also sports industries everywhere.

Got swag? Hell yea

The other one of contact lenses’ significant contribution to our society comes in terms of fashion. Many of the individuals whom we interviewed felt more confident with their contacts. Indeed, one participant explained that she only took pictures of herself with contacts, even though she wears glasses most of the time.

This suggests that people treat their contacts as much more than concave plastic lenses that let them see better and look better. People uses contacts to channel a different self to others that they would normally show with their glasses. Furthermore, unlike glasses, which has only limited fashion compatibility, contacts can be paired with any kind of clothing, and colored contacts gives people even more of an option to express themselves differently. In a sense, contact lenses are a very important part of the Reset Button for many students who wishes to present a more attractive image of themselves (than the reserved, nerdy image their glasses lend to) to others.

Alternative Scenarios, then?

What could take place of contacts if they were never invented?

The glasses industry would certainly be larger, and the arrival of “fashionable eyewear” could have been quickened by at least several years. Another alternative to contacts is eye surgery, the most popular of which is Lasik surgery. It is very possible that these kind of surgery to completely cure a patient of myopia may become the standard procedure for optometrists, as contacts is now. However, there may further consequences if this was the case. While contact lenses and surgery both serves as ways to change one’s identity (or at least appearance), contacts do so as an simple accessory while surgery makes explicit changes to our body. As small of a difference this may seem, contacts reinforce the idea of self-integrity, surgery discards this altogether and allows people to change their anatomical self. If prevalence of such technology became dominant, it is possible that it could change the way people view body modification, just as contacts changed the way people viewed “nerds” and athletes. Indeed, such views would drive more people to have plastic surgery and to accept engineered beauty, and it wouldn’t be far down the road for genetic modification to become commonplace. While this may be an attractive road for many individuals, but this is certainly not an utopian vision for many of us.

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