Dark mode is everywhere. Apple’s newly released iOS 13? Dark mode. Android 10? Dark mode. Windows 10, macOS Mojave, Chrome, Firefox, Gmail, and Slack—blessed, healing dark mode. It’s the must-have feature for the dim days of 2019, its spread eliciting a collective gasp of ecstasy at every new iteration as if black text on a white background is some deep injustice from which we’ve long yearned for a sweet release.
My eyes feel better and my headaches are gone! I’m saving battery life! I’m not waking up my partner in the middle of the night with a glaring screen! All of these benefits from dark mode may be real for you, but I bet they’re not nearly as profound as you think—if they’re true at all.
The orgiastic frenzy over dark mode is, as far as I can tell, the result of the bandwagon effect: You subconsciously trick yourself into loving dark mode because hey, everyone loves dark mode! This is reinforced by a deluge of glowing media coverage—a lot of which you might find on Gizmodo!—that is further amplified with every new app or operating system that adds the feature. With this month’s release of iOS 13, which sports OS-wide dark mode, we’ve reached near saturation of this design fad.
The quick rollout of dark mode across our digital lives isn’t nefarious; there are some benefits to the feature. For example, if you’re using a device with an OLED display, and if the dark mode feature you’re using is truly black and not some shade of gray pretending to be black, then you can expect to get slightly better battery life—about an hour a day, in total, if all you use is a true-black dark mode, according to iFixit. Not using an OLED? Is your dark mode fake black? Sorry, sucker, you’re not getting any of the battery-saving perks. And let’s be honest, almost no one is exclusively using the right kind of dark mode on the right kind of screen to get the lauded battery boost.
The other main benefit dark mode believers rave about is how much easier it is on the eyes. But this is, for most people, bullshit—the placebo of tech. As Adam Engst at TidBits explains in exhausting detail, “Except in extraordinary situations, Dark Mode is not easy on the eyes, in any way.” In fact, it may be worse. Motherboard’s Samatha Cole reports that research has found that for people with astigmatism—an exceedingly common eye condition—“light text on dark backgrounds aggravates the condition, making text harder to read—and therefore making people squint more to try to correct it.”
What’s more, studies have also found that light mode (or whatever we’re calling it now) is better for reading comprehension. As Susanne Mayr, a University of Passau research who has conducted multiple studies on the ways in which on-screen designs screw with our brains, explained to Wired’s Arielle Pardes, “In all of our studies, participants were better performing in the positive polarity condition. They detected more errors and/or read faster when dark text was presented on a light background than under reversed conditions.” This may be a great argument for using dark mode Twitter, where 99 percent of what you’ll read should not be comprehended, but for retaining anything you actually want to learn, the feature is shit.
The last argument I hear in dark mode’s favor is that it’s simply better looking. It’s “more aesthetically pleasing,” a few of my colleagues and the rest of the internet have told me. And how do you argue with that? Well, let’s take a look at Exhibit A, shall we?
That’s Taylor Lautner, heartthrob from The Twilight Saga and one of Glamour magazine’s “50 Sexiest Men,” back in 2006. At the time, I’m sure Taylor thought his lewk was aesthetically pleasing, or else why would he go out in public like that? With cameras around? And he certainly wasn’t the only one at the time asking their barber for the “sea urchin.”
The point is, trends come and go. The things we think look great now are going to seem psychotic in 10 years. That goes for dark mode, too. Remember, we had dark mode in computers once before, and we realized decades ago that that was dumb and bad.
That’s not to say dark mode is going away soon—it won’t, and virtually everyone I’ve talked to about it hopes it never will. So until a new trend that we can soil our trousers about comes along, we’ll be stuck listening to dark mode acolytes telling us light mode folks why we’re the fools for not jumping on the bandwagon.