Why I Hate Working in Cubicles

2 minute read

For some time now I’ve suffered from Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Most computer users have CVS to some degree or another — it’s pretty common. I also seem to have a susceptibility to flicker vertigo as well. Strangely enough, I’ve been unable to find very much material that talks about flicker vertigo in terms of computer use in an office environment. The only things I can find are advisories for pilots who fly propeller driven aircraft and helicopters.

The number one aggravator of my problem is fluorescent lighting — especially in older buildings. According to this page, most older office buildings are using ballasts that operate at 60Hz, meaning the light cycles on and off 120 times a second. This is definitely noticeable. Most office buildings I have worked in are older, so I think it’s safe to assume that many of the fixtures are still using the older ballasts. New ballasts are supposed to operate at around 25,000Hz, eliminating flicker and buzz. I’ll believe it when I see it.

One thing that I found, but have been unable to find credible sources for, is the effect of aspartame on flicker vertigo. Aspartame is used as a sugar substitute in nearly every brand of diet soda. When you’re a person like me who has to watch his sugar intake, diet sodas are pretty much the norm. My drinking habits during the day used to include water or iced tea in the morning, diet soda with lunch, and more water or tea in the afternoon. I began to have problems with extreme vertigo and headaches right after lunch. As soon as I cut out the aspartame, the vertigo subsided to its normal, flickering overhead light caused intensity. So, even though I’ve been unable to find good evidence for the aspartame link, it seems to hold some weight.

Once upon a time, I had my own office. I had the luxury of not turning the overhead lights on every morning, which was immensely helpful. For some reason, however, most people seem to be unable to function with the lights off. From what I understand, nearly every person that uses a computer suffers from some level of CVS. Why do people insist on making it worse for themselves?

I get to my current job early — anywhere from an hour to two hours before everybody else. Needless to say, I never turn on the overhead lights. If I need to see something, my cube has small lights I can turn on that offer indirect lighting. The first person after me to show up in the mornings seems to take the lack of light as a personal affront, and turns them all on. As the lights come on, I can actually feel myself starting to squint and the first glimmerings of a headache start to form.

So far I’ve been laughed at when I suggest leaving the lights off, been told I can’t unscrew the lights that are nearest me, and mocked because I must be some kind of wimp to get headaches from the lights. Hopefully my eye doctor can come up with something that I can use as leverage. I’ve even thought about building a makeshift roof for my cube.