“Do you want it darker?” the late Leonard Cohen asked on the title song of his ominous closing album, which was released a few weeks before Trump’s election in November 2016. In fact, the world seemed to want it darker. Not just in the figurative sense of a global wave of authoritarianism and ignorance, but also darker in the truest sense of the word – on the screens in our pockets, bags and on our desks. At that time, apps started offering the Dark Mode, which avoided bright pixels in favor of a black background that was supposed to spare the eyes.
Fast forward to 2019 – and as the political darkness became unbearable, the trickle of dark-fashion apps became a torrent. Apple’s iOS 13 shut down millions of iPhones simultaneously. Android Q has done the same for the dark side of the mobile world (sorry, not sorry, Android users). Gmail, the mobile version of Microsoft Office, Slack, Soundcloud, and Google Chrome all turned dark this year. Mac OS offered the Dark Mode à la carte in 2018 and activated the Dark Mode all the way through the 2019 edition. Twitter, which was not satisfied with some darkness (gray-blue) in 2018, was completely dark in 2019.
Facebook was relatively slow to get dark fashion religion, but it’s converting fast now. A “secret” feature that activates Dark Mode in messenger chats by typing in a spring-released Moon Emoji, which turns into a full-fledged Dark Mode in the fall. At this time, Facebook tested the Dark Mode on Android. By December, the option had spread to WhatsApp for Android. And Instagram’s Dark Mode, released in October, was probably the biggest win for the low-light feature in 2019.
All in all, 92 popular apps and services now offer Dark Mode according to this comprehensive list. And that seems to fit in with our mood as if the whole world were suddenly entering a Gothic phase.
Well, not sounding like a hipster goth or something, but I was way ahead of this trend. My first test on the Mac App Store in 2016 was a slam for the early dark fashion user Simplenote – not for the background, but because the font had become too bright due to an update. I switched to Ulysses because I could adapt cool blue text on a black background.
I stayed with Spotify and opposed Apple Music’s competing streaming service just because Spotify has a green-on-black theme. (Apple Music has been offering dark mode since this year, a factor that significantly increases the likelihood of a change.)
In short, I hate white screens like a vampire hates sunlight. When I read the news on an iPad late at night, I often use the polarization setting to darken the screen, even though photos have been turned into negatives until the iPad operating system went dark this year. The result was as reassuring as sunglasses on a summer’s morning.
We’ve reached the point where Dark Mode is so ubiquitous that apps that do not have it look like a flashlight in your eyes. The Wall Street Journal called for dark fashion at the beginning of the year. Critics quickly pointed out that the Journal’s own app does not. Dark-fashion-shaming gets down to an individual level as well, as this disgruntled e-sports star who was suddenly in a minority confirms:
Why is this happening in 2019? Maybe it’s just fashion, an instinctive reflection of the direction the world seems to take. There is a lot of talk in the social media that we live in the “darkest time axis”. A recent New York Times story about the apocalyptic state of Hong Kong after the protests was titled “Living in Dark Mode”. Large parts of northern California literally went dark this fall as PG & E, a dark and dodgy utility, turned off power to avert forest fires breaking out due to neglected tools.
However, it’s more likely that we’ve spent too many years of the smartphone age being dazzled by the light – especially as the screens of the phones get bigger with each new model. If you’ve ever been driven into a psychotic rage by someone in line in front of you, pulling out an extra-large, too-bright screen and seemingly thinking it’s discreet, I can assure you that you’re not alone. And I doubt that my wife and I are the only couples in which one of us falls asleep in front of the other, accusing them of a 21st-century faux pas: “They read too lightly.”
Not only is Dark Mode more considerate of others, but it is also less likely to lead to a divorce. It can also help us get more sleep by blocking some of the harmful blue LED light that keeps us awake at night. And as you charge more of your personal battery, your phone’s battery will be less discharged. According to a Google, I / O session earlier this year, Android Q’s “Dark” theme may reduce the battery drain of some apps on newer OLED and AMOLED screens by up to 60 percent.
That does not mean that the dark mode is suitable for everyone. This Quora thread contains a heated debate over whether Dark Mode actually increases eye strain, especially if you wear glasses or have astigmatism. “The Dark Mode caused me headaches and nausea with alarming certainty,” said a wearer. A 1980 research paper quoted in this 2008 blog post said that black and white text is 26 percent more clear than white and black text – although the 1980s screens were used in this paper, an updated study is required.
My commitment to the dark mode is certainly associated with a few compromises. When I am outside in bright midday light and need to check my e-mails, I often have to find a shadow spot or move my body clumsily to get between the screen and the sun. Does that mean I switch to light mode during the day and activate an automatic hybrid mode that Apple developed for this purpose? It does not. Because once you have decided that it should be darker, never go back. Neither will the tech world.