MessagEase™? Why Not? Time to Learn New Ways of Doing
Taking the opportunity to learn something new can prove quite rewarding. That’s why I decided to spend time recently becoming acquainted with MessagEase™, an innovative, touch-screen keyboard system for mobile devices. According to its developers, MessageEase™ “optimizes the position of letters and characters on a novel keyboard with fewer (only nine), larger buttons,” allowing a person to write or text much more quickly. It is a radical change from the standard keyboard – the QWERTY system — which was adapted to the computer keyboard from the key-placement design of the earliest typewriters. Indeed, QWERTY was created actually to retard typing efficiency so that typewriter keys could not be tapped too quickly and forced to clump and jam at the top of the machine before striking the inked ribbon.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces, investigators concluded that MessagEase™ is an effective text entry system that “can be implemented in a very small area,” efficiently operated with one hand – even one finger – and applied “to any language.”
So, why are not more people using this new keyboard design and layout?
Because, as the study authors indicate, MessagEase™ “requires learning.” As cumbersome and inefficient the QWERTY design is for use on today’s high-tech, mobile devices, most of us prefer to stick with it. We have grown accustomed to the QWERTY system and remain ever reluctant to change, to move out of our comfort zones, to forsake what we consider to be the tried-and-true and learn something new. It is for that very same reason a simplified keyboarding system introduced by August Dvorak in 1936 as an alternative to QWERTY never gained traction. The Dvorak system clustered the most commonly used letters and letter combinations in ways that made them more readily accessible on the keyboard but required a learning process that most typists at the time considered much too troublesome or inconvenient.
At this point in the discussion, you might be asking what relationship keyboard design technologies has to optometry. The answer is absolutely nothing, and yet everything. The tendency of people to maintain old keyboard habits, to stay with the familiar rather than venture out – “That is how we always have done it!” – is what keeps entire fields from changing. Assessments at the Mind-Eye Institute incorporate the latest research on how retinal stimulation affects internal body systems and how the retina serves as a window to what is occurring in the brain. John Dowling’s updated book The Retina: An Approachable Part of the Brain describes and analyzes these connections.
Advances in neuro and optometric sciences occurring within just the past 20 years have been breathtaking. They have completely transformed our knowledge of the functioning and neuroplasticity of the human brain and the critical role that the retina plays as part of the central nervous system.
A study appearing in an April 2022 edition of Eye (doi.org/10.1038/s41433-022-02056-9) indicates high-tech imaging of the retina can offer early warning of the presence of inflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders in patients. Authors of another study, published in a 2022 edition of the journal Nature Machine Intelligence (doi.org/10.1038/s42256-021-00427-7), write that imaging of the eye can potentially “identify patients at elevated risk of future myocardial infarction.” A company (www.ihealthscreen.org), led by Alauddin Bhuiyan, Ph.D., has even developed software to analyze photos of retinal blood vessels and predict likelihood of strokes.
Indeed, spots on the retina are directly matched with brain locations, and degeneration oftentimes reflects similar degeneration occurring in the brain. In addition to the point-to-point brain correspondence, the retina offers diagnostic evidence for a host of disorders, including hypertension, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disease. Studies show that retinal changes mirror brain changes in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disease, and schizophrenia.
Certainly, many aspects of eye testing have changed with the times. Glaucoma evaluation, eye movement assessments, and monitoring methods for macular degeneration, as examples, use updated, electronic instruments to make measurements only dreamed about when I began optometry school more than 40 years ago. But the “which [lens] is better, one-or-two” method remains the gold standard for eyesight and prescriptions. Such evaluation is appropriate for the neurotypical patient, but brain-injured and learning-challenged patients need additional testing.
Peripheral retinal processing, which comprises an overwhelming percentage of a person’s visual awareness in today’s modern society, must be a large portion of any visual processing evaluation for people with learning problems or brain injuries. The simple act of scanning, for example – moving one’s gaze across crowded grocery shelves to find a specific food item or readily shifting eyes from a car GPS screen to roadway signs to traffic while driving – requires learned usages of peripheral retinal processing.
As researchers, we know that environmental signals in the form of light enter the retina and convert into electrical signals, which propagate through neurons and interact with key brain structures. Much of this activity occurs at the retinal processing level even BEFORE signals pass through the optic nerve for further brain processing.
Learning and understanding these scientific principles have put the Mind-Eye Institute in the vanguard of 21st century optometry. Our team is achieving clinical successes using highly individualized, therapeutic eyeglasses that balance comfort with eyesight in many patients who suffer the symptoms of traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative disorders. Retinal stimulation with light also is proving effective in building undeveloped visual processing skills in children – and adults – who have been labeled with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other learning and behavioral difficulties.
Because of the functional and diagnostic significance of retinal processing, optometrists, in the distant future, could eventually become the professionals whom patients contact first for their health assessments. The Mind-Eye Institute is working to make that future a reality by bridging the gap between retinal and neuroscientific discoveries and actual eye care practices.
If you have not found help with a visual processing problem of your own, perhaps a different approach is needed. The time is now to find newer, more effective ways of doing things – even if it takes a bit of learning time up front and requires shifting current paradigms.
Deborah Zelinsky, O.D.
Founder, Executive Director of Research
The Mind-Eye Institute
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