Essays on Technology and Culture

On the Eye Game

I have no depth perception.[1] Well, next to none. I know if something is far away, if it’s near, or somewhere in between, but don’t ask for anything more exact than that. When turning corners, there’s a 50% chance I will bump the wall if it’s a tight turn. I have walked into parking meters, though that is more likely to be from my own obliviousness then ocular issues. The reason I have no depth perception is because my left eye may as well be vestigial. If I close it, I lose some peripheral vision, but the position of objects does not change. I remember being stymied by an experiment on Mr. Wizard where a girl was asked to close one eye, and then the other, and say where an object was. My eyes didn’t work like that!

Doctors call(ed) it a lazy eye. [2] From first through third grade I had to wear an eyepatch over my right eye in the hopes of correcting it. It didn’t work. I ended up being “the kid with the eye patch”. First they had me wear adhesive eye patches, the kind that looked like giant Band-Aids. I wore those through most of first and second grade. Eventually, they gave me a proper eyepatch, black on the outside, green felt on the inside. In my patch, and Catholic school uniform of a canary yellow shirt, navy blue tie and pants, and dress shoes, I looked like the world’s lamest pirate. To top all of this off, I also suffer from pretty atrocious nearsightedness in my right eye, the eye I primarily see out of. My near-useless left eye is farsighted. Mix all of this up with some serious astigmatism, and you have my eyesight in all of its messed up glory.

With my lack of depth perception, making eye contact is extraordinarily difficult. If you were to see what I see, you would see 90% of my field of vision from my right eye. If I’m looking directly at you, odds are it looks as if I’m looking slightly to the left of your head. I really think this unnerves people. It takes a conscious effort to adjust the position of my head so that I’m centered up with yours, and it will slip. I could extrapolate from this a number of things related to my difficulty in face-to-face social interactions and so forth, but it’s probably not so simple.

Having vision this simply messed up denies you things. Sports were never a skill of mine, and especially anything that involved catching, throwing, or hitting things. I was a chronic whiffer in stickball, missed every shot in basketball, and failed to catch any passes in football. The only sport I excelled in my youth was dodgeball–largely because I did my damnedest to get far out of the way when the ball came anywhere in my vicinity. I also had a slight affinity for street hockey [3] as a defenseman–largely because I was large and could throw my weight into people. However, it was clear from early on that playing sports–at least the team sports, or the kind that involved small objects in motion–was not going to be a large part of my future. Other doors have been closed. I will never be a fighter pilot, or an astronaut, or indeed follow any sort of career path that will require (near) perfect vision.

That said, these things don’t bother me. Limitations are something everyone has to work with and work around to some degree. No one is capable of everything. If pressed to draw a lesson from this musing about vision and limitations, I think it would be just that. Don’t worry about the things that you can’t do because of an external limitation, and don’t even worry about the limitation if it’s out of your control. Worry about those things you can control and can change. The tricky bit is knowing which is which. [4] The trickier bit is actually making the changes you can.

  1. The title is a reference to a song called “About the Eye Game” by legendary Ohio blues band, 15–60–75.  ↩
  2. The technical term for what I have is amblyopia, while the cause is strabismus. I don’t have an eye that doesn’t move, but my eyes are definitely misaligned on some level.  ↩
  3. On foot, no skates. Because I am an uncoordinated mess even without wheels on my feet.  ↩
  4. This is starting to sound like that “God, grant me the serenity” prayer. Not my intention.  ↩