The function and fashion of eyeglasses | Small Thing Big Idea, a TED series


(logo dinging) (majestic music) I think that, at the time, Catwoman had a really cool pair of glasses in the Batman series
that was on television, and I wanted to be cool like her. It didn’t occur to me that glasses were really a medical device. (upbeat music) When light rays reflect off an object, and enter the eye through the cornea, your retina converts this
light into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain,
which interprets the impulses, and allows you to understand
what you’re seeing. Eyeglasses help you see. The earliest forms of eye gear can be traced back 4,000 years. Cultures that needed to adapt
to climates that were snowy created ice shields, and
they were made of bone, and animal hides. They had small slits for
people to see through, but no lenses. The first vision aid was
called a reading stone, and was invented over 1,000 years ago. It’s not exactly clear who
invented the first eyeglasses, but many people attribute
it to the Italians. Early versions of eyeglasses
were called rivet spectacles. They were two magnifying glasses that were hinged together
at the ridge of the nose. It took some time for eyeglasses to land on the perfect design. They didn’t really have sides, which are also called temples or arms, until about the 17th century. Modern day eyeglasses
feature a pair of rims that hold corrective lenses, a bridge that connects the rims, sides that slide behind the ears, hinges that connect the
sides to the frames, and on some glasses, a pair of temple tips for behind-the-ear comfort. In American culture, 20th Century cinema helped
popularize eyeglasses. Audiences would see glamorous
actresses and actors donning glasses to take
on a different persona. Sometimes a pair of
glasses became popularized by the actual person
that was wearing them, and then that personality trait was projected into the actual device. You have the aviator glasses, which showed a forward-thinking,
adventurous type of person. Glasses with heavy frames signified intelligence or nerdiness. Wayfarers signified this,
kind of, nerdy punk, the outlaw, the misfit. Glasses have become so
popular as a fashion device that some people actually don glasses without a prescription lens at all because they want to portray a certain attribute about themselves. Glasses are a lifeline to people. People that can’t see
well enough to drive, well enough to cook, well enough to read, rely on glasses for
maintaining their lives. And, there’s lots of other
objects in our society that have been created to help overcome various physical obstacles, and it’s only the eyeglasses
that have catapulted to that fashion statement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if anything that we use, any device that we’ve
invented to help our humanity, could also be elevated in the same way? (dynamic musical tone)

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