Posted on January 25, 2013

What if no one needed to blink?

In a continuation of last week’s first foray into ridiculous hypotheticals as an homage to xkcd’s ‘What If?’, today I present the question:

What if no one needed to blink?

If you weren’t annoyingly automatically closing your eyes for short periods of time every few seconds, you would – on average (greatly generalized) – have your eyes open for an additional 53 minutes and 36 seconds every day. That is 5.6% extra time of vision each day.

The average blink lasts 250 milliseconds. This is a reasonably well established scientific value. Regarding the average amount of blinks per minute (bl./m) however, there is not nearly the same amount of agreement… I found 10 distinct research papers whose final averages varied widely from 10 bl./m to 29 bl./m. Some were rather strange and interesting. Like the fact that for some unexplainable reason women that take birth control pills blink significantly more often than women who do not. As I didn’t feel like conducting my own blink-counting research, I decided to average the results of all the papers, and ended up with an average-average blinks per minute rate of 13.4 bl./m.

In calculating this I was really surprised by the large amount of aggregated time we are walking around with our eyes closed daily. Or even more dangerously; driving. A driver driving 100km/h on the highway travels nearly 7 meters with his eyes closed every time he blinks. blinkequation1

Now taking gas-guzzling USA’s statistics on average distance driven per capita each day, and average speed driven, we can calculate the average amount of kilometres driven blind per capita each day:


So an average American commuter drives for 57 minutes, blinking 758 times in the process, for a total of 3685 meters driven “blind” each day.

InspirationRationblink2The business student in me now wants to know how much money a company could save if it didn’t pay its employees for the time people are working with their eyes closed. Let’s take the world’s largest commercial company, Wal-Mart; 2.1 million employees in 2010. The average hourly salary for Wal-Mart employees is rather difficult to calculate. There are no records for the higher-management salaries, or the amount of employees in each position. The average cashier gets paid $8,53 an hour, so we’ll take a huge leap of generalization and set the average Wal-Mart employee salary to 11 bucks an hour. Given the average amount of blinks a minute and the salary per hour, we can now calculate the huge sum of money we can reclaim from our (probably furious) employees per month for “Blinking on the job”:

blinkequation3Wal-Mart employees spend 5.6% of their time getting paid to have their eyes closed. If we deduct this off of their salary, we would save approximately $248,371,200 in labour costs each and every month! Or $118.27 per employee per month.

InspirationRationblink3What else are we missing out on visually without really noticing it? Going to the cinema is a good example. Let’s use ‘Avatar’ as our subject of calculations. Being the most economically successful movie ever, and the eight most expensive ever made, it is a nice example of an exuberantly large production. Avatar’s runtime is 162 minutes. However, no one ever looks at the credits, so let’s leave those out. The runtime is then: 155 minutes. 155 minutes with 13.4 bl./m is 2077 blinks during the movie, or 8 minutes and 39 seconds of closed eyes-ness. With a budget of $237 million, that is $13.2 million dollars of production value that is never seen by the average audience member.

InspirationRationblink4Also fun: given the average duration of open heart surgery (extreme overgeneralization) of 5 hours, you can go into anaesthesia knowing that the doctor will operate with his eyes closed for 16 minutes and 48 seconds of that time.InspirationRationblink5

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