Like most people with imperfect eyesight, I realized I needed glasses when the chalkboard at school became too fuzzy to read without squinting. I was 9 years old. I remember begrudgingly picking out my first pair of gold wire frames, and being perpetually annoyed at how the nosepieces left imprints that never seemed to fade. That I would need glasses came as no surprise to my bespectacled clan. Anyone flipping through our family albums could guess a photo’s decade based on the frames nearly everyone wore: oversize and round in the 1970s, cat-eyed and thick-framed in the ’50s and ’60s, small and rimless in the black-and-white photos before. I cycled through various frames over the years, each defining a period of my adolescence and early adulthood, before I found myself, 20 years after getting my first pair, at a Lasik clinic in northern Virginia, where in 10 minutes flat an ophthalmologist gave me what nature had not: 20/15 vision.
Most of us will wear glasses at some point in our lives. In developed countries, about 70 percent of adults need corrective lenses, and in developing countries, the proportion of the nearsighted is rising exponentially. In China in the 1950s, fewer than 20 percent of people were myopic; among young adults there today, it’s close to 90 percent. What’s particularly remarkable, as Sam Knight explains in this issue’s Last Word, is that the $100 billion global eyewear industry is now dominated by two companies you have likely never heard of. Earlier this year, frames powerhouse Luxottica and lens maker Essilor got the green light to merge and form a single, truly massive company, which will have a profound effect on the way billions of people see for decades to come. That’s why a story like Knight’s is important—and such a delight: It’s a surprising, illuminating tale about the glasses business that allows us to see the world a little clearer than before.