Stopping Cues

This morning I watched a TED talk by Adam Alter, author of the book Irresistible. It’s a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is grappling with how screens influence our lives.

One of the things that he discusses in the TED talk is the idea of a stopping cue and how the 20th century was full of them. For example, in the morning you would pick up the newspaper, read it, and when you finished reading it the stopping cue told you it was time to fold the paper, put it away, and move on to something else. Television is another great example. You would sit down and watch your favorite show on TV for an hour, the show ended, and there was your stopping cue. You knew you had to wait until next week to watch the next episode.

Contrast that with what happens today. You pick up your smartphone or open a browser on your computer and an endless stream of information comes at you. There is NO STOPPING CUE. If you want to read about something, you Google it. Then you click a few links and the next thing you know over an hour has passed. How, exactly, has that enriched your life?

I miss stopping cues. In some ways I feel lucky that I experienced the world before these screens appeared. I remember dialing on a rotary dial phone. I remember having to call your parents from a pay phone in an emergency. I remember watching an episode of my favorite TV show and then having an entire week to savor it while I waited for the next episode. I remember watching Dan Rather on the evening news for 30 minutes and then being done with the news until tomorrow.

I guess my reason for posting this is not to suggest that we get rid of screens. But perhaps the next time you are looking at the news on your smartphone, or surfing the web and watching YouTube videos, maybe a little voice inside your head will remind you to find a stopping cue and go outside for a walk.