Fidget Spinners, Poorly Explained

We were driving to jiu-jitsu a couple weeks ago when I heard the loud, crystal-clear sound of someone taking a huge, long, bubbly bong hit coming from right behind my seat.

Ezra was the culprit. I figured he was playing some sound on his phone (for a squeaky-clean kid, he sure does make a lot of weed jokes), but no — he was twirling some little three-pronged gadget in his hand that just happened to make it sound like Wiz Khalifa was riding shotgun.

It kinda looked like the dude in The Scream painting if you pulled his face off and set it in a child’s hand.

“What the hell is that?” I said. And all three simultaneously chimed in with some variant of  DUH, IT’S A FIDGET SPINNER.

“What’s a fidget spinner?” was my next question, and I’ll just sum up the answer to that and my follow-ups: It’s a little plastic thing that you spin, over and over again, for no real purpose other than to mesmerize yourself and your friends by watching something spin around and around. Like Beyblades 10 years ago, or a top 110 years ago.

They are so popular with school children that the cheap-plastic-toy factories of the world can’t keep up with demand. Wherever you’re reading this, there’s a black market for fidget spinners in your town. A box full of fidget spinners properly flipped on Craigslist or eBay will produce a mortgage payment or two worth of profit.

fidget spinner
A fidget spinner in its natural habitat.

Why are they so popular? I’ll get you the straight story from the horse’s mouth on the inaugural So-So Dadcast podcast coming your way soon. But here’s a quick timeline of fidget spinners:

Florida Inventor Catherine Hettinger invents them in the late 90s. Sales are tepid, and in 2005, she relinquishes the patent because she’s broke (and is still struggling today and makes not a dime off their insane popularity). For some reason, 12 years later, they explode into classrooms worldwide at breakneck Internet-virality speed.

I’ve read that, at some point, they were introduced as calm-inducers for kids with ADD and focus/anxiety problems (although I can’t find info about who/where/when that began). Today’s adults have apparently rejected the fidgeting-reduction method of my childhood which is to scream “STOP FIDGETING!” at a child until he/she stopped fidgeting.

I do know that they’ve exploded in popularity so much that teachers hate them and schools are starting to ban them — a true hallmark of success.

I can’t help but wonder if these trends of super-simple, retro distractions — slime, fidget spinners, and Satan’s masterpiece, bottle flipping — are some kind of unconscious, reactionary pushback from kids’ total digital immersion.

Maybe after hours of taking selfies, making musical.lys, and adding 72 Snaps to your Snapchat Story…maybe it just feels good to stare at a piece of plastic that spins around and asks nothing of you in return, or to squish your fingers in slime, or to throw something up in the air and smash onto the ground without having to rush over to it and begin pre-emptively weeping as you pick it up, expecting a shattered screen.

OR…maybe I’m stretching way too far and kids are just mesmerized by spinning objects. After all, when I was a kid everyone had a Sit ‘N’ Spin, and we enjoyed the hell out of spinning each other around for hours, not to mention our desire to be pushed to Vomit-Level Defcon 3 on any merry-go-round we could find.

But I’m (technically) an adult, so clearly I know nothing. Except for one thing:

At least it’s not bottle-flipping.




One Comment

  1. Aubree Passmore
    May 8, 2017

    This is so timely. My boys love these things. I decided to spare them pain by not letting them take the spinners to school. Less pain for the teachers (other kids bring them) and less chance of it getting lost or stolen. Strangely enough, both agreed with me.

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