Does a year even count if it doesn’t have at least one new toy craze for kids to obsess over and adults to fork out for? We don’t know, because there’s probably never been one. In 1980 it was the Rubik’s Cube, in 1997 it was the Tamagochi, in 2009 it was Zhu Zhu Pets — many more, too numerous to list here, sandwiched in-between.
If you’re wondering what this year’s fad trend is going to be, we might already have the answer: Fidget Spinners. These colorful spinning devices have been around in some form for nearly 25 years (and more on that later), but only very recently have they exploded around the world.
This past weekend in particular, newspapers – including serious ones like The New York Times – and magazines were full of stories about Fidget Spinners and the “culture” behind them.
If, like us, you were a bit baffled by what they’re all about and why they’re so popular, then read on for everything you need to know about these hypnotic and supposedly stress-busting gizmos:
What Are Fidget Spinners?
Let’s start with the basics. Fidget Spinners are small, handheld devices that people can use to… well, fidget with, without getting stared at or bringing a load of attention to themselves. They have a stable middle disc, which is encircled by two or three paddles containing ball bearings that can be spun, a bit like a ceiling fan. In short, that’s all they do: spin.
However, playing with one is supposed to be both relaxing and satisfying. This makes sense, given they were originally designed to help students with attention disorders by occupying their hands and thus increasing their concentration on school work — though psychologists can’t seem to agree whether or not they have a positive effect.
Like most toy trends, it started pretty small, with only a few available in a limited number of colorways, but has now ballooned into to a whole industry of its own with a wide variety of colors and add-ons easily purchasable both online and in toy stores.
What’s the Appeal?
That’s a little harder to pinpoint. While the comforting and stress-busting effect of playing with one is undoubtedly a big draw, it’s difficult to argue that this is the sole reason for their popularity. Otherwise, why aren’t people lining up at toy stores and crashing web stores to get their hands on specific stress balls?
The real driver of their popularity, like many things nowadays, is their adoption by popular YouTubers. Online stars and amateur devotees are now posting all kinds of Fidget Spinner content, from unboxings and customizations (check out the edible Starburst Fidget Spinner below) to tricks and stunts.
As well as the YouTube celebs, the usual marketing strategies for toys also appear to be working. “The demand is huge,” Cindy O’Hara, owner of two Learning Express franchises near Atlanta, told CNN. “We’ve sold out multiple times.”
Cindy explains that it’s the sheer amount of different spinners available that is leading kids to obsess over the wildest and most colorful ones they can get their hands on. In many cases, children (and young adults, too) are collecting them just for the hell of it — the most sought-after being the ones adorned with emojis and tie dye.
When Did the Craze Start?
As worldwide sales soar into the tens of millions and suppliers struggle to meet demands, you’d think the creator of the original Fidget Spinner would be living the high life somewhere offshore in a shiny new luxury yacht by now. But, in fact, the Florida-based creator Catherine Hettinger has yet to make a single penny off them.
In 1993, unable to play with her daughter Sara because of her myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness, Hettinger invented the first spinner as a way to bond and interact with her, she recently revealed to The Guardian.
Surprised by the pleasurable effect of the spinner and no doubt dreaming of Rubik’s Cube-like success, Hettinger headed off to Washington where she successfully secured a patent. Toymakers, including giant Hasbro, however, saw no potential in the gadget and refused to market it. Two slow decades go by and the patent expires in 2003.
Fast forward to 2015, and small manufacturers are pushing basic versions of the toy — usually marketed towards children with autism, anxiety and attention disorders — with little success.
A year later, though, in 2016, “early-adopting” entrepreneurs start to sense there might be a market in “fidget” gadgets. At Christmas, with Fidget Spinners trending on YouTube and Reddit, Forbes says they’re the must-have office toy for 2017. By March, they’re everywhere.
Is This the Start of a Wider Trend?
For the last decade at least, tech gadgets have gotten smoother, simpler and, on the whole, a lot better looking. However, as we’ve moved away from physical buttons and switches towards glass touch-screens and click-free keyboards, we’ve arguably lost the almost innate satisfaction that came with using them.
It’s hard to see how this will change anytime soon, but there have been one of two little inkings that could suggest “fidget” gadgets are set for a revival. The biggest example of which is Nintendo’s Joy-Con controllers for the Switch console.
The controllers have been likened to perhaps the second most popular fidget toy, the Fidget Cube (see above), mainly because the button- and trigger-studded little devices are so wonderfully complicated. They’re not easy to use: your hands need time to get used to them, but when they do, it’s likely the most satisfying experience in gaming right now.
While you shouldn’t get your hopes up for a fidget-inspired Apple iPhone 8, we wouldn’t be surprised to see many more hit the market in the coming months.
Now, here’s everything you need to know about ASMR, the other satisfying craze storming the internet.