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fidget spinners

I Became a Fidget Spinner to Try to Understand Fidget Spinning

I couldn't fathom why so many people had fallen for the craze. Then I fell in love with it.

by Oobah Butler; photos by Jake Lewis
Jun 26 2017, 3:39pm

Foto: Jake Lewis

Fidget spinners are like yo-yos and Beyblades before them, a simple little toy or gadget that, for reasons unknown, have become intensely fascinating to five- to ten-year-olds. The small toy— initially marketed as a stress-reliever and an aid for those with ADHD or anxiety—has been co-opted by small children with pocket money to blow.

Crazes come and go, and it's often inexplicable why and how they peak before they bubble away. In 2017, fidget spinners are a certifiable capital-c Craze. And I do not understand them at all.

All photos by Jake Lewis

And so I went to Rye Lane in south London—home to hundreds of repurposed cellphone stalls that are now selling fidgets by the bucketload—to try to decode the mystery of the spinner.

If anyone understands crazes, it's moms, so I sought some out at the nearest playground. This young mother (left) describes how the devices became all the rage at her five-year-old son's school. When he uses his spinner, she says, he becomes "entranced".

"It's hard to know why he's become so obsessed," she explains. "He can't even really spin them properly, yet he's still so intense."

How can people be entranced by something that doesn't even function for them? She shakes her head, baffled. How can we better understand fidget spinners? "We never will," she says, apocalyptically. "But fortunately they'll be gone soon."

Tom and Hannah

Well, don't say that too loud, mom, because it's not just the hearts of the playground that have been captured; it's hip young millennial couples. Like Tom and Hannah, who have been fidgeting for "nearly three weeks."

"I was at Primavera [a music festival in Spain] last week, and all of my friends bought beautiful metallic spinners. Me too. So this is an international spinner," Hannah says, while spinning at me.

"During Aphex Twin at Field Day [a London music festival]," Tom adds, "somebody in front of me had a light-up one, and I was watching that more than his very, very expensive light show."

But how long can a small hunk of plastic keep real, actual, grown-up people entertained? "Well, I'm definitely not bored yet," Tom says. "I always think I am… Then I spin it again."

So with the boundaries seeming limitless for these metallic meddlers, have they found their way into the bedroom yet? "They have not," Hannah confirms. "I did see a commercial with one with a butt plug attached, but no, I don't own that." Tom is looking sheepish. Reveal your truth, Tom.

"I did try to spin it on my dick the other day," he says. "It was when Hannah was away." And did it thrive in these conditions? "It did not. But I think that says more about me than the spinner."

Clearly there is a primal energy about the spinner that we just cannot explain: It draws us toward it, even dick-first; it hypnotizes, it entrances. But how does one understand the thing? "It's simple," says Tom, stopping the spinner. "Just spin."

Spin. Was it that simple? Could this naïve reporter's world be turned upside-down with one simple rotation?

I decide to make the same pilgrimage the Rye Lane shopkeeper tells me "up to 300 kids" make to his shop each day.

Holding my newly bought spinner—such a small, precious thing—it begs the question: What is the big deal?

Heeding the words of both mothers and Tom alike, it is becoming abundantly clear.

To understand fidget spinners.

One must.

Become one.

Only then can any reporter truly measure the extent to which they are shaping our world and high streets.

It's been argued that spinners can "relieve stress"—they can ameliorate some of the challenges we encounter in day-to-day life.

It's been said that simply messing around with one can really bring light to one's life.

And this is true, but as everybody knows: The only way to really get these palm-size spinners is to do, oneself, what they were put on this earth to do: spin.

While the children yell "fidget spinner," hanging off it, almost pulling the actual thing apart, their parents stand back and film the spectacle on their phones. It's a dizzying high for a craze that you expect will dip very abruptly, the Pokemon Go of the plastic toy industry.

All good things come to an end for all crazes, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that—sooner rather than later—the world will have moved onto something entirely different.

But I've learned something, being a fidget spinner.

From watching gym beefcakes try to stifle their chuckling to groups of students taking photos, I've experienced such intense jubilation from everyone I've passed. Children didn't see the moonfaced person underneath the gigantic spinner: They saw something beyond human, yelling "fidget spinner" at me continuously, like I was a concept. A million miles from the wares they're selling in Bloomingdale's, fidget spinners are available on literally every street corner, from London to New York, for just $4.

I guess what I'm saying is: Fidget spinners are the people's fad. And they have the joy-inspiring, banal, and affordable appeal to unite us—at least for the next three weeks, until some new craze comes along.

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