What The Hell Are Fidget Spinners?

What The Hell Are Fidget Spinners?

We all fidget. We swing our headphones, we peel twigs and tear cardboard coasters, we flip pens around our thumbs and split the ends of our hair. Do we really need to explain, rationalize and lend science to the newest fidget toy?

Fidget spinners are in short supply around Australia thanks to the craze. Some schools have banned them. But kids — and adults — love them. Here’s why.

Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Sure, you’ll feel like a dumbass while you play with it. But here’s the thing: Fidget spinners are fine. They are a children’s toy.

Everyone’s got an opinion on the spinner. This weekend, people wanted you to know that there’s no science proving it helps with ADHD. The New Yorker thinks it’s the perfect toy for a Trump presidency. Like every toy fad, some schools have banned them, and teachers hate them. Others have even decided to analyse its controversial origin story.

Admittedly, we’re late to several-month-old trend, but the wave of takes this past week made me want to try it. So yesterday, I took a twenty dollar bill out from the bank and headed to a souvenir store in New York City’s Chinatown, the fidget spinner Rodeo Drive. Several vendors sold them at tables along my walk, but I held out because I already planned on eating pork buns for lunch.


I was apprehensive at first — after all, the spinner carries the same level of embarrassing mass-market earnestness as Minions or Monster energy drink. All the attention it’s gotten makes it feel like a vape for kids. But as I approached the knockoff handbags-and-watches store I like, I saw a skinny jean-clad twenty-something flicking hers while she laughed with friends. Reassured that I wouldn’t be out of place flicking my spinner on the streets of New York, I walked inside.

“How much does this cost,” I asked the shopkeeper. “Ten dollars,” she said, “because it lights up.” Despite having withdrawn twice that amount for the journey, I was hesitant. “Do you have any cheaper ones?” “Six dollars,” she said, pointing to another one. “Five dollars,” I bargained greedily. “Fine,” she said. I picked the black one. I mainly wear black, after all, so I might as well treat it like an accessory.

I handed her my twenty in exchange for the small plastic package and the guilt you get from haggling with someone, then showing them you had enough money for the original price tag all along, then wondering if you would have haggled with them if it was anyplace else. I spent the saved dollar on a steamed pork bun at a bakery down the block, so at least I left satisfied.

Taken a few weeks ago (Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum)

Taken a few weeks ago (Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum)

You can’t just learn to fidget your spinner while walking around the wealthiest parts of Manhattan between all of the vaping fashionistas, so I ducked into a SoHo alley for the unwrapping. It’s got a bit of heft to it from the metal ball bearing, it’s about two or three inches across, and its handle, the cheap plastic disk in the center, conforms ergonomically to the shape of my thumb. Mine was also covered in sand, for some reason.

I flicked it a couple of times in my non-dominant right hand and felt like a master immediately. It rattled a little as it spun, I assume because I got the discount model. But the appeal is immediately apparent. This thing can spin for at least a few minutes on a single good flick! I twisted my wrist and felt the gyroscopic effect slightly resist my motion.

As I set out and walked up Lafayette Street (as opposed to the adjacent and far more crowded Broadway, to avoid being seen) I flicked it, successfully getting it to spin every other time (one of the three spokes frequently smacked into my fat thumb). I shamefully hid it in my pocket three times on a thirty minute walk uptown — once as I made eye contact a lanky college-aged guy in a rainbow bomber jacket and bleached hair near NYU, and another as I walked by an especially chic-looking woman in a big hat in Madison Square Park. But most notably, I saw some mother scowling as her two young children begged her to buy them their own spinners near Union Square. I wanted to throw mine away when I thought about how dumb I looked, a grown-arse adult flicking a popular children’s toy on busy footpath. But you should have seen the elementary school-aged daughter’s poise while balancing a rainbow spinner on her tiny thumb.

I reminded myself: I’ve vaped in public. Guy Fieri walks around shamelessly. How is this any different? Who cares?

Nearing the end of an hour-long amble to Penn Station, I noticed something peculiar. I wasn’t thinking about my usual anxieties like my mound of responsibilities or the downfall of American society or dying alone. I was thinking mostly about, well, nothing. Just this dinky piece of plastic and metal rotating in my hands.


I showed it to my parents at Mother’s Day dinner. They loved it — my dad asked me to film him playing with it while he sipped a martini. My 90-year-old grandmother got the hang of it quicker than I did. “It’s like a top,” she said. “It’s paddle ball, but it’s less dangerous,” my mother said. And she’s right — is it really no different from a slap bracelet, a Rubix cube, a yo-yo water ball, a slinky, or silly putty? My roommates squealed with delight when they realised how fun it was. My cat spent a few minutes batting it with his paw.

So to my eighth grade readers reviewing their spinner collections on their YouTube channels, who gives a shit if buzzkills online don’t like your piece of spinning plastic? It’s fun as hell. Fidget spinners are Good.

Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Image: Ryan F. Mandelbaum