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Spinning out of control

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There are times when I’m kind of sad my children are all out of the “puppy” stage … but this isn’t one of them. I speak of the newest (and hopefully briefest) new fad: the fidget spinner.

Nothing embodies the frivolous nature of popular culture more than the periodic infatuation with a fad. I believe a brief investigation of the etymology of the word “fad” is in order. It came to us either as a “dumbed” down version of the Olde English phrase “fiddle faddle” or an Americanized version of the French word “fadaise,” which means trifle nonsense. Or it may be borne from the Latin word “fatuus,” which just means plain “stupid.”

One of my now college-age kids works at a local sporting goods store and informed me about the new fidget spinner craze in stark detail. It came in the form of a frantic parent who went into my daughter’s store in a panic. The parent was looking for a very specific fidget spinner and was hoping against hope that the store carried it. If they did not, the parent assured my daughter that her son was going to have a “meltdown.”

Unfortunately, my daughter’s store had recently sold out of the elusive fidget spinner and this parent’s fidgeter would have to be placated some other way. Maybe, based on the location of the store where my daughter works, it could be with a new BMW.

Fads in general are not all that unreasonable or unusual and, despite the origin of the word, I would even venture to say they are not all that stupid either. Hula hoops, frisbees and yo-yos all started out as fads, but have shown great staying power and for a good reason. They promote interaction between people and even physical exercise … and they are fun.

On the other hand, fads like mood rings, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, etc., fall into a different category and their lack of longevity speaks for itself. I will go out on the proverbial limb and claim the fidget spinner is destined for the latter category.

 But if fidget spinners have any lasting legs in the economy it will be because of timing. From what I have been able to deduce in my limited research thus far, and I intend to conclude my investigation of this phenomena as soon as humanly possible, there does not seem to be a game involved in fidget spinning other than … well, fidget spinning.

One doesn’t challenge another in any kind of contest or interact with anyone else as they spin away. A fidgeter just fidgets. Giving the fidgeter a borderline sinful sense of their own superiority, this fad, I fear, has been tailor-made for our current cultural climate. 

When my sons were prone to this kind of marketing, Pokémon cards were all the rage. I didn’t get that either, but I could at least see that there was some kind of game going on where kids would exchange and trade cards or play along together in some inscrutable game I had no inkling to understand. It gave kids a private world away from adults and that is a good thing.

When I was a boy, in the pre-Hot Wheels era, I collected Matchbox toy cars. The purpose of the collection though was to play with them with friends. We built roads in the dirt, constructed buildings out of popsicle sticks and generally communed with our 8-year-old selves for hours of bliss.

Kids watch too much television, that’s a fact. But I can make a case for TV over fidget spinning any day of the prime time schedule week. If there is a particularly popular TV show, we may all be watching it without much interaction, but if the show is big enough, it is the source of conversations at the water cooler at work or in the classroom before the bell rings (sometimes afterward, too). In other words, it promotes interaction between humans and that is a good thing.

Like so much of modern communications technology, fidget spinners magnify isolation rather than promote communal action. Don’t we have enough of that already with young and old alike transfixed with their heads tilted at the same angles staring at iPhone and Android devices, oblivious to everything around them? Not to worry, the fidget spinner will go the way of the pet rock as sure as my mood ring glows red.

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