You don’t always choose the fidget spinner life. Sometimes, it chooses you.
Or so you tell yourself.
When Mark Ventura won a spinner at work, he was pretty unimpressed with his prize. He’s an adult. What was he supposed to do with a whirring hunk of plastic that kids on social media were obsessed with?
But then he twirled the three-pronged gizmo a few times, and suddenly the 28-year-old Washington, D.C., resident understood. And then he couldn’t leave home without it.
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“When I’d leave for work, I’d check for my keys, wallet, phone like normal,” he says. “And then it started to become a part of my routine to also put the fidget spinner in my pocket.”
Now, at the office, he can’t keep his hands off the thing. “I call people all day,” says Ventura, founder of the e-commerce website Adoshi.co. “While the phone is ringing, I’ll have it out and I’ll just be spinning it.” And spinning it. And spinning …
It was bound to happen: In our Peter Pan culture, it’s only a matter of time before a plaything migrates out of the playground and into the world of adulthood. Think coloring books. Think Facebook.
So even as the trend fizzles out among Generation Z, never fear — grown-ups are stepping in to give fidget spinners a whirl. The gadgets have made their way into office buildings and onto subway commutes, dutifully serving as the mindless activity our restless hands crave. (Yes, some manufacturers claim that they also ease stress and anxiety, but that may be just so much spin: The scientific evidence is thin.)
Pop culture has embraced the phenomenon, a sure sign that it’s grown beyond kiddie quarters. Vanessa Bayer played a high-maintenance girlfriend wooed by a diamond-encrusted fidget spinner on “Saturday Night Live” earlier this year. The first installment of that show’s “Weekend Update Summer Edition” featured Alex Moffat playing a dimwitted Eric Trump whose brother cunningly distracts him with the toy. The cast of summer flick “Rough Night” played with spinners during an interview with MTV.
And now comes Fidget SpinnerCon, the first-ever expo devoted to the whirling toy. Co-organizer Aaron Martin expects the event, to be held in Minneapolis in October, to attract 300 “fidget spinner enthusiasts” young and old.
Martin, 46, initially discovered spinners when his 9-year-old son began collecting them in April.
“Like a lot of dads, I purchased quite a few for him,” the Eden Prairie, Minn., resident says. But then he started seeing “some nicer, solid, more well-made fidget spinners as well. I picked one of those up.” Now he takes it with him on his business travels.
The expo will showcase these “quality” spinners, which can sell for anywhere from $20 to $100, Martin says. His personal spending limit?
“Around $50,” he says, nonchalantly.
That’s a serious sum considering that most classic spinners sell for $5 or less — they’re usually plastic, after all — though noted rich person Kim Kardashian has sold her own line, characteristically shaped like a dollar sign, for $15 apiece on the Internet.
At their core, of course, fidget toys are hardly a novel concept. The act of twirling a pencil has satisfied generations of antsy cubicle inhabitants, and a sturdy Ticonderoga costs mere pennies. But spinners seem to have a mysterious draw.
“It’s just the visual of it and the feeling of it in your hand,” says Jackie Breyer, editor in chief of product-review website the Toy Insider. “Just the blur of it spinning around, it’s a little hypnotic.” Tell us about it.
Breyer, who’s 38 and concedes that she has a few fidget spinners of her own, doesn’t think that adult fascination with the toys has anything to do with their social media potential. Kids are all about YouTube star power — remember bottle flipping? — but “adults aren’t really trying to do tricks,” she says. “They’re just looking for something to keep their hands busy while they’re working.”
That’s not a problem for the employees of NPR member station WBUR in Boston, which ordered 1,000 fidget spinners to distribute as favors at a marketing lunch the station sponsored last month. The theme of the event was digital disruption, and coordinators decided that the distracting gadgets fit the “disruptive” description to a T.
And they were a big hit. “We’ve done other events where you put an item — a baseball cap or a water bottle — at the table and a lot of them get left behind,” says Kristen Holgerson, director of marketing and promotions for WBUR. The fidget spinners? “They were all gone.”
Holgerson, 45, says that her spinner went home to her 9-year-old, but she still sees other employees playing with theirs at their desks. The station even went ahead and ordered spinners for the teams behind each of its three national programs, just for kicks.
“We made a red one for ‘On Point,’ a blue one for ‘Here & Now’ and a green one for ‘Only a Game,’ “ Holgerson says. “Each show got a kick out of having their own branded fidget spinners.”
Fidget-spinning as an adult requires a healthy dose of self-awareness, of course.
“I still haven’t figured out if it’s socially acceptable for me to have this thing,” says Ventura. “Is this millennial life now? We play with toys. We Pokémon Go. Is that just life now? Are childhood and adult life merging into this amorphous blob?”
That, as a moody Danish prince once said, is the question. Why are adults today driven to take over things that were once the province of the young? It’s “exactly what happened with Facebook,” says Ventura. “It was only for young people, and when parents started trickling in, everyone was like, ‘(Expletive), I’m going to Instagram.’”
Which may explain why kids are already drifting off to the next distraction — with the grown-ups close on their heels, no doubt.
Squishy toys, here we come.