I’m the guy who sits next to you at the meeting whose right leg won’t stop moving. If one leg isn’t tap tap tapping, look to my hands because it is likely my finger tips are exploring the shape of a Zebra Sarasa .5 (Black), or that same pen is wildly spinning around my fingers. I’m sorry if this is distracting. I’m trying to focus.
Fidgeting is a basic concept: I have scads of extra energy, and the productive dissipation (of direction) of that energy is in everyone’s best interest. To deeply understand what I mean, I will explain why the Fidget Cube’s hype was a tragic waste and the fidget spinner’s overnight viral success is not a surprise.
True fact: If you are sitting next to me tap tap tapping your leg, I am annoyed. I know, right? This double standard is worth writing about in another article, but know that even though I am annoyed, I get it. I get fidgeting. If you don’t get fidgeting or are not at least a little interested in what the fuss is about, this article will annoy you.
The Match Up:
The Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs was a Kickstarter sensation. 154,926 backers paid $6,465,690 to get their hands on of the first version of this magic little device. Like every single Kickstarter, I’ve been a part of, the Fidget Cube was plagued by long silences and delays. Unlike most Kickstarters, the product did eventually ship, but the final product was a tremendous disappointment.
The Fidget Cube is a plastic cube that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Each side has a descriptive name that describes a different fidget opportunity: Click, Glide, Flip, Breathe, Roll, and Spin.
Unlike the Fidget Cube, the fidget spinner has no apparent inventor. The standard design consists of a bearing in the center of a multi-armed flat structure made of metal or plastic. Unlike the Fidget Cube, the fidget spinner appears to have only one fidget opportunity: you spin it and depending on the quality of the bearing, it spins quite a bit.
Those are the descriptions, but they tell you nothing about the quality of the fidget bliss they provide.
Weight, Interest, Friction, and Forgettable
There are four attributes comprising fidget bliss: weight, interest, friction, and forgetfulness. I’ll define each relative to the Fidget Cube and the fidget spinner.
Weight An excellent fidget device has weight. Simply place the device in my hand gives my brain a thing to consider.
The Fidget Cube’s weight is average. Other than one side which contains a metal ball for click and rolling, the cube is entirely made of plastic which makes the overall build quality feel cheap. When I place a fidget device in my hand, I want to feel that it’s there. Yes, I can take a yellow PostIt note and origami the hell out of that little yellow square (dog, unicorn, star, and tree) and that is mentally engaging, but not as mentally satisfying because it’s just a piece of paper.
Contrast this with the typical design for a fidget spinner. The point of the spinner is spin and the higher the quality of the bearing and the more weight, the better the spin. I’ve been purchasing different types of fidget spinners of increasing cost for the past few weeks.
The higher end spinners are both made of metal and employ better bearings which mean that when they land in my hand, there is satisfying weight, and when I spin it there is better…
Interest From the marketing, the Fidget Cube appeared to have high potential fidget interest. The variety of knobs, dials, buttons, and clickers looked like a fidgeting dream. The reason? When I pick up a device, I am looking to solve a puzzle. It can not be a major or complex puzzle. In fact, it must be incredibly simple because fidgeting is a background task. For example, one side called Click has five small round buttons shaped like what’d you expect for the five side of a dice cube. Two of the buttons just smoothly press. Three of them click when you press them. My brain loves this.
Why do two buttons not click? What happens when I press the click-y ones? Does pressing order matter? Will something magically happen if I press them in the right order? No, but the diversity and arrangement of the buttons are just so interesting. The same goes for another side called Roll which has the clickable metal ball plus three smaller plastic spinners. There is enough going on with the Fidget Cube even with inadequate weight to make its interest above average. Antsy chose the right fidget verbs. Unfortunately, skimping on weight and friction made it less engaging.
The fidget spinner looks like a one-trick pony: it spins. Boring, right? Low interest, right? Wrong, the first time you get a good spin on a well-designed fidget spinner, the interest spikes because the spin plus the weight of the spinner creates a centrifugal force which means the fidget spinner fights you. It wants to spin along a certain path and the faster the spin, the more the spinner tries to stay on that path.
The simple puzzle presented by the fidget spinner is two-fold: First, how much spin must I apply to create a mentally pleasing spin? Second, what am I going to do with that spin? Gently fight it by shifting it around on my fingers? Place it on one finger? The small possibilities around a good spin contain just enough interest and just enough…
Friction Effective fidgeting is a function of the product dissipation of energy. My brain has excess energy that needs directing, which is why a good fidgeting device has weight to grab my attention. It has enough interest to grab my attention, and it provides a source of kinetic friction. This attribute is where the Fidget Cube uniformly fails.
A good fidget device needs to fight me a bit. It can’t simply be interesting. One side of the Fidget Cube is called Flip and is has a simple two-state switch similar to a light switch. This switch should represent hours of fidgeting, but the switch doesn’t fight me. It just limply switches. There’s a weak audible click1 but the joy should be in the tangible feel of the flip of the switch.
The fidget spinner design is based on friction. The spinner is always fighting you. The goal is to figure out how to get around friction to achieve the impossible-to-achieve perfect spin. How do you hold it? How do you engage the spin? What does moving the spinner during the spin do? How long of a spin can you achieve?
Like all the prior attributes, friction needs to walk a fine line of being both present, but not distracting. This is the attribute where I’ll ding the fidget spinner. See, it’s not…
Forgettable The final attribute is the hardest to achieve. A well-designed fidget device is one the combines weight, interest, and friction, but is ultimately a device that you can forget. My daughter reminded me of this, “Dad, if I’m taking a test, the Fidget Cube is better because I can forget I’m using it. A fidget spinner needs attention.”
The irony of the popularity of the fidget spinner is that it focuses attention on an act that is meant to be ignored. My fidgeting is my thing and if you notice it, I’ve created an annoying distraction. Sorry. This why the Fidget Cube wins on this attribute. A Fidget Cube can be forgotten, but a fidget spinner is needy and requires my precious attention.
Regarding Stress Reduction
Fidget Cube markets itself as a stress reduction device. I understand the reasoning for this marketing, but it doesn’t resonate because fidgeting isn’t an investment in stress reduction, it’s investment in focus.
When I walk into any meeting, my brain is on. I’m sizing up the people. Who is here and what do they want? Did they choose where they sat? Why? Ok, they’re talking now. What are they saying? How do their words map to every single thing I know about them? What narrative are they building? Who is buying this narrative? Who isn’t? Why?
Sounds exhausting, right? I love it and I have energy to spare, which is why the second thing I’m doing when I walk into a meeting is gauging fidget potential. What are the objects within arm’s reach that will help me to dissipate energy? Cables? Dry erase pens? A PostIt? There is fidget potential everywhere.2
Yes, a good fidget device is going to reduce stress created by not focusing, but that’s a backward negative perspective. I choose to view fidgeting from the positive. Fidgeting allows me to focus and a good fidget device is cleverly designed to remove the energy from head via my hands. The more efficient the design, the better the energy transfer, and the more calming focus I have achieved.