South Korean folk wisdom says when you fidget by bouncing your leg, your fortune flies out of your knee. Of course, this doesn’t stop nervous, jittery students from sitting there joggling one leg under the desk. Over here in the States, kids are having a hard time focusing, too. Children with autism or ADHD are especially likely to fidget their way through class. Perhaps if that nervous energy had an outlet, students would be able to concentrate better? That’s the thinking behind the fidget spinner, a handheld whatsit built for idle fingers.
Catherine Hettinger, an inventor and mother from a Suburb of Orlando, created the fidget spinner decades ago to entertain her then seven year-old daughter. Excited about her patented new contraption, she took a prototype to Hasboro Toys and pitched it to them. They turned her down.
But now, 20 years later, Hasboro is selling them alongside a glut of other manufacturers, and Hettinger isn’t getting a nickel for it. That’s because in 2005, the patent lapsed. Hettinger didn’t have the $400 necessary for the renewal, and in a shocking failure of capitalism, her product blew up without her.
But Hettinger’s not losing any sleep over it. In fact, watching her inventions flying off the shelves without getting any money or credit doesn’t upset her at all. “Maybe if it was some kind of exploitative product — like a new style of cigarettes — and my only motivation was to make money, I’d have a different attitude,” Hettinger told Time Money. “But I am just thrilled.” Hettinger is currently struggling to pay her phone bill.
FIDGET SPINNER SPIN CLASS
What is the fidget spinner? It doesn’t really do anything except spin around in your hand, but it’s making a huge splash in classrooms around the world. Kids love them, trade them, and obsess over them. Unfortunately, they’re driving teachers crazy. Reactions from the older generation are bordering on shrill and hysterical. Worse still, the little thingamajigs may not be serving their original purpose. Instead of helping kids focus, it seems the toys are nothing more than a constant distraction.
Anyone who remembers pogs, Beanie Babies, or Magic cards can attest to the prepubescent joy of obsessively trading and collecting colorful, useless objects. So hyperbolic reactions might be misplaced. But you can imagine the sound of thirty little spinsters all whirring their handfuls of ball bearings at eight in the morning. If they truly are disrupting classrooms, that would explain why schools across the country are banning them entirely.
The spinner trend is moving fast, and it could disappear just as quickly. At the time of this writing, however, the most expensive fidget spinner on the market is selling from Israel for $3,500 (plus a hefty shipping fee). The ebay posting reads:
FIDGET SPINNER- ONLY FOR RICH!! EXPENSIVE!
SPINNER FOR RICH!
ARE YOU RICH? BUY THIS!
The description offers no clue as to what it’s made of or why it’s so expensive, but assures the incredulous public that it’s “a brand-new, unused, unopened, undamaged item (including handmade items).” Which items, one wonders, are handmade?
As the divisive doohickies spin money for manufacturers, and aggravate authorities, it’s easy to succumb to fad panic. But in Hettinger’s view, the kids are alright. “I’m just pleased that something I designed is something that people understand and really works for them,” she says.
“There’s just a lot of circumstances in modern life when you’re boxed in, you’re cramped in, and we need this kind of thing to de-stress. It’s also fun. That’s the thing about culture, once everybody starts doing it, it’s kind of OK.”