About spinners, slime, squishies, and the human’s need to fidget

In my line of work as an educator, the first time I saw a fidget spinner was somewhere a few months ago, in a classroom, when I was conducting a lesson. I don’t really remember who’s exactly the soul who dared to play it under my nose.

And as any other irritated teacher would do, I folded both of my hands, summoned that soul and asked him to put that spinning thing on my table. And that was my first encounter with the wheel-like thing.

At the end of the lesson, while giving the errant student a piece of advice, I tried my hand on the fidget spinner, and to be honest it feels quite… nice (but I still returned it to him at the end anyway).

For the subsequent month, the trend seemed to have caught on. My curiosity grew as I confiscated a few more of these spinners.

So I made a search online to find out more about this phenomenon. It turned out that the spinners have been around as early as 1990s and there is no definitive reason as to why they become especially popular nowadays. A fad just pops into existence as some trend-setting kids get them, then more kids see those things in school (and on their social media too) and ask their parents to buy, and so on and so forth.

The toy is claimed to be stress-relieving and to help people focus. I can see how this is so. One fine day, when I found a cheap spinner, I bought one for myself my brother (the regular price is about S$10, but the prices range from $2 to $700. Some come with lights, or are plated with gold perhaps). The spinner has been something that is useful while doing something that requires a lot of thinking – like writing an essay… or a blog (though I don’t have one right now).

The spinner I got for my brother.

It simply gives a pleasing sensory experience. Something that is satisfied by doing or watching a repetitive motion. It is like a replacement form of shaking legs, biting nails, scratching heads, or chewing snacks. The urge for a distraction is dissipated by (or rather channeled into) watching that spins and feeling the purring sensation in between your thumb and middle finger.

While this toy is useful when one is doing own work, I think it does not help as much when it comes to the class setting. That is why the fidget spinner has become teachers’ sworn enemy: they shudder and their blood pressure shoots up at the sight of it. The spinning, the humming sound it produces, while it may be helpful to the student who is playing it, are distracting to the teachers and students around.

This human fascination upon spinning things is of course not new thing. Marcel Duchamp, the legendary artist, once commented on his creation Bicycle Wheel: “to see that wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting… I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.”

Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1913)

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The second thing came to my attention because of my mom.

My mom got introduced to the world of Instagram some time ago, and she has been using it to explore her penchants for clothings and fashion. Other than that, she also got hooked to the unlikeliest trend plaguing women of her age: the slime.

My mom’s soap-smelling homemade slime

Slime is a dough-like thing which is more solid than pancake batter, but way more liquid than plasticine. The degree of elasticity can vary according to the composition of the ingredients that you set. And, yes, you can make it yourself with simple, everyday ingredients at home (except for borax, as I doubt you have it in your kitchen). Then you can put food coloring and sweet-smelling perfume into the dough to make your squeezing experience more exciting.

To investigate this matter further, I had the privilege to test out my mom’s slime. She demonstrated to me how it is usually played – press the slime around, pretend to make pizza, slam it on the table, trudge your fingers to make impressions on the surface, or basically any actions that your hands are capable of doing. However, it is rather hard to shape the slime into anything like what people do with Play-Doh (as it is too soft for that purpose). When you are done, put it back in the container, and it will settle back to its fruit yoghurt-looking state, and you can easily clean the residue that sticks on your fingers by plucking it off.

As you can see the fidget spinner and slime work on the same principle of absent-mindedness. Slime satisfies the urge to tinker, without having to fix anything. It is just there for you to press around and watch it flow absentmindedly, which is very relaxing.

 

Another way to enjoy: dip your fingers in it and just rest them there for a while… just don’t lick your fingers after that.

Gooey…

 

Another aspect of the enjoyment comes from listening to the squeaky sound that is produced by the slime when it is being kneaded. That is also why slime videos are very popular on Instagram. And all this generates a lot of online business opportunities to the entrepreneur-minded school kids out there.

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Just last week, a package arrived and it was addressed to my mom. She was very excited when she received it. I helped her tear it open, and inside there were 2 figurines that she bought from a shop she found on Instagram (these are to add to the collection of one figurine she just got not too long ago).  
So other than slime, she is now obsessed about this toy dearly termed as ‘squishy’. As the name suggests, something special about the figurine is that you can squeeze it and it will rise back to its shape.

As you can see, it is something similar to slime, but in a cuter form. Have you ever got the urge to pinch the cheek of a very cute baby? Well, this toy may be just for you. Just don’t squeeze too hard and too often as after a while the colour on the surface may crack and the squishy will become dirty.

Some squishies are quite pricey though. A ‘collector’ rare item (like a birthday cake shape with a diameter around 25cm) can fetch to be as much as 40 dollars. It was quite surprising to me as I thought it was just a stress ball in a different kind of form. But perhaps making squishies requires a special material and a way more expensive mechanism to mould distinct shapes like those figurines. I don’t really know.

Press…

… harder.

Cute characters to add to the level of urge to squeeze.

When you buy a squishy, do not throw the plastic packaging that comes with it, as it does not only serve to protect the squishy from dirt, but also to produce the crackling sound that is claimed to add a degree of satisfaction when squeezing it. The packaging (termed as ‘crispy plastic’) is even sold separately.

Squishies in plastic bags

Squeeze for crackling sound!

So that’s the review on the 3 current toy trends. Absurd, but not so absurd. Perhaps all these give our brains and itchy hands gratification almost the same way doodling on your notebook does. I wonder what’s the next trend going to be like.

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All photos of spinners, slime and squishies are taken by my brother @ivankabul

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