Gerry Farrell: Kids today have got a finger on the pulse
I swear I won't be writing anything about Theresa May's entirely pointless election tomorrow. I'm sure you're all as frazzled as I am with the hot air that's been blown in our faces for the last couple of months. If so, I have a suggestion for you. Turn off the telly and all your distracting social feeds and buy yourself a fidget spinner. (Or a '˜spidget finner', as my wife called it the other day.) If you don't know what a fidget spinner is you must be living in a child-free zone or cowering in a lead-lined nuclear bunker waiting for the Apocalypse.
The fidget spinner is currently Amazon’s number one best-selling toy. I had never heard of them until we visited my niece in New York and went to pick up her two boys from school, eight-year-old Oscar and five-year-old Marco. We’d bought them each a wee pack of Pokemon cards. They both said polite thank yous and put them straight in their pockets unopened. Then they pulled out their fidget spinners and boom! their faces lit up. “Look, I can spin it on my finger!” “Well, I can balance it on my nose!” “Well I know someone who can balance it on their dog’s nose.”
So what exactly is a fidget spinner? Yer basic fidgety gizmo is a heavyish, three-bladed wheel design, built round a central bearing and made of plastic, steel, brass, copper or titanium. Donald Trump probably has a 24-carat gold one.
It’s billed as a kind of stress-relieving toy. You hold it between your thumb and forefinger, flick a blade till it’s spinning like a politician (sorry) then try to balance it on your finger as its colours blur into rainbow stripes or glow in the dark or whatever your kid’s one does.
They cost less than a fiver so we bought one at the airport in Phoenix out of sheer astonishment at their popularity. It’s actually quite addictive to play with. The missis is pretty good already but I’m a cack-handed old codger so it keeps flying off my finger and clattering into crockery and condiments.
“That-Could-Take-Your-Eye-Out” syndrome has already seized hold of schoolteachers and parents. My niece’s kids’ primary school has banned them. So have some Scottish schools. They argue that they’re a distraction in the classroom. Other schools let the kids use them discreetly in order to help them concentrate.
Some educational experts are all for this. They argue that the toy is great for helping people who have trouble with focusing or fidgeting (such as those with ADHD, autism or anxiety) by acting as a release mechanism for nervous energy or psychological stress. The toy’s origins bear this out.
The woman credited with inventing it is an American chemical engineer called Catherine Hettinger. She was watching the news one evening. Palestinian kids were throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. Seeing this made her want to create a soothing toy that would help children get rid of pent-up energy and in her words “promote peace”.
To keep her little daughter entertained she started “throwing things together with newspaper and tape”. She got a proper prototype made up and pitched it to Hasbro, the global toy giant. They market-tested it and said no. She never made a penny from it. This all happened in 1993!
What is it that makes kids suddenly fasten on a craze like this? Maybe it’s because this one provides better physical sensations than digital games. Marbles, conkers and Clackers; they were the things I brought into school when I was a nipper. I can still hear my primary teachers shouting “Stop fidgeting Gerard Farrell and sit up straight!”
Are you ready to make a spectacle of yourself?
Since we’re on a tech innovation roll here, let’s move on to adult toys. No, not that kind of adult toys. I’m talking about the latest thing in wearable technology, Snapchat’s new video-recording sunglasses. Do you remember Google Glass, the spectacles that allowed you to record film and even get street directions? They made cool, trendy, twentysomething dudes and dudesses look like goofy, geeky nerds. After the usual, brief meeja feeding frenzy everybody forgot about them and Google filed them under ‘Crap’.
By the looks of them, Snapchat’s Spectacles will be around a lot longer. They already have the kind of cool cachet Google were hoping for when they put their toe in the water. They come in just three colours, black, teal and coral. In the top of one lens is the camera, in the top of the other is a battery housing and a light that comes on to let people know you’re filming – so you don’t look like some kind of creep.
To start recording, you simply touch the side of your specs. But don’t think you can become a hands-free movie director just yet. Snap Spectacles only let you shoot ten seconds of footage. Your clips upload to your smartphone via bluetooth. Once posted, as you probably know, all the images disappear in 20 seconds.
The other drawback is the price. The first ones were launched from a vending machine on Venice Beach, California. At $130 a pop they still sold out fast. Crikey Mikey, imagine putting $130 into a vending machine! Having said that, they’re now trading for up to £700 on eBay. Why would you even want a pair, though?
Here’s what Snap Inc’s chief exec Evan Spiegel said after he tested the prototype while on holiday with his supermodel fiancée Miranda Kerr: “It was our first vacation, and we went to Big Sur for a day or two. We were walking through the woods, stepping over logs, looking up at the beautiful trees. And when I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes. It was unbelievable.” Oh, those beautiful Californian people and their dreamy raptures. Here in Leith it would be more like, “Look at me, am huvvin’ a fish supper wi broon sauce.”
Have a care before voting
Sorry, I said I wouldn’t talk politics but I canny help it. If you vote Tory tomorrow and they get in again, you really do need to be fearful about what they’re planning to do to our beloved NHS. Three weeks ago I said we could see the start of American-style privatisation creeping in. I want to qualify that: it’s already happening. If you want to find out how, just type “Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Care” into Google.