Fads build connection

Fidget spinners fail as accessibility toys but remain helpful as social tools

Illustration by Kathleen bergen

Products like fidget spinners, which entice a huge market in a short period of time, are referred to as fads. They are popular but lack longevity.

Dr. Fabrizio Di Muro, an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg whose research follows consumer behaviour, explains that despite their short lifespan, fads are important to society.

Fads create a social connectedness among product users, so “they feel like part of the group,” Di Muro says.

Di Muro also adds that when the hype about a new product is over, users of the product get a nostalgic feeling upon encountering those items.

“You get a good feeling from re-experiencing that time in your mind,” he says.

Fidget spinners are palm-sized toys that spin at a 360-degree motion controlled by the hand. They have a ball bearing centre and, usually, three protruding counterbalanced arms that rotate when propelled. They come in a variety of colours and shapes.

These simple hand-held gadgets are a wild fascination of people of all ages. Di Muro speculates that fidget spinners have gained popularity partly due to social phenomena.

“When some person or some group with social power use an object, others might take it up and spread it,” he says.

Many new products from tablets to wearable technology have penetrated the market over the years. Fidget spinners are a non-technological craze, yet they have taken over the market like wildfire.

“A fad is something that becomes very popular for a short period of time,” Di Muro says. “I think it’s a fad, but we can never be too sure.”

Dr. Namita Bhatnagar, an associate professor of marketing at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, is convinced that fidget spinners are on their way out.

“Fidget spinners, with all their fun and entertainment cache, are now squarely in ‘fad’ territory,” she says. “(They) are on their way out.”

The original target market for fidget spinners was people who fidget a lot and those with ADHD, anxiety or autism.

Dr. Jen Theule, a clinical and school psychologist at the University of Manitoba, explains that fidget spinners are just one example of fidget tools.

Theule says fidget toys in general, including stress balls and clay, are great tools for calming patients.

She says she has a basket full of fidget tools in her office but notes that fidget spinners are not effective fidget tools.

“I don’t use them often,” she says. “They’re too interesting. Too distracting. They can do tricks. You can flip them around,” Theule says.

Although fidget spinners may not be effective in therapy rooms, they indeed satisfy the need to fidget, Di Muro says.

Published in Volume 72, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 7, 2017)

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