SKIP SUVA IS a fidgeter. When he worked at paper-intensive administrative jobs, he’d doodle incessantly; when he started a coding career last year, he took up fiddling with an SD-card reader that made pleasant snick noises. “Popping the SD card out and clicking it back in,” he laughs.
His fidgeting can seem like a crazy tic, Suva admits. But it helps him focus. “When my brain is moving a lot faster than my fingers can,” he says, “it feels like I need something to ground myself.”
Recently, Suva bought a tool just for fidgeting: the Focus Cube, by Fidget Widgets. It has six twiddly mechanisms on its faces, and each moves in a fascinating way: a rocker switch, a dial, a set of buttons that go kerchunk. “I love it,” Suva says.
Now other gizmo makers are doing a brisk business in “fidget spinners,” ball-bearing-loaded devices that spin around satisfyingly when flicked. Teens love them, as do office drones.
Why is fidgeting so hot? Because it’s an adaptation to deskbound lifestyles. Society increasingly demands mental work while enforcing unhealthy, sedentary physical habits. Fidgeting is a way to cope.
It also has cognitive benefits. Julie Schweitzer, a scientist at UC Davis, studied kids with ADHD while they performed mental tests. The more intensely the kids fidgeted, the higher they scored. (The effect didn’t hold for kids without ADHD.) Schweitzer hypothesizes that physical movement arouses us, generating neurotransmitters that improve focus. “They look—their faces—like they’re working harder when they’re moving,” she says. This violates our stereotypes, of course; we assume that deep concentration ought to look like Rodin’s Thinker, a human body absolutely still. But sometimes thought requires motion.
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