America’s love-hate relationship with the fidget spinner: Is technology to blame for our restlessness?

You’ve probably seen the kid spinning a thing that looks like a miniature alien spaceship on his thumb and wondered what that was all about. Or maybe you’ve noticed a co-worker secretly fiddling with a cube with buttons on it under the conference table.

These odd-shaped, oddly addictive objects — designed to let you channel extra energy into your fingers as you go about your day — are fidgets. And all of a sudden, it seems, they’re everywhere.

Marketers compare the new obsession with Pokémon Go or the hula hoops of generations past, but a whole scientific mythology is emerging that makes them much more than a simple toy. It has to do with the idea that spinning, tapping, clicking, squeezing and bending may be able to increase your focus, relieve stress and alleviate symptoms like anxiety.

“They can be very engaging,” says Katherine Isbister, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who is studying the phenomenon. “There’s a certain kinesthetic characteristic that makes them feel good in the hand.”

Some people swear by them, especially when it comes to helping them get through boring or unpleasant tasks. Moms have been known to buy them by the bag to keep their kids occupied while running errands. But the fidgets, especially the spinny kind, are also driving a lot of other people crazy.

The basic three-pronged version, which can be found for about $5 to $7 at local toy stores and for less online, is held in between your thumb and index finger. You spin and then let go of one finger so that the fidget balances on the other. These come in every color of the rainbow and then some — camo, tie-dye and, for anyone wanting some bling, rose gold.

Hundreds of schools across the country have reportedly banned fidgets. Administrators at MS 442 in Brooklyn wrote in a recent Facebook post that “although seeming harmless,” they can pull student and staff attention away from class and can even be dangerous if thrown. Cristina Bolusi Zawacki, a sixth-grade English teacher, referred to them as “helicopters of distraction” in a blog post that went viral.

“Trust me … fidget spinners are the effing worst,” she wrote.

And just this week, a parent in Texas warned others via Facebook that the gadgets can come apart and pose a choking hazard. Her 10-year-old had swallowed one of the bearings and had to be taken to the hospital, she said.

Isbister believes that America’s love-hate relationship with fidgets may reflect how human beings have always been creatures who occupied our days by doing things with our hands. We’ve carved arrows out of sticks, tilled soil for crops, built automobiles. But technology has phased out much hands-on work in recent decades.

At the same time, the more scientists look into physical activity, the more they are learning that the ways we move our bodies impact neurological functioning. Some theorize that all of us have an optimal state of being when we are able to learn, create or perform at our best. This is why mindfulness meditation may be so in vogue and why “brain breaks” — stretching, jumping around or other types of exercise — in between periods of desk-work are now a regular part of the school day in parts of the country.

Could it be, Isbister wondered, that we fidget because we have taken away the “interesting tactile experiences” of our world as we shift more to using digital devices?

Isbister and her collaborator, Michael Karlesky, have been soliciting examples of things people fidget with in a Tumblr. Contributors report the usual, like hair and paper clips, but there are also some unusual fidgets, including a piece of painted concrete someone picked up.

There’s little actual science on the gadgets now on the market. But the theories behind why they might help you and your children do your work are intriguing and related to that broader area of study about the effect of physical movement on neurological functioning.

One of the only controlled studies on fidgeting involved children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The 2015 study, published in Child neuropsychology, looked at 44 school-age boys and girls. Twenty-six had ADHD, and 18 did not.

For kids without ADHD, fidgeting didn’t seem to impact performance positively or negatively on a cognitive test. But for those with the disorder, the study showed that the fidgeting appeared to be linked with cognitive performance. The more the children fidgeted, the more accurate their answers. The more they were still, the more answers they got wrong.

Julie Schweitzer, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at the University of California at Davis, theorized that moving a lot may actually be beneficial for those children with ADHD, which is why they do it. Hyperactivity may be for them “a mechanism for cognitive self-regulation,” she wrote.

In a paper Isbister and Karlesky presented at a 2014 conference, they described the concept of a “physical marginspace surrounding digital workspaces in which users often physically perform elements of their thinking in the form of doodling, fiddling, and fidgeting.” They said that “fidget widgets,” as they call them, may help “shape cognitive state to support a user’s productivity and creativity in their primary tasks.”

The work of University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who studies attention, distraction and boredom, provides some of the theoretical foundation for Isbister and Karlesky’s hypothesis.

Lleras explains that fidgeting could be a way of modulating people’s arousal or engagement in an activity. But the relationship isn’t linear; rather, it goes in kind of an inverted U shape. What that means is that an individual may be able to use fidgeting (with a fidget device or not) to get themselves to a certain level of arousal or engagement that’s good to increase their performance. But at some point too much fidgeting can become a liability, which is when performance goes down.

“When you are perfectly matched to the environment and stimulated in the right way, you can do things for hours, like professional athletes,” he says.

Lleras himself fidgets. Many years ago, he says, he saw someone flicking their pen along their thumb so it spun. He thought it was cool and decided to start doing it. He noticed he would do it more during lectures or meetings where he really needed to concentrate hard. “It would make things more interesting,” he recalled.

He recently purchased his two elementary-age children fidget spinners. However, Lleras says, “I have absolutely no hope it’s going to help them concentrate better. I don’t see them interacting with them in a way that would be a real fidget device for homework or in class. For them, it’s just a fun toy.”

In ‘Enormous Success,’ Scientists Tie 52 Genes to Human Intelligence

Blood samples from some participants in a new study of genes linked to intelligence were held at the U.K. Biobank, above. CreditWellcome Trust

In a significant advance in the study of mental ability, a team of European and American scientists announced on Monday that they had identified 52 genes linked to intelligence in nearly 80,000 people.

These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment.

Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and

problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn.

“This represents an enormous success,” said Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who was not involved in the study.

Frozen ‘space sperm’ passes fertility test


Homo Naledi: Mystery human species lived alongside our ancestors

The first hominin species, a line that eventually leads to humans, may have emerged in Europe 7.2 million years ago and not Africa—the most widely accepted starting point for our ancestors.

An international team of scientists has presented two studies that suggest the divergence point between chimpanzees and humans took place in the Eastern Mediterranean rather than East Africa. Their findings, published in PLOS ONE, are based on two fossils of the species Graecopithecus freybergi, which were discovered in Greece and Bulgaria and have now been dated to between 7.2 and 7.1 million years ago.

Previously, scientists had thought hominins and chimps split between seven and five million years ago, with the first in the hominin line emerging in Africa. But these fossils, scientists say, tell a different story about the onset of human evolution.

Both fossils—a lower jaw and an upper premolar—were examined using state-of-the-art computer tomography, allowing the scientists to look at their internal structures.

Their findings showed the teeth are fused in a way that is characteristic of early humans, including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus, the latter of which the famous Lucy fossil belongs to. The jawbone also had dental root features that appear to belong to a pre-human rather than to an ancient chimp.

Graecopithecus 7.24 million year old upper premolar of Graecopithecus from Bulgaria.WOLFGANG GERBER, UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN

This raises the possibility that the fossils represent the oldest hominin ever discovered and that the “major splits in the hominid family occurred outside Africa,” they wrote.

Researchers say environmental changes caused the divergence and used geological analysis to reconstruct the conditions from the Sahara to the Mediterranean during this time. They showed that the desert would have spread far into Southern Europe, creating a barrier between Africa and the locations where Graecopithecus was found.

The study has been met with skepticism because the vast majority of fossil evidence appears to suggest our ancestors emerged in Africa and migrated outwards.

140913Lower jaw of the 7.175 million-year-old Graecopithecus from Greece.WOLFGANG GERBER, UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN

James Cole, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Brighton, U.K., tells Newsweek that while the authors are cautious in saying Graecopithecus is potentially the oldest known hominin, their conclusions are still bold: “What they are definitely suggesting is that rather than the divergence point that eventually leads to us—the hominin route—being in Africa, they are strongly suggesting, in both papers, that it is the eastern Mediterranean landscape where that is happening. Which is remarkable.

“It’s certainly not impossible that this is the case. The rate we are finding out about our hominin ancestors in terms of their evolutionary story over the last five years has been absolutely phenomenal. What it probably shows us if anything is that we don’t know an awful lot.”

Cole says that the studies show that there was a connected landmass between Africa and Europe and that the desert between them created a barrier, dividing populations and causing a new species to emerge.

But the fossilised hominim is not necessarily our earliest ancestor and may have separated from some other early species that would eventually go on to become Ardipithecus.

“ If we just try to look at it with hominin dispersals in context, there have certainly been primates and hominin species moving in and out of Africa and we tend to see the drawings of the arrows moving in one direction, but there’s no reason why they can’t be bidirectional,” he says.

Graecopithecus freybergiArtist impression of Graecopithecus. Scientists have proposed this could be the oldest hominin ever discovered.NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, ASSEN IGNATOV

“The strength of the study is showing we’ve been very East African focused for the origin point, and that that focus perhaps needs to be broadened a bit more so than we’ve been willing to do in the past. That’s not to say East Africa or the continent isn’t the origin point, but I think it’s clearly demonstrated that there is a lot going on around elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe.

“For me personally, I think Africa is still a strong contender for the split between chimpanzees, bonobos and whatever ends up with us,ancient hominins, but they are certainly putting forward a case in these two papers that is well worth archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, experts in the field, looking again at the record and thinking of if the African story does still stack up.”

In an email interview with Newsweek , study author Madelaine Böhme says they do not doubt the presence of early hominins in Africa, “but the oldest potential hominin has been found in Greece and Bulgaria. That is the fact we present.”

“We not only provide the advanced hominin-like features of Graeocopithecus and a very exact age, we importantly provide a totally new mechanism explaining the split of chimps and humans — we are calling it ‘North Side Story’.” She says the barrier the desert would have created would have separated populations for at least 500 to 700,000 years.

Böhme also says it is too easy to consider the specimens as just anomalies within the fossil record: “I dismiss such views,” she says, adding the next task will be to find more evidence to back up their findings: “We will try to find new materials of Graecopithecus. The chances are now quite good.”

Nest reportedly announcing 4K security camera later this month

Nest is apparently just a week or so away from introducing the next generation of its home security camera. According to Android Police, the new Nest Cam will be an indoor camera capable of recording footage in 4K. But there’s a twist: rather than saving and streaming the footage in 4K, Nest will use the extra resolution to provide a better zoom function for the camera. That way, if the camera spots something moving, it’ll be able to crop down to 1080p to provide a zoomed-in look that’s still in HD.

It sounds like a smart approach for the new camera, especially since so few people have devices right now that are capable of streaming 4K (on top of that, 4K would mean huge video files that’d be tough on bandwidth and storage). Plus, if the camera does catch something, being able to tell what’s actually moving is ultimately what matters, and this method ought to improve what homeowners are able to see.

Android Police says there’ll be a few other changes made for this generation, too. There’ll reportedly be a ring around the lens that lights up to indicate when the camera is recording; it’ll switch over to USB-C for power; and some of Nest’s subscription-only features will be opened up to all owners — the report speculates that could include person alerts, which send a notification to Nest Cam owners when a person walks into the camera’s line of sight.

The upgraded Nest Cam will reportedly resemble the outdoor Nest Cam and will sell for $300. That’s $100 more than the current indoor Nest Cam, which suggests that model might stick around while the new one is added as a higher-end alternative. Android Police says it should be announced by the end of the month.

Amazon’s Echo Look companion app goes live

Amazon’s odd foray into the world of selfie cameras via the Echo Look is now complete with the launch of a companion application for iOS and Android devices that works with the new connected camera. The app allows Echo Look owners to view live previews from the Look’s camera, take a picture, survey their outfits, mark favorites, compare styles and more.

The company had already detailed how the Echo Look app would work, but the app only rolled out to the various app stores over the weekend – a little under a month after Amazon’s announcement of the Echo Look device itself.

The app is designed to work alongside the Look – Amazon’s funky $200 camera that takes full-length photos and short videos of users via a depth-sensing camera, complemented by built-in LED lighting and computer vision-based background blur. The Look also doubles as a standard Alexa device that can read the news and play audiobooks, give weather forecasts, play music, launch apps, set timers, and more.

The new app also includes support for Style Check, a new service from Amazon that uses a combination of machine learning and advice from human fashion specialists to help you figure out what to wear. The company had actually launched this feature ahead of the Echo Look, via an “Outfit Compare” option on and in its main mobile app.

The Echo Look app includes that feature along with other tools to view and favorite your outfits – allowing you to create a personal lookbook you can access at any time. By encouraging users to save their photos in the app instead of discarding them, Amazon then gains access to real-world data about what’s in consumers’ closets, and what they like to wear.

This will help to better inform the company’s fashion ambitions, which have so far included its own private label brands, some of which are exclusive to Prime, and even an interesting patent for on-demand clothes hinting at future fast-fashion plans.

Not only would the Look know about upcoming trends and popular styles, it could potentially grow to one day include other features – like the ability to take measurements and figure out user’s sizes, or make recommendations about how to accessorize outfits via purchases from Amazon’s site.

For now, however, the first step is getting the camera and app into consumers’ hands, and start pushing them to snap photos and save the results.

The Echo Look companion app is live now on the Apple App Store and Google Play.