There can't be many teachers, anywhere, who haven't encountered the fidget spinner craze. It's everywhere: in every class, every corridor, every locker area. That low whizzy noise, the dizzying spin, the laughter - concentration broken, lesson derailed. The bank of teachers' pigeon holes in our staffroom is suddenly more colourful as confiscated spinners await return to their owners at the end of the afternoon. On Friday, as I confiscated a spinner from an especially addicted third year boy, I agreed with him that when it moved, its iridescent surface really did look like the sheen that oil produces when its spilled on water. I'm quite sure the fidget spinner craze will have been forgotten when we start all over again in September, but for what's left of the Summer Term, it's everywhere.
And needless to say, fidget spinners are everywhere online as well. There are videos of cats playing with them (I mean, the internet is stitched together by videos of cats, so this was inevitable) and there was even a satirical story about Pope Francis using a tri-form spinner to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. The article, posted on good-humoured website The Catholic Conspiracy, claimed that Pope Francis used the tri-form spinner to represent God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who all appeared to become one once spinning was achieved. Our crazes and preoccupations sum us up, and even something mildly irritating like a fidget spinner can have a deeper significance, spiritual fake news notwithstanding.
I've been struggling a bit with the 'always on' culture of the smartphone this school year. I'm not good at ignoring the superscript '1' when a new message or email appears: I admire people who can let their inbox build up to double or even triple figures, as I become incredibly anxious and jittery if I don't manage to read my waiting messages fairly promptly. What with email accounts for work and simply keeping in touch all coming through to the same inbox, a 24/7/365 culture has built up. This Saturday alone, I had three work-related messages within a couple of hours - nothing that couldn't have been left until Monday, and I'll deal with it on Monday, but sensible postponement doesn't stop me thinking about it all weekend. In 2017 so far I've had work-related messages in the middle of the night, on Sundays, on three different bank holidays and on one memorable occasion, when a message arrived at 2am and I didn't deal with it because, um, it was the middle of the night, I got a follow up text just after breakfast the next day 'just to check I'd got the message earlier on'.
And it's not just colleagues: in fact, colleagues I can forgive, easily, because there's that sort of family atmosphere in a workplace of taking one another for granted a little bit too much, but it's kind of all right because there's a mutual support system there as well. Students' parents have tracked me down on social media and sent me private messages to ask questions or make requests. Intrusion like this has made me take a social media holiday, which might be extended indefinitely. Teachers have to be especially careful about social media, but I had always thought that was to do with child protection and one's own personal reputation not compromising that of the school, which is perfectly right - not because parents might start contacting you to ask about Harry's homework or Ramona's revision.
This 24/7 'always on' lifestyle has my head spinning like a fidget spinner in expert hands. It's the opposite of the mindful approach, which can be so healing and so calming for the head 'when all about are losing theirs'. The message at 3am, from the person who was wakened by their fretful children, their own mind racing, and opening 'I just thought.' How about thinking: 'it's 3am, not the time to send a work-related message, passing the whirring headspin on to someone else?' The parent who gets no response from you that Saturday, so contacts a different teacher on Sunday to ask her to spin you into action. The communication network lights up, and before long there's a whole table-full of fidget spinners, spinning into an infinity of blurring colours, millions of persons in one spin. Our heads whir with 24/7 thoughts, our vision is distorted with the flashing of a nascent migraine and we lose sight of anything that ever mattered...
Arriving home from a long, busy family Saturday, I was lucky enough to see an incredibly beautiful sunset over the seaside town where I live. Blackbirds were closing down the daylight as I pulled into a scenic car park to take a photo. It's moments of stillness like this which matter. Moments when we appreciate how beautiful life can be, whether that's a stunning view or genuine communication between family members, partners or friends.
And what of the endless spinning of messages and comments and demands? If we fidget with our every thought to kill time, are we destroying all those moments which really matter, passing the spinning to everyone around us like a fidgety, blurring virus?
Photo credit: Caragh Little