Viva La Fidget

Humans run on energy. We have lots of it. Sometimes it comes out in quirky ways. We squirm around, tap our feet, twirl our pens… even when we’re tired and lethargic, we gulp down some coffee and KAPOW! we’re back to being our twiddling, jiggling, air guitar playing, fabulous, fidgeting selves. Fidgeting is entirely natural. We humans fidget to relieve stress and manage run-off energy. Worry beads, rosary beads and malas are all examples of this. They all provide a physical action that keeps us corporeally grounded, which is particularly comforting and ultimately a real boon for us human-types.

What we find even more interesting, is that for many of us, it’s actually easier to think deeply and stay focused when we have something to do with our hands, meaning that fidgeting helps us grapple with and process information. Sure, tapping your foot helps blow off some steam, but even better, it helps engage your thinking process by increasing your levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that sharpen concentration. In other words, you actually think with your body. “Ago ergo cogito” – I act, therefore I think, meaning we’ve known about this body thinking stuff for so long that I can quote to you about it in a dead language, so let’s use this fact to our advantage, yes?

There are a number of studies which prove that via embodied cognition, engaging the body helps the brain to process information. In one such study, researchers focused on kids learning math. In the past, students were given a multiplication table and told to memorize it. Today, more and more, kids are taught to use their fingers while learning math. In doing so, teachers find their students are far more likely to retain what they learn, not only because an embodied instructional method gives them a way to visualize the abstract, but also because the act of manipulating their fingers while conceptualizing new information encourages a deeper, more “full-bodied” understanding of the material.

As you know, at Kicker we’re all about designing devices that celebrate and harness our body’s already fantastic functionality, so we want to capitalize on our natural inclination toward fidgeting, both to help you focus like a ninja, and also to continue our righteous campaign, providing alternatives to screen/keyboard interaction via the principles of embodied cognition. There are some innovations happening currently, that are moving technology in what we think is an exciting direction. All kinds of small, useful, and wearable devices are popping up, like the Nike Fuelband and the Misfit Shine, which are physical activity tracking devices. Using a simple, glanceable UI that lives on your wrist, they provide sensor data about your movement through the world whilst capitalizing on your inherent need to fidget, and anyone will tell you that a good watch-inspired fidget is impossible to resist. The Fuelband and Shine are off to a good start.

Another bunch of wearables that are popping up are the phone watches like the Metawatch Frame. In terms UI, these wearable devices are basically no different than cell phones, only they’re mounted to your wrist and smushed down into a tiny screen. A similar evolution from pocket watch to wrist watch, the big idea being it’s simpler to glance at your watch than it is to pull out your phone to use its apps. We applaud the idea of seamless glancing at a device that’s always at the ready, but unfortunately, it’s not so pleasant to run apps at 1/8 size. Unlike a pocket watch, a smartphone is a computer, and has a multiplicity of capabilities beyond telling me the time. I expect my smartwatch to be smart, (read: not annoying to use) or I’ll stick with the original “dumb” one.

Various flaws notwithstanding, these new devices are encouraging, however, they all still rely on a visual UI. Sometimes, in order to think at maximum throttle, your gaze needs to be drifting elsewhere: driving, walking, listening to a lecture, sitting in a meeting, whizzing by trees on a train. In these instances our wandering eye is actually helping us to focus by shutting out extraneous input, much in the same way white noise would, which is tantamount to a sort of audio fidgeting.

I know how it is when you’re dreaming up big ideas. I notice your fidgeting. Sometimes you’re staring into a dust mote while flipping your pencil around and around. Sometimes you’re rubbing your forehead. Sometimes you bite your nails. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through a lecture, distracted by the click click clicking of your pen, or the bobbing up and down of your foot, which moves in asynchronous time with the speaker’s voice. These variously employed fidgets are satisfying precisely because they provide a rhythm and a pathway to concentration. They block out mental noise and free up the senses for maximal sensory uptake, providing you with the cognitive expansion and momentum to focus your thinking optimally, allowing you to process information with all your senses.

At Kicker, we’re into designing products that enhance the thinking process, make us smarter, quicker, more dimensionally intelligent. We want to design products that are not only novel in the way they’re worn, but also groundbreaking in terms of what they’re capable of doing, and how easily they’re able to get it done. It’s not enough to take an existing technology and call it new just because you’ve strapped it to my head. No sir, not hardly. What we need is the type of technology that seamlessly and elegantly, gives the wearer dynamic control of her environment, by taking advantage of the body’s natural rhythms and propensities, without such reliance on visual UI. That’s what we’re working on here at Kicker.

What if you could control your music playlist with a leg flex? Or how about if shaking a pen during a discussion could tag important content for later? What if pacing at the front of the room would automatically start your presentation? There are countless examples of how technology, working with our physical tendencies and taking advantage of how human bodies function naturally in the real world, can actually make us humans more super-powered.

We like superheroes. We want to be more like those guys and yes, we already purchased the spandex tights, but beyond that, let’s say we re-think technology to create interfaces that maximize our powers, by working seamlessly with the behaviors, like fidgeting, that we’re inclined to do naturally.

Written by Jody Medich & Wendy Rolon